Robert Syck, 42, of Fishers, Ind., lost his job as a call-center manager in March. He has been around his 11-year-old stepson, Kody, more than ever before. Lately, however, their relationship has become increasingly strained, Mr. Syck said, with even little incidents setting off blowups. His stepson’s grades have slipped and the boy has been talking back to his parents more.
“It’s only been particularly in the last few months that it’s gotten really bad, to where we’re verbally chewing each other out,” said Mr. Syck, who admitted he had been more irritable around the house. “A lot of that is due to the pressures of unemployment.”
When Mr. Bachmuth was first laid off in December from his $120,000 job at an energy consulting firm, he could not even bring himself to tell his family. For several days, he got dressed in the morning and left the house as usual at 6 a.m., but spent the day in coffee shops, the library or just walking around.
Mr. Bachmuth had started the job, working on finance and business development for electric utilities, eight months earlier, moving his family from Austin. They bought something of a dream home, complete with a backyard pool and spa.
Although she knew the economy was ultimately to blame, Mrs. Bachmuth could not help feeling angry at her husband, both said later in interviews.
“She kind of had something in the back of her mind that it was partly my fault I was laid off,” Mr. Bachmuth said. “Maybe you’re not a good enough worker.”
Counseling improved matters significantly, but Mrs. Bachmuth still occasionally dissolved into tears at home.
Besides quarrels over money, the reversal in the couple’s roles also produced friction. Mrs. Bachmuth took on a part-time job at a preschool to earn extra money. But she still did most, if not all, of the cooking, cleaning and laundry.
Dr. Kalil, of the University of Chicago, said a recent study of how people spend their time showed unemployed fathers devote significantly less time to household chores than even mothers who are employed full-time, and do not work as hard in caring for children.
Mr. Bachmuth’s time with his girls, however, did increase. He was the one dropping off Rebecca at school and usually the one who picked her up. He began helping her more with homework. He and Hannah played soccer and chatted more.
But the additional time brought more opportunities for squabbling. The rest of the family had to get used to Mr. Bachmuth being around, sometimes focused on his search for a job, but other times lounging around depressed, watching television or surfing soccer sites on the Internet.
“My dad’s around a lot more, so it’s a little strange because he gets frustrated he’s not at work, and he’s not being challenged,” Hannah said. “So I think me and my dad are a lot closer now because we can spend a lot more time together, but we fight a lot more maybe because he’s around 24-7.”
When Rebecca began pulling her hair out in late summer in what was diagnosed as a stress-induced disorder, she insisted it was because she was bored. But her parents and her therapist — the same one seeing her parents — believed it was clearly related to the job situation.
The hair pulling has since stopped, but she continues to fidget with her brown locks.
The other day, she suddenly asked her mother whether she thought she would be able to find a “good job” when she grew up.
Hannah said her father’s unemployment had made it harder for her to focus on schoolwork. She also conceded she had been more easily annoyed with her parents and her sister.
At night, she said, she has taken to stowing her worries away in an imaginary box.
“I take all the stress and bad things that happen over the day, and I lock them in a box,” she said.
Then, she tries to sleep.