Baby steps for a young man with no job
November 14, 2016 4:32 PM   Subscribe

I have a young unemployed relative (25 years old), who lives with his mother, who is at her wit’s end. I would like a series of tiny steps to give to him to start living his life and becoming independent, or whatever you think might make a difference. If you were that young person who was disillusioned with the world and unemployed, what helped you to change? If you were the parent of a person like this, what did you do in the end to change things? I have no influence with him. If I send him a link to this question, he will be hurt and angry.

He lives off his savings, rent-free with his mother on the Gold Coast, Queensland, who is struggling financially (and with her health) but is too soft-hearted to kick him out, or push him to do things. She feels totally incompetent in helping him.
He contributes to the household by doing the dishes and running errands. His social life is trivia once a week with his mum, and computer games (mostly online) with his two friends from high school. He does not date. He is overweight. His hygiene is hit and miss. I don’t think he cleans his teeth. He doesn’t always wash his clothes. His mother won’t nag him to do this because she says it will make the tension in their small apartment unbearable.

What’s been tried
His mother has spoken to him endlessly. She’s cajoled, and argued. She’s pointed out the burden he places on her, and that she needs to be saving for her retirement if possible. He’s verbally sympathetic, but not to the point of taking action. When she becomes angry, he sulks and hides in his room (where he spends most of his time) but doesn’t change his behaviour. His mother has been told by various people to evict him, but she believes that he is incapable of managing without an income, and also that it will destroy their relationship. She also feels that he has dealt with a lot of stress and hardship, and doesn’t want to add to it. Finally, she admits she doesn’t have the fortitude to do it.

He is frugal. He is probably entitled to some income support from the government, but unemployment benefits mean applying for 10 jobs a fortnight, so he will not apply. He might be entitled to some income support if he was studying but there are no courses he’s interested in.
Some of his savings go toward assisting his unreliable and irresponsible father who lives 6 hours away, now on government support after serving two years in prison.

He is quite bright (e.g., scored in top 10% of state in national mathematics competition when in high school, even while he was failing math due to lack of interest, wide general knowledge, good vocabulary, knowledgeable about current affairs). He has an open car license, and the use of a utility vehicle bought by his mother. He is not at all handy, nor fit.

He has only had one job, which was casual and low skilled (cleaning airconditioning towers) and about 6 months ago, they stopped calling him in. His uncle found him the job and trained him in it, but his uncle has since changed careers and doesn’t live nearby anymore.

He dropped out of university twice (History) because he found the courses covered material he already knew well, and he was bored. He doesn’t want to attempt it again because of the debt he has already incurred in studying that he doesn’t want to increase.
He seems to have some level of social anxiety or low confidence but is not interested in seeing a psychologist (though his mother has offered to pay) or a doctor for assessment of depression.
He feels that nobody will employ him because of his poor work history, especially given his age. He also does not want to get a job that is boring, which all entry level jobs are likely to be, but he also feels there’s no point in applying for them. He doesn’t know how to put together a resume. He won’t look it up.

What can he do?
posted by b33j to Human Relations (24 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You don't mention if he has any mental health issues? Lack of hygiene is usually an indicator of depression or other mental illness.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:45 PM on November 14, 2016 [7 favorites]

Is he good with animals? Does he care about them a lot? If so, he might be a candidate for starting his own animal care business, for which there's a low barrier to entry.

However, if knowing that an animal is depending on him won't motivate him enough, it could be not so great.
posted by amtho at 4:59 PM on November 14, 2016

The good news is that in my experience, most 20-somethings do seem to leave the nest at some point, on account of getting tired of their parent-roommates.

For the moment though, I'm not sure there's much you can actually do unless his mother is willing to cut the cord. Or willing to demand rent from him or something similar. I'm not sure why he can't be expected to pay for at least part of the rent or their utilities.

I think your best bet is actually encourage his mom to go live her life and pursue her own happiness. If she's finding it financially challenging to pursue her own interests and fund her retirement because he lives there, she'll eventually demand rent at some point. Right now it sounds like her fears are reinforcing the status quo.
posted by neeta at 5:10 PM on November 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

The fact that he has ability but lacks the drive and general enthusiasm for his skills to be put to use honestly sounds more like a mental health issue than just laziness. I'm also concerned about the detail of his father being jailed and generally not in a good place, but he's still tied up with him financially. That's a worrying detail.

But honestly I think it's fair for his mother to want to have him around and of trouble, but he does need to contribute in some way. Perhaps starting with diverting that money he's sending his father into paying for utilities, and down the road, rent. I also think that setting a clear "if you can't do these small steps, please start therapy" boundary might help. Expecting him to overcome his issues and meet demands with no help is a bit of a pipe dream at this point.

As for small ways to gain income/self-reliance and efficacy, I'd suggest he put his one skill up for hire on craigslist or your local equivalent. Another way to get work experience is temp agencies, they will take anyone who's got basic skills with computers, and very general work experience(I worked for a temp agency when I had little to nothing on my resume).

Also, I personally think she's correct to not evict him. He sounds very depressed and I'd be worried about his ability to keep himself safe and off the streets. The fact that she says he's gone through hardship is really concerning, and is probably the main cause of all this. My life was a lot like this up until the last few years, mostly due to a feeling of worthlessness from childhood trauma. It took a lot of work and support to get me anywhere at all, but it's worth it.
posted by InkDrinker at 5:58 PM on November 14, 2016 [8 favorites]

She is worried any strong action by her will destroy the relationship but actually the relationship is already destroyed. Do you know the book the Giving Tree? The mother is the stump. And sacraficing herself so he can ruin his own life as well as her own is unfair to her and to anyone else who may have otherwise enjoyed a relationship with her (I bet any siblings of his are going to eventually turn their back on mum for her continuing to make destructive choices). And yes, this is the mum making bad choices, not just the son. I would hope if he was showing all the symptoms indicating that he had diabetes she would have gotten him help instead of serving up another desert to avoid her having an awkward conversation.

He IS sick, physically ill, and in crisis. He should be either in an in-patient crisis mental health hospital or attending daily out-patient appointments. If she cannot bear throwing him out then she needs to do the bare minimum of providing a roof (no food) while charging him market rent. And the wifi password is now changed daily and not available to people that do not look after their health, do all their chores, act pleasant, attend appointments, and be making incremental progress. If he doesn't like living with rules he can find somewhere else to live. He has choices and agency.

It sucks, it really does, that he has put his mum in this situation - and that she hasn't yet had the strength to put the toddler having a tantrum in a safe place instead of rewarding him with a toy - but the definition of insanity is her doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. You don't want to be writing the exact same askme in ten years about a 35 year old who will be even harder for professionals to treat. This is too big a burden he has put on his mum and really, for both their healths, because of the unhealthy dynamic they are both contributing to, they would both benefit from NOT living together for at least a year while both pursue intense individual therapy from professionals.

Sorry to be harsh, but I have seen this shit ruin too many lives. Untreated mental illness sucks so hard. And the mum needs to prioritize her own health (physical/mental) if she ever wants to provide real help to her son.

TL;dr, mum is not a professional and needs to get ill son medical help instead of her pretend "kiss the boo-boo and here's a character band-aid help" that she is just using to make her feel better about her choices
posted by saucysault at 6:42 PM on November 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm inclined (as others above) to suspect depression or some other illness. If that can be treated successfully then he may discover his energy and motivation to get more out of life and the rest might take care of itself.

If that aspect is investigated and exhausted with no result, then with his low-effort status quo as deeply entrenched as it is, it might be less a case of what is possible for him to do and more a case of what is there that he can find a reason/motivation to want to do. At least initially until some better habits form. He's about the right age/experience/qualifications for video game play-tester (usually a temporary position). But I'm guessing that part of why your list of attribute categories doesn't include an "Interests" section is that you don't get much of a sense of interest in things from him, which again seems like it could be depression.
posted by anonymisc at 6:52 PM on November 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

For jobs there are agencies that need people infrequently and with fairly minor skills - PM if you want a GC based one. Working temp will not only avoid most of the boredom but will give him some work history. And hopefully some drive.
posted by geek anachronism at 6:52 PM on November 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

#1 - You can't push string, period. Someday he may no longer be string, when he develops some character and perseverance.

#2 - Yes, there could be some mental health issues, but that requires a professional to ascertain.

#3 - Perhaps he might benefit from viewing Randy Pausch's Last Lecture. As Randy said:
“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

posted by forthright at 6:55 PM on November 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

I will go with the mental health angle. It could be depression, schizophrenia, Asperger's, PTSD, or something else. It could also be physically based, like a vitamin or hormone deficiency or imbalance. I think the mother should try to get him in for a checkup as soon as possible. In my experience, people do not behave like this unless something is going on.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 7:51 PM on November 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks for your help so far. Anyone have anything along the lines of this?
I would like a series of tiny steps to give to him to start living his life and becoming independent
posted by b33j at 7:51 PM on November 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would suggest a TAFE cert, something he can knock over in 3 or 6 months. You can do IT stuff, trade stuff, cheffing...a small win like that might help get the ball rolling, and at the very least gets him out of the house.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 7:57 PM on November 14, 2016 [5 favorites]

He has untreated mental health issues, and this will go on FOREVER unless his mom cuts the purse strings. You can explain forever, but there has to be a threat. Threat of being cut off plus cheap therapy is your angle here. Do you have access to cheap therapy? After 5 years of watching an unbelievably bright friend wallow in a similar state, what finally made the difference was being cut off, plus a CBT therapist clever enough to set explicit milestones for unemployment and savings and yet strong and tactful enough to address the underlying depression/anxiety. My friend didn't want to be dependent and miserable, but he needed mental health help, and denial is an incredible thing until you push a person to the point of needing money. Talk to the mom. She's going to get to this point someday anyway, might as well be now.
posted by benadryl at 9:17 PM on November 14, 2016

Is there anyone else in the family circle who can help him get an internship or entry-level job that might interest him? Your description reminds me of a friend's brother. Basically, his sister helped him work on his resume, sent it to some of her contacts, guided him through the process of interviewing. He wasn't finding anything on his own and didn't know what to do (although I think he was more ambitious than this case since he was studying to try to get into grad school, although not sure about it). She helped him get his first job, and thinks continued from there for him -- he's actually doing quite well now on his own, living in another city. It sounds like in your case, this kid needs someone to get him started since he clearly isn't going to do it on his own.

It sounds like above all else, he needs a reason to start getting out of the house. That will probably force him to take care of himself and his hygiene a bit more, and may make him feel motivated. But the social anxiety might need to be dealt with first. I'm not sure how you make him see someone, especially if his mom isn't willing to set an ultimatum.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:54 PM on November 14, 2016

I'd suggest as three steps: paying rent (even a small amount, or an amount to be saved up on his behalf), applying for Centrelink payments ( which will mean he can contribute to the family, gets him access to employment support including disability employment support if he has a mental health diagnosis, and a low income health care card to reduce the cost of managing his mental health, and means he has to at least attempt to apply to jobs or sign up for study), and looking at a chores list as if he were a roommate (possibly including hygiene). There are a lot of services available out there, but unfortunately he has to seek them out.
posted by quercus23 at 12:54 AM on November 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh the mum has a late life diagnosis of Aspergers so a lot of what you're suggesting for her is difficult to impossible. I gave too much information when what I was after was steps for the young man to accomplish on his own.
posted by b33j at 3:08 AM on November 15, 2016

This is not a great situation for "tiny steps." I'm not trying to be harsh, but's sort of like, "This screw is stuck in a board. Can you give me some tiny steps towards getting it out using only this strip of bacon?" No. But there are some things that can be done. To understand what can be done, you have to see the situation clearly for what it is.

Here you've got a mom who is unwilling to take actions as innocuous as asking a 25 year-old to do his own laundry, for whom the idea of appropriate boundaries is intensely anxiety-inducing. She wants things to change, but can't bring herself to actually change her own behavior much.

There you've got a a 25 year-old who cannot find it within himself to brush his teeth, who very likely has an untreated mental illness, and who has been trained his whole life (by his mom) to ignore and discount what his mom says. He doesn't seem to want things to change, as they are comfortable (if somewhat unpleasant) for him at the moment.

Any change is going to have to start with the mom, because she's currently the only one who actually wants this situation to change. It's going to be really, really uncomfortable for her, so her desire to change the situation is going to have to be bigger than her discomfort in order for anything to happen.

She will absolutely need professional support -- a therapist or a social worker or both -- to help her effect this change. Without steady support, she may muster up the courage to enforce boundaries once or twice, but she will quickly fold as it becomes increasingly uncomfortable (which it will). And that will only make the situation with her son even worse. It'll just reinforce the lesson he's already learned, which is that all he has to do is make things uncomfortable and his mom will eventually give in.

If she's working with a professional, they may indeed have her start with small steps. Self-care will be important, because it will help her be more resilient and capable of handling the anxiety that change will bring. She can certainly start with some of that now. So here's my tiny steps list for her. She shouldn't try to do these all at once -- she should work up to them slowly, easiest ones first, and build up her strength.
- When was the last time she saw her GP for a regular checkup? If it was more than a year ago, make an appointment.
- Find a therapist. Ask friends or her GP for a recommendation if possible.
- Ask that therapist for help finding a social worker or other similar community resources.
- Think about sleep: is she getting a regular 8 hours a night? If not, try some sleep hygiene, and ask the therapist for help.
- Think about exercise: is she getting her heart rate up at least 3 times a week for 30 minutes each time? If not, work up to it SLOWLY. Start as easy as possible, with activities that feel fun. Talk to the GP about how. Here are some ideas.
- Does she have friends, or a social life? If so, make some time to see them. If not, get outside the house -- volunteering can be a great way to feel better and meet people.
- Has she ever tried mindfulness or meditation? Many people find it helpful for calming anxiety. Here are some very gentle guided meditations on self-compassion; I've also heard many people speak highly of the Headspace meditation app.

1. Change must start with her, because she's the only one in that house who wants the situation to change.
2. Anything she does to take better care of herself will eventually help her gain the strength to do what must be done for him. Start simple: sleep, exercise, social time, meditation, and anything else that works for her.
3. She must enlist help and support for herself -- in the form of her own GP, therapist, and/or social worker.

Best of luck.
posted by ourobouros at 4:14 AM on November 15, 2016 [9 favorites]

The place where I work has been doing a lot of recruiting recently. If the man in question is looking for a job that's predominantly in front of a computer screen (no internet access during work time, unfortunately), employs people from a wide variety of backgrounds, ages, experience etc and is permanent part time with really flexible shifts I'd encourage him to contact them. It's also a job that is directly giving back to a section of the community which requires help with communication, which might stir some feelings of social responsibility within him. We're based at Stones Corner and Brisbane city, which means a bit of a commute but that may not be an issue - I travel 40 minutes to and from work four days a week.

If the mother is able to let him know about this work, and that she can reassure him that it would most likely be ideal for him (a lot of people who work here do it as a gateway job - other people use it as their primary employment, me for example - and there's also a lot of people who study at the same time as working) then maybe that might be a start in getting him to at least consider leaving the house and trying to get his life started.

The other thing about the job is it's entirely up to the person doing it how much interaction they want to have with fellow co-workers. I'm a bit of a hermit/recluse type so I haven't really made close friends at work, but a lot of people want that (or it just happens). Either way, there's no need for the man in question to think that he'll be forced to interact more than just politely with the people he works alongside of, if that's an issue for him.

Let me know if you think this is something that might be of some help and I'll message you the details of the employer. I tend to agree with one of the previous comments above that what he might need is just someone to get things started for him. This might be something that his mother can do that would be positive for both of them.
posted by h00py at 5:08 AM on November 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

3 tiny steps that have always helped me are:
* lay out your clothes the night before
* get up, get dressed (including wearing shoes)
* make your bed

It starts the day off on the right foot so you feel a lot more ready to tackle the day.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:40 AM on November 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Do you live near this person? Because I have a dear friend with serious depression problems, and there's no replacement for treatment, for professional help, all that, but I think the one thing I've been able to contribute that has actually had the most impact is making sure she gets out of the house on a regular basis and goes somewhere that the majority of the food options are reasonably healthy, and then we just hang out and talk. To encourage, to help her talk out the things she wants to be doing with her life and work out for herself what steps she can be taking for those things, to be the periodic reminder that there is an outside world and that getting dressed and interacting with people is not a bad thing. It doesn't fix things, but it seems to help.
posted by Sequence at 9:06 AM on November 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

The tiny steps depend heavily on exactly what he's feeling, thinking, and whether he's even able to want anything. They depend on what resources he has, internally and externally, to a very fine degree.

It sounds like he needs to believe there's a point to his even trying. That's hard; not impossible, but hard.
posted by amtho at 9:17 AM on November 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

He won't see a doctor or psychologist.
Mom won't charge rent.
Mom won't kick him out.

This is an unsolvable problem unless one of the above is reversed.

It's not too popular around these parts, but because of my own family experience, I'm a fan of kicking him out. It's amazing what a person will do when they have to survive and also amazing how little a person will do when they are expected to do nothing and are enabled to do nothing.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:47 AM on November 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've been thinking about this question a lot. I noticed your username, b33j, and I've always appreciated how helpful your answers have been to a great many people (like me). You're obviously a very caring person and you outlined your question succinctly looking for a specific solution.

While I agree with others who say 'you can't push string' I don't think that means there's nothing that can be done. He's probably not at the point where he'll be receptive to a list or small steps. It sounds like he needs a positive person in his life -- and it sounds like you might be this person already.

You asked, If you were that young person who was disillusioned with the world and unemployed, what helped you to change?

I was in a similar situation after I graduated university (with quite a 'useless' degree, though it all worked out in the end and I have a related career I enjoy). I had to move back home with my parents in the rural town I grew up in and couldn't afford to move anywhere because I had no money and no job. After a long time of fruitless searching for a job 'in my field' I became depressed and my world became very small. My parents were working or volunteering and I was doing very little, except becoming more disillusioned, cynical and hopeless.

I was lucky to have my grandma. Sometimes I would walk over to her place for a visit and probably to vent. My grandma has survived a lot in her life (extreme poverty, immigrating to a country where she knew no one, an abusive and alcoholic husband) but she's always been strong and positive and believes in herself.

I had a potential offer for an unrelated lowlevel, low paying job (still in my hometown) from a friend's mom and was depressed that after all those years in school, this was all I could get. She just looked at me and said: TRY ANYTHING! TRY EVERYTHING! What have you got to lose?

Her positivity is what encouraged me. She told me that you never know what doors are going to open, you never know what connections you'll make and at the very least you learn something from every job. I took the job and it gave me a purpose. It didn't matter what the job was at all, it got me out of bed and walking to work. And within a year I had saved up enough money to move to the city and live with my friends and pursue better job options.

I don't know if it's possible to give him a list of small steps that he will act on. I do think you could really make a huge difference by just being positive and encouraging whenever you see him. Not necessarily about his job situation. Maybe something small, like asking him to help you with something at your place, and then having a coffee together. Just little steps to show you're checking in.

He's probably getting a lot of 'you should' messages (from himself as well.) What helped me was real life examples -- for me it was my grandma, but also connecting with other positive people, people who had gone on to do great things despite their background, education, whatever. That can help.

Thank you for posting this and thank you for caring about him. Most people go through their days focused mainly on themselves. It's a tough world out there and he needs you. But he'll get through it.
posted by Pademelon at 4:54 PM on November 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

Talk to mum and convince her to just turn off the internet.

For as long as he is latched onto the torpifying teat of the intertubes, he will resist and retreat.

Tell her to look up Hakikomori - an entire lost generation in Japan. Tell her she is holding him back from his life.

"You will always have a roof over your head, and I won't let you starve. But there will not be internet. End of story."

He will get bored. He will start going outside. That is the first step.

Once he is thoroughly bored, you can nudge him along.

Next small steps:
- Call his mom often and have her put him on the phone just to chat. Be patient and positive with him. Keep it short and do it often.
- If you live nearby, invite him on errands, day trips, camping trips, and other outings.
- Have mum only praise the positive, and cut out all nagging and disapproval (see Shamu article)
- Have mum cook boring food for a while and when he does something healthy, she can make something he likes.
- Encourage hobbies - drop off supplies in the guise of clearing out your own place.

It sounds like you are very thoughtful and caring family member. He is fortunate to have you in his life. I hope he finds his place in the sun.
posted by metaseeker at 6:10 PM on November 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

Update: Mum is moving, and on impulse, after he let her down again, she told him that she was getting a one bedroom place. He is now moving in with his father temporarily while he looks for work in his preferred location.
posted by b33j at 3:12 AM on November 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

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