How do i break bad news to my family without them overreacting?
July 1, 2012 10:16 AM   Subscribe

I'm being made redundant from my job. When should I tell my family?

There is a restructure taking place at my employer, and my job is one of the ones to go. I've had the letter with the official notice of redundancy a week ago, and my leaving date is set for 20th July.

My husband knows, of course, and he has been wonderfully supportive throughout the long, drawn-out process (the first rumours this was on the horizon came nearly eighteen months ago). My mother and sisters don't yet know, because I haven't told them. At first I didn't want to make a fuss about something that wasn't certain, but then the right moment to say anything just never happened. My elder sister had her first child in January, and everyone's focus has been firmly on her and the baby, and I hate being the centre of attention and being fussed over.

My mother lives nearby, and I see her every two weeks or so. My sisters live further afield, and I don't see them more than a couple of times a year. I don't do telephones well, and would rather walk across hot coals than phone anyone for a chat.

The complication is that I still don't know yet if I'm going to be looking for another job immediately or not. I'm in the middle of a long bout of depression and anxiety that's lasted a year so far, and my case manager has suggested thinking carefully about whether it would be better for me to concentrate on recovery for now rather than put myself through the added stress of jobhunting at a time when I'm emotionally unstable and unlikely to be able to hold it together in any job interviews. We have enough income and resources to manage on one salary for the short to medium term.

I know that I'm going to have to tell them sometime, because if nothing else its almost certain that the next time I see my sisters (probably at Christmas) someone is going to ask me how work is going and if I haven't told them by then, its going to be extremely awkward to try to explain. But the thought of just blurting the news out is a terrifying prospect because it will be met with a flood of questions about am I alright, what am I going to do next, and everything will dissolve into a huge fuss. I know that its because they care about me and would want to help, but when things go wrong I just want to block the world out and deal with things in peace and quiet. I get uneasy and upset when people try to take care of me because whilst I know its because they want to help, I just want them all to go away and leave me alone and let me stew in my shell until I'm ready to come out.

I feel stupid and incompetent at having to ask advice for something so simple as this, but how do I handle this? Do I have to just bite the bullet and blurt it out? How do I find the right time to tell them - or do I need to somehow make it the right time? Is there any way of getting the information across to them without provoking a torrent of fussing and questions that I just can't answer?
posted by talitha_kumi to Human Relations (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps you can write a letter to your family explaining the news, letting them know about your support network (husband, case manager), and that you plan to take a little time to reflect on your next steps. A polite but firm message about not wanting advice at the moment with as much use of broken record as needed should help stem the torrent of fussing and questions.

Good luck!
posted by elmay at 10:19 AM on July 1, 2012

I know that I'm going to have to tell them sometime, because if nothing else its almost certain that the next time I see my sisters (probably at Christmas) someone is going to ask me how work is going and if I haven't told them by then, its going to be extremely awkward to try to explain.

You're assuming a couple of things here:

1) That you won't have a new job by then - which is six months away - that will allow you to say "It's going great, I started working at a new place in September and I really like it."

2) That you have to tell them at all, ever. You don't. You're entitled to privacy. "It's fine, thanks, where are you going on holidays next year?" is also fine.

I would also consider if the depression and anxiety is perhaps directly linked to or seriously exacerbated by the stress of not knowing if you're about to lose your job. It's possible that having now actually been made redundant, it will lift because the uncertainty is resolved. It may in fact be a great time to take the summer off and then go look for a new job in September or whenever feeling greatly restored.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:26 AM on July 1, 2012 [7 favorites]

Bite the bullet and tell them, and spend your mental energy dealing with the reaction rather than on dreading what their reaction will be. If you tell your mom first, if it's like my family she'll tell everyone else within the hour.
posted by summerstorm at 10:28 AM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Why do you have to tell them sometime? You say "because... at Christmas... it's going to be extremely awkward to try to explain," as if this were a reason. But starting a non-sequitur with "because" doesn't make it into a reason.

Even if it's going to be awkward, that has nothing to do with what you tell them, or when, or whether. Personally, I vote for not. Why do they need to know? That is, what benefit accrues to you from telling them? If you consider the probable result "a torrent of fussing and equestions that I just can't answer," then clearly you gain no benefit by telling them. So don't.

What you do with "questions you just can't answer" is, you don't answer them. If someone asks how work is going, you say "I'm not working at the moment." Further details amount to "We've known this was coming for 18 months so we prepared, and we're fine." Any additional questions you can use the generic line, "Oh, let's not talk about it, it's Christmas after all." A question like "how can you expect us to help if you don't tell us?" you answer with "But we haven't asked for any help. Like I've already said six times, we're fine."

If they won't stop you just say "Well, I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition." And if they still won't stop you make your excuses and retire early, saying you came to celebrate Christmas, not to get advice about your personal life.
posted by kindall at 10:35 AM on July 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

When you do tell them, turn it into something positive: you're excited that you're finally going to have time to redecorate the house, you're going to take some courses, you're going to read that pile of books you haven't had time for, you're gonna have time to come visit and spend quality time with your new niece or nephew, and you're gonna have time to get into the best possible physical shape.

The last one may be critical to your mental health: building physical strength, flexibility, endurance will contribute to your becoming emotionally stronger and more resilient.
posted by mareli at 10:47 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Honestly? If you can manage on one salary, I'd just not bring it up if you aren't already talking to them, and if anybody ever asks about work, say that you left your job awhile back and now you're focusing on your flower-arranging skills or something for awhile. There are precious few perks for being female; it not being super-weird to stay home while your spouse works when you really need that to be the case is one of them. If you don't specifically tell them that you got laid off, just that you stopped working--and if you're specifically choosing not to look for a new job, I think that's perfectly true--then people will be much less likely to worry over you.

Not that I've done this myself, but my sister-in-law did, and it seemed to go over better with family when she specifically mentioned that she was doing some painting. Having a hobby at least covers the "but what do you do all day" question in a way that sounds better than "watching kitten videos", even if the latter is totally a valid way to spend your day, no my summer vacation is not being very productive why do you ask.
posted by gracedissolved at 10:48 AM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

How about something like: "Yes, my employer restructured in June and I was let go. I thought it would be a good opportunity to restructure my own career goals and trajectory, hahaha." And if they press, "Fortunately (husband's) salary is enough for us to get by right now, so I'm able to take the time to find a new position that is a good fit." If they press more, "The baby is going to be ONE YEAR OLD soon, are we not all so excited!"

Added bonus is that it's all totally true. Hopefully if you treat the situation casually they will too, and the above approach doesn't preclude you from going into more detail if at any point you want to talk to them about it.
posted by newg at 11:20 AM on July 1, 2012

"I got laid off."
"Naw, it's fine. There's been rumors for a year and a half, we were planning for it."
"The stuff we planned to do."

You are catastrophizing, and maybe it's because that's what you know they are going to do, but you can't control what other people do so you should leave them to it and decide, for yourself, to control your side of the situation calmly and firmly and not by doing things you know are going to make it worse. Get it over with now, so that you define the terms of what you are and aren't going to tolerate with regards to other people getting up in your shit.

Unless they are dependent on you, this isn't theirs to fuss over, and you have the right to insist that they will not do it to your face or there will be consequences, such as not having the opportunity to do it to your face.

Please discuss this with your mental health professional. I cannot think of anything more detrimental to your mental health than to let this hang over you for six months, waiting to be caught, trying to keep up with a bunch of lies or obfuscations.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:21 AM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

What you need is a script. You may not be able to completely avoid a "torrent of fussing and questions" (how they react is really up to them), but you can have a plan for weathering it. Your script could go something like:
"I have something to tell you. It's not good news, but it's going to be OK. My office is being restructured and I'm being made redundant as of July 20. Husband has been really supportive and we know we'll be OK. This gives me some breathing room to plan my next step, and in the long run we'll be OK."
When the questions and offers of help start up, just repeat the talking points from your script:
"What are you going to do?" > "I'm going to take some breathing room to plan my next step."

"How are you two going to manage?" > "Husband has been really supportive and we know we'll be OK."

"I think X Company is hiring, and I know somebody there, let me email him for you." > "Thanks for the offer, but I'm taking some breathing room to plan my next step."

"How long are you going to be unemployed? Aren't you looking for a new job?" > "Husband has been really supportive, and in the long run we'll be OK."
Keep repeating your talking points and avoid engaging with them on specifics. If they get really pushy, you can say, "That issue is private between my husband and me. I know you're concerned, and if I think of any way you can help, I'll let you know." Think of their curiosity and meddlesomeness as their problem, not yours. They're going to say what they want to say, and you can't really control that; but you can step back mentally and think of yourself as a witness to their outpourings rather than the target of the "torrent." Imagine that you are your own P.R. person and all you've been authorized to say is your script; your job is to wall off the concerned and curious public from your client's private life. Just because they ask a question doesn't mean you have to give a straight answer.
posted by Orinda at 12:28 PM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I was made redundant in November and didn't tell my mum until I had a new (mini, 10hrs/wk) job and she was very annoyed that she was (pretty much) the last to know. Just something to consider in your decision-making.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 12:55 PM on July 1, 2012

There's some great ideas here - thank you to everyone. Especially for the suggestions of why I should try a certain approach, even when the reasonings disagree. On balance, I think its better to tell them then to not tell them, to avoid anyone getting upset that they were excluded or left out. I did like the suggestion to tell my mother first, because she talks to my sisters on the phone all the time, and maybe it would make her feel useful and helpful if I ask her to break the news to my sisters on my behalf. It'll give her some news to share, and means that when my sisters so find out, they'll have had some time to get over the initial gushing before I next speak to them.

Thank you. I feel a lot less worried about it now I know I only have to do it once, rather than three times.
posted by talitha_kumi at 1:08 PM on July 1, 2012

I was surprised to read here people saying you shouldn't tell. I agree this is your news and you don't have an obligation to share it with anyone but your husband, but not sharing it seems to me to set you up for all kinds of obfuscation and discomfort, especially if you see your mother a lot. It seems like a much bigger deal to NOT tell, than just to tell.

So if I were you, I would just tell my mother, and ask her to take it from there. A couple of things that might help:

* She will probably be worried (because it's her job to worry about you). She may be from a generation in which people typically had only one or two employers in their whole lives, in which case she will worry more than this deserves. It would probably be helpful for her if you explain that this kind of thing is totally normal -- people switch jobs, lose jobs, get laid off, all the time.

* She may also be angry and defensive on your behalf. If you want to avoid that, you should explain to her that it's a redundancy due to a restructure, not a performance issue. It might also help her to know that other people were let go as well, and that you've known this was possible for a long time. If it's true, you can tell her the company is treating you well.

* You and your husband are financially okay, and that gives you authority & autonomy --- it means you don't need to justify whatever you decide to do next. So, it's perfectly okay for you to say "I don't know what I'm going to do next, I'm kicking around some ideas. I might take a little time off and wallpaper the bathroom / take some classes / laze around in the garden." That is perfectly okay: it's your life, and you get to lead it however you want.

You might also want to keep in mind that although this is a big deal for you and your family, it really does happen every day for all kinds of people. I say that not because I think you are over-dramatizing this, but because you may be imagining it will cause a bigger and more dramatic fuss than it actually will. It's likely your family members know lots of people who are or have been unemployed or having financial or other difficulties. They will probably be worried about you, because they love you, but they probably won't freak out, because this kind of thing is really really common and normal.

One last thing -- if you can, I think you should try to tell your mother before you officially leave the company, just because "I am going to be leaving my job" is one level less dramatic than "I have left my job."

Good luck!
posted by Susan PG at 1:39 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I came in to say "tell your mom" because that's how news of this sort gets disseminated in my family, so I am glad to see that seems like it will work for you. After some time, when you know she's relayed the news, you could potentially follow up with an email to everyone just saying "Yep, we're still fine over here! don't worry about us!"
posted by cabingirl at 2:22 PM on July 1, 2012

In my experience, I've (unwittingly) said things like "I've got some bad news," at which point they think about really bad things (health etc.), and I then say that I've lost a job, at which point they usually say things like "Oh that's not so bad."

Just letting your mum know seems like a good way to spread the news.
posted by carter at 2:46 PM on July 1, 2012

My partner and I have been through this a few times. Not to minimise what you are feeling, but this is only as big a deal as you make it. A redundancy is not the end of the world, and there's a lot of positive ways to look at the new opportunities it might afford. Often we're slow to make changes in our lives and careers, and sometimes something like this is a good push. You and your husband can deal with this in your own way, but all your family really needs to know is, "hey, there's some changes happening, it's kind of a bummer, but it's not unexpected, and we have a plan for moving forward. I don't know about you, but my family only really gets worried if they think I'm really worried. Perfectly OK to say that you will use this opportunity to have a well-earned break, and then look at exploring something new that you can be excited about.
posted by amusebuche at 4:42 PM on July 1, 2012

I have been laid off twice and dealt with telling family differently each time.

The first one, I didn't tell them at all. I didn't want my mom to worry about me AND I didn't want to have to deal with the constant nagging about job hunting that I thought my mom would put me through. So I didn't tell them at all. My folks would ask about work and I make up something and that was it. Then after a few months I got a new job and phoned my mom on the bus ride home from the interview and told her I got a new job and, by the way, I've actually been unemployed for a while, and then had to endure a lengthy bus ride with my mom yelling at me the whole way.

The second time, I called my parents from the office once they told us (on the company dime). I had to, because it was on CNN that day (my dad knew before me). They were supportive, never nagged me, and generally were cool.
posted by monkeymike at 6:39 PM on July 1, 2012

I would ask yourself what YOU would get out of telling them and work from there. "Because I'll have to some time!" doesn't sound like a good reason (to me, anyway - I'm not tight with my mom, though. I know some people HAVE to tell their mom things). Do you want sympathy from your mom? If so, approach it that way. Personally I'm on the "why bother" side, but again, that's me. I only tell my family about a job switch if there's a specific reason for it (address change, change of job type, research to teaching, etc)

But you said you definitely want to tell them. I would say just try to bring it up in conversation. If you're talking about overall state budget cuts, you can bring up your work and how they're downsizing. Or if she mentions a field you're interested in, say you're looking for a job in that area. She'll ask why, and then you can tell her. Even if you aren't actively looking for a job, you could tell her this. "If you see something in that field, let me know"
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 7:02 PM on July 1, 2012

I would definitely tell them you were laid off because keeping a secret leads to shame, guilt, stress, anxiety, and a whole bunch of drama when the truth comes out. On the other hand, I don't think you need to disclose you are taking time off to address your depression and anxiety, unless you truly want to share that information. You can simply say you are looking around and exploring your options. In order to avoid constant questions, I would also reassure them that when something significant happens, they will be the first to know. Everyone knows it's a tough job market out there and getting a job can take more time than it has in the past, so I don't think you'll get much pressure about this. If they keep bringing it up, just ask them to stop because it is stressing you out and making you feel bad and reiterate your promise to let them know as soon as something noteworthy materializes. This probably feels like a much bigger issue than it will be in reality. Trying to keep it all a secret, however, will turn it into a tremendous burden, especially while you are trying to cope with some other major, more important issues. Best of luck!
posted by katemcd at 7:25 PM on July 1, 2012

i prefer the mass email/ripping off the band-aid approach. then, if you want, follow up with a phone call.

you're original post says all the info you need to say.

you can draft the email, add all the recipients and save it as a draft. then one night drink a bottle of wine and relax, and when you're ready you can send it.
posted by cupcake1337 at 10:19 PM on July 1, 2012

I've been let go from two jobs in the past 5 years. Not my fault so I didn't internalizing any of it. Start with that.

This stuff happens every day. I saw it was coming for months and I called my family and friends first thing. "Boo! I'm getting laid off. Boy this sucks."

I was intersted in getting a new job right away, so I worked on that.

You're not, that's cool too.

Call your Mom and let her know, "Hi Mom, I'm bummed, I got made redundant. Luckily we don't have an issue with money, but it's a hassle to get back into the market just now. I think I'm going to take some time off and think about what I want to do. Can you tell everyone for me, I just don't have the strength to tell the story over and over again."

Now your mom is a conspirator with you . She gets to help, and you don't have to relive the whole thing over and over again in the retelling.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:33 AM on July 2, 2012

I would suggest doing whatever gives you the least stress, especially if you are dealing with depression and anxiety. Are there family members or close friends that you trust who can help you without telling everyone you know about your job loss?

Just to add a data point: last year, I was forced to quit my job. My father had just endured a depressive episode, and my mother is a constant worrier, so I found that it was less stressful not to tell them. I relied on my sister's moral support and encouragement to get me through the difficult times. When I got a new job, I told my parents then.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 7:11 AM on July 3, 2012

« Older What do landlords want to know?   |   Looking for specific gay erotica that's vanished Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.