Father’s Unemployment, Depression Affecting Family

Q: My husband has been out of work for over nine months now, and it’s begun to greatly affect our family. My husband had begun to get depressed even before he lost his job, and it’s gotten much worse since he’s been unemployed. In the beginning he was more enthusiastic about going on job interviews, and he was still getting some money from his previous job, but his enthusiasm is waning and his mood has gotten worse.

He will just fall asleep on the couch — after he’s made his attempts to look for a job for that day. Even though he has the time now to help me around the house with the homework and putting the children to sleep, for him these are overwhelming chores.

I understand that he is not qualified for many jobs, and he’s not 22 years old anymore either. But his growing self-pity is only making things harder. He finally agreed to go for help, and I do see some improvement.

I have a pretty well-paying job, and we only have two children, so we’re getting by financially for the time being, but I’m concerned about the children. My daughters, ages four and five, have become more closed and more worried in general in recent months. The older one has become mistrustful and guarded, and smiles much less than she used to.

The younger one cries and screams more often. When I try to tell her to use her words instead, it doesn’t help.

I myself am not the most relaxed person to begin with, and this difficult situation has not brought out the best in me.

Any ideas of where to go from here?

A: Depression can be compared to a heavy weight that is difficult to pick up. As it has been said, though, a little light can dispel much darkness. That is, small efforts can help elevate a home where a parent is struggling with understandable despair.

The topic of dealing with the depression itself is not the focus here, but it is good to hear that your husband is going for professional help.

Just as you would appreciate your family members being supportive of you should you be going through a difficult time period in your life, you need to be creative in coming up with ways to show support for your spouse, and to uplift the general atmosphere in your home.

Every child deserves a childhood — a time when they can use the world of play as part of their development process. The non-depressed parent needs to find a mode of positivity within himself or herself that can be conveyed to family members. When one makes a conscious effort to focus on children’s — and husband’s — positive attributes, and points out these positive attributes verbally, it uplifts the entire household. This focus on the positive leads naturally to feelings of gratitude that are not affected by a family’s present life circumstance.

One thing a parent can do is make an Ahavas Yisrael game where children get points towards prizes when they point out a good action or verbal response of a sibling. This can be a continual daily project if the motivation continues.

You need to create many opportunities for “fun” in daily life. Your children are still young enough to appreciate singing songs together, dancing together, exercising together — activities that older siblings might not feel comfortable with.

You might feel that there isn’t enough free time for these things, but these activities can be interspersed throughout the day. You can sing songs — personalizing them by using children’s names — while making supper. Another idea is coming up with skits on the parashah for the children to entertain the parents with; props can be dolls and kitchen utensils.

If your children’s feelings of anxiety continue to be of concern to you, family and/or play therapy are good avenues to pursue. Family therapy can help to improve your family’s general coping mechanisms in the face of your husband’s depression.

With play therapy, a child can work through his emotional issues. A skilled play therapist works with the nuances of a child’s responses in play to help accelerate the child’s natural healing processes. Children, by nature, often show more resilience than adults in difficult circumstances.