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My dad says he's looking for work, but he plays computer games all day

The question:

My dad got laid off from work almost a year ago. He says he’s been looking for a job, but all he seems to do is play on the computer with my mom for upwards of 15 hours a day. I’m more stressed about their retirement than they are. I’m scared they’re relying on me to bail them out but my wife and I aren’t willing or financially able to help them when the hammer falls. What can I say to snap them out of this?


The answer:

Being laid off falls at the top of stressful life events.


The impact of layoffs is particularly accentuated for men, given their traditional roles and expectations of being the family breadwinner.

Older adults understandably struggle more with layoffs given that they may perceive themselves to be less employable given their age, and given the changing technological nature of work. The effects are compounded for individuals who have worked for only or a handful of employers throughout their life.


Layoffs can lead to a range of emotions, including:

  • Anger/betrayal for being wronged or mistreated by the former employer
  • Resentment/envy toward coworkers that did not lose their position
  • Sadness/loss about the former position
  • Guilt, shame or embarrassment about losing one’s job
  • Worry/anxiety about financial concerns
  • Fear about re-entering the workforce


You raise three distinct issues, which need to be addressed separately: worry about your dad’s behaviour (i.e., seemingly not looking for work); concern about your parents’ retirement future; and, concern about your parents’ possible reliance on you and your wife for financial support.


Although your dad may not be demonstrating any concerns on the surface, it is hard to believe he is not stressed (unless he is financially secure, which sounds not to be the case).


When faced with stressful situations, people tend to engage in one of three characteristic responses: fight (approach/confront the issue), flight (avoidance of the issue) or freeze (immobilization). It sounds like your dad may be engaging in a combination of the flight and freeze responses.


Given your genuine worry for your parents’ future, I would suggest a direct discussion about your concerns. Start with a one-on-one discussion with your dad (you may at some later point want to involve your mom). The amount and details of what you discuss are going to of course be dependent on the nature of your relationship with your parents and how comfortable you and they are in discussing issues of money and finances, as this can be a very sensitive topic for many families.


Start by acknowledging that this may be a very tough issue for your dad to talk about with you, and that you can imagine how hard the layoff has been on him. Let him know you are genuinely concerned for him and your mom, and that you want to know if there is anything you can do to help. You could offer to help him with putting together an updated resumé, brainstorming possible job ideas, looking into job search supports in the community, or helping him with retirement planning.


If you believe he has an implicit expectation that you provide financial support you may need to address this by saying something like “as much as we wish we could help you and mom financially, that is not an option…but we are happy to help in whatever other way we can”.


Remain understanding and empathetic to the difficulties your dad may be having, express your concern and offer to help, but also remain respectful of the fact that he is an adult and that he may not be in a position where he can or is able to comfortable speak to you about this issue.


Excerpted from Dr. Joti Samra’s “Ask the Psychologist” weekly column in The Globe and Mail.

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