I got laid off—and I told my four-year-old son

My son might not have completely understood what was going on—he thought I should get a job with the PJ Masks. But he needed to know that I lost my job.

Photo: Courtesy of Tyler Wade

When I was laid off, I told my son.

It had been a week since it happened—my wife and I needed time to process it first before we could begin to explain it to Ben.

That night, like usual, we read his nighttime stories, then I sat down on the edge of his Paw Patrol bedspread, took a deep breath and just told him.

“Daddy, doesn’t have a job anymore.”

“Why?” he asked.

“I’m not sure, buddy. It happens. We’re going to be OK. I’ll pick you up from school.”

“OK,” he said, seemingly satisfied. Then he rolled over and went to sleep.

Even though my son is young, he needed to know that I had lost my job so he could make sense of what was happening. If his mom’s eyes watered or if Dad got mad, hopefully he could tie it all back to this—or we could talk to him so he could understand why Mommy and Daddy were feeling this way.

The day after I told Ben, I picked him up from school—much to his teacher’s surprise.

“Oh, Ben, your daddy’s here!” He ran to me and gave me a big hug.

“Why is Daddy picking you up, Ben?” I asked.

Ben looked at his teacher and with ease pronounced, “My daddy lost his job.”

“Oh, well…” The teacher looked stunned, and laughed.

Ben and I acted casual about the whole affair. He knew all he needed to know. His understanding wasn’t much, but he carried on happily. Whenever I looked at him smiling, it was a reminder to push through the rough months ahead.

A man with twin baby girls lying on his chestThe science of how fatherhood transforms you My wife and I gradually had to pull Ben from many of his favourite activities—his after-school program, then adventure camp, too. We left our youngest, Lily, in daycare because I needed time to look for a new job. Lily was blissfully unaware of what was going on—being only two, she wasn’t old enough to understand. I’d look forward to those euphoric moments of her smiling, running and jumping into my arms like nothing had changed. It was a welcome break from the everyday struggle.

As time went on, my Excel sheet filled up with applications, follow-ups, and networking events. My time was tight. The budget was tighter. With summer approaching and camp costs looming, we pulled Ben from some fun weeks we had planned. It was heartbreaking explaining to him why he couldn’t go to arts camp. But after some crying, he took it in stride. It was me who pushed back. “I’ll find a job,” I insisted to my wife. “It was too expensive anyway,” she replied.

I never wanted to deny him an opportunity, yet here I was.

My wife and I were angry and resentful. I found myself losing confidence. The pressure just kept rising with each job rejection. And, of course, Ben was asking when he could get a new bike.

Ben watched us struggle. And he struggled, too. “Why can’t Daddy come with us?” he whined whenever my wife took the kids somewhere fun. I wanted to go, and felt like I was missing out on a piece of his childhood. But I had another networking meeting.

Under normal circumstances, a meeting can be cancelled or even turned into an email.  Not when you’re on the job hunt. I took networking opportunities whenever they were convenient for the other person—which often meant when they were driving home. I found I had to lock myself in a room more than once to ignore the requests to fix a Brio train track.

Ben then started recommending places for me to work—often fictional places pulled from his favourite TV shows, like PJ Masks. “You’ll have to get new pyjamas,” he informed me.

Then we decided to Airbnb our house. We moved from a hip downtown neighbourhood to the ‘burbs with my in-laws to cover the cost of our home. Our kids couldn’t understand our pain in adjusting. The closest latte was a five-km drive away. Where would I get my avocado toast? Why must we drive for everything? Our commute was longer, but their packed lunches were the same.

Over time, it wasn’t awful. Our drive into the city was family time. We’d drop Lily at daycare, Ben at a summer camp, me at a coffee shop, and my wife would park at work.

In the end, after months of searching, I found a new job. In fact, I found two jobs, and quit the first one—while on lunch—for the better opportunity. I also have freelance opportunities as a side hustle.

Ben asks a lot of questions about the job.

“Do you work on a computer? Is there coffee? Why aren’t you picking me up anymore?”

I can’t help but wonder: Did we ruin a piece of his childhood, or did we show him reality? I hope we’ve taught him that there’s always a way through.

We will move home soon—once the last guests leave, and right before school starts again. And maybe we’ll buy Ben a new-to-him bike while we pay back some of our accrued debts.

Read more:
The most loyal employees ever are working moms with good bosses
How I decided to become a stay-at-home dad

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