My Mother + COVID = Super Stress

October 14th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 12 comments

First, let me briefly state that I admire your work and it has helped me throughout my life to make important decisions while understanding why. It is so refreshing to know there are people like me who think similarly. Sometimes you can feel otherwise when living in a secular and materialistic world. 

My situation could be more common than I think, but I’m struggling with finding the right solution on how to handle it.

Ever since the pandemic, my mother has been completely paranoid. The hysteria has taken over and she is unable (or unwilling) to have any rational talk. My mother has viewed the government as a savior. Admittedly, my mother is stirring up conflicts with strangers to enforce the “safety guidelines” when she can.

This response by her is predictable. However, it has skyrocketed and has become something increasingly more difficult to accept. She lives in New York. The constant state of fear and handling of this pandemic there has driven her nearly off the rails. She wouldn’t even kiss my brother when he visited, stood away from him and wouldn’t leave her home without permission from the state. (Yet she challenges me on everything!!) It almost feels as if this pandemic gave her a reason to live?

Now I live in another state with relaxed guidelines, and low cases. My husband and I decided to have 3 people over our house this weekend for our daughter’s 11th birthday.

My mother flipped. “Are your guest wearing masks Krystle? Will this birthday bash be outside? Temperature check?” I just wanted to scream into my pillow. This entire pandemic has already stolen part of my life. Now it is stealing my relationship with my mother.

After I speak with her, I always feel low of myself. This was always true due to her anxiety. Constant replay of the past (most that never occurred but it’s in her mind). Victimization. Then when I decide to distance myself– it isn’t helpful either. This newfound “life purpose” with Covid 19 she has, really tested me. I do love my mother.

How can I handle this more constructively?     

Thank you and God bless,

Krystle

Dear Krystle,

Thank you for your kind words. You mention how comforting it is to know that others feel like you and in this vein, we think many people will see themselves reflected in your question.

We think your question has two elements: One, behaving properly towards your mother in terms of the Fifth Commandment, and, two, managing your own emotions.

God expects us to honor our parents and to love Him, not the reverse. Honoring parents doesn’t mean keeping a vague warm feeling towards them in our minds. Among other things, it very specifically means not insulting them or being rude to them and it means not contradicting them.

The media-induced hysteria, along with politically expedient posturing, has caused rifts in families and friendships. It has certainly exacerbated difficulties that were already there, as seems to be in your case. You are caught between wanting to live a calm, joyous life and honoring your mother.

We suggest three strategies for you to deploy. When an issue arises, you can see which category fits best and then employ the appropriate response.

  1. Your mother refusing to hug and kiss your brother is what we would call a level 3 problem. Sympathize with your brother for a few minutes if he asks you to, but don’t play it over and over with him, increasing internal resentment for your mother in both his heart and yours. Certainly, don’t be drawn into a confrontation with your mother over this. Not only isn’t this your issue but in the scheme of things, it isn’t even a big deal. Dwelling on it invites unnecessary unrest into your mind and life. Let it go.
  2. Your mother’s reaction to your daughter’s birthday party might be a Level 2 incident. We don’t recommend not telling your mother about the party (though that is sometimes the best plan) because it puts your daughter in the position of having to hide an event in her life from her grandmother. We would recommend having a planned response, perhaps something like, “We are completely following health  guidelines.” Use this phrase, repeatedly if necessary, without expanding on your reply. Try to change the subject, but make those the only words you say on the subject, over and over if necessary.
  3. A Level 1 problem is one that affects you directly. You love your mother and you also recognize that, in your own life, you can improve on how she deals with difficulties in her life (victimization, constant replay, etc.). Your job isn’t to change your mother, but to be aware that all of us tend to repeat the patterns we saw growing up unless we make a deliberate effort to do differently. You react with some pain when you see your mother reacting in an extreme manner and being very credulous about media propaganda.   Is it possible that this is an area you can work on yourself to learn a different and calmer response? Your brother being upset doesn’t mean that you have to be upset. You can “dial back” your language. Instead of saying, “This entire pandemic has already stolen part of my life. Now it is stealing my relationship with my mother,” you might say, “This pandemic has been stressful and it has also caused added problems in my relationship with my mother.” Acquire the tools that will allow you to respond with a calmer attitude in all areas of your life.

Most of us have had our economic, social, and psychological lives affected by COVID-19. To the extent possible, let’s use this difficult period to hone our skills for dealing with whatever we may face in the future.

Enjoy your daughter’s birthday party and reread Proverbs 3:25, “Do not fear sudden dread…”

Wishing you physical and emotional health,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan

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12 comments

Elijah Judges says:

Level one ? Anyone who comes within yards of me without a mask.

Susan Lapin says:

Elijah, making decisions for yourself is what we all need to do. We didn’t think it outrageous that Krystle’s mother didn’t hug her son. We see how that makes sense and is her prerogative. When it goes beyond sensible and turns into forcing others to make the choices you impose based on irrational fear, there is a problem.

Dawn says:

Wonderful answer. I’m a daughter but sort of feel like the mother in this story. Not swayed by the media but do know several who have suffered with Covid, so it causes me to want to be very careful more so than my extended family. I personally receive your wisdom to not react similarly to previous generations if I’m misunderstood.

Susan Lapin says:

Dawn, I think many of us are in your situation. We know of lives lost and people who were ill. At the same time, we know that we are not being given the real science (to the extent that it is known) and that there are politicians and academicians playing with our lives.

Henry says:

Wow!
I am an elder in our church. It is part of my job to make COVID decisions that affect roughly 200 people. I have come to an understanding that there must be two components to our decisions concerning church gatherings, health and safety, as well as health and safety theater. Both are important!
When listening to the extremely fearful, I don’t say much beyond, “We understand your desire to quarantine given (fill in the blank) and respect your decision to join us on live stream.”
To those who believe life should go on with no changes, I remind them that I am making decisions which will affect roughly 160 people (the number who attend our outdoor service). When choosing a path for the church, I must make that decision as a trustee, bound by the prudent man rule, rather than making a choice that I would make for myself.
From my observations, mother/daughter relationships, particularly when caring for the grandchildren gets into the conversation, has the potential for emotional explosions. I like your answer to a difficult, but common, question in these unhappy times.

Susan Lapin says:

Thank you, Elder Henry. It is incredibly hard to keep everyone happy on any issue (church too hot? too cold?) but especially on one as controversial as this one.

Mikki says:

This is an incredible story that I too can adhere to in my very own situation I’m in Washington DC moved here from Washington state God divine and lead and when I was getting ready to go back to Washington State the pandemic broke out so I’m here still in DC in my own place my daughter my oldest daughter my apologize and my only grandson live here as well and my youngest daughter back in Washington state just had their first baby so I’m torn in between I was going to go home but due to pandemic I’ve put the brakes on it and that almost ruined my relationship with my youngest daughter however she understood but being now that I’m here in DC with my oldest daughter and my grandson who’s 5 yrs old today. Sometimes I get a little anxious as well due to this Covid stuff going on because the father who he visits I tend to be less desiring right away to see my Grandson for a few days though he’s my life as well as the new arrival. I’m torn because I desire to see both my Grandchildren freely.. my daughter her In DC took my grandson to get his hair cut yet he wasn’t feeling well a few days ago and I was secretly upset with her.. however I maintained my cool and texted her to see how he was doing which he’s well yet to hear a few days later she took him to get his hair cut send me in a tizzy I was upset again and had to just step back. After I sent her a gentle text I could still sense she was short and on the defensive. I’m at odds here I want to go back home state yet be here to establish something’s beforehand. Now my daughter is dating so I don’t know I’m the one that’s stepping back from her to the point of just seeing her periodically.. and my grandson. I don’t know what to do.. so I said a prayer. Any Words of Wisdoms and insight would be very much appreciated. I’m glad someone is taking about this subject. Thank you & God Bless.

Vickie L Sanderson says:

Krystal, what a wonderful question that stated also made me feel less alone in this current situation. Thank you! And of course a brilliant answer from Rabbi and Susan. Thank you! I get through the daily gymnastics of managing the Covid scare in others by reading Bible versus that help me to remember that God is in control and to have the same compassion for others as I wish God is presenting to me. I loathe the mask, but I wear it when I must to reduce the fear in those who fear. God bless you and keep you safe.

Susan Lapin says:

Vickie, whatever reasonable precautions one takes, it is emotionally helpful to know that everything is in God’s Hands and no matter what we do, we cannot guarantee protection, only He can.

Gus says:

Susan, your statement (“everything is in God’s Hands and no matter what we do, we cannot guarantee protection, only He can.”)
That is the most important truth that could be said for all things.
With out God we are in darkness. With God we are in light.
But the problem I have with just knowing that does not help me.
I use to say one prayer many years ago to get by.
Now today, I know that one prayer is not enough to protect me and my family.
I start the day off by saying 5 prayers before I even get out of bed. Just to cover my family and love ones that I feel God has laid on me heart to do. I call them My Prayers Of Life.
To bind, rebuke and remove in the blood of Jesus, all things that can come into our minds, thoughts and hearts. I have my own list others can make their own.
Same with ( I Confess and Declare and Release in the blood of Jesus) things that I need protection from each and everyday. The Lords Prayer is one that is very important. This is only three. The blood of Jesus on the door post and every door in my home accept the bathroom door has a Mezuzah on it. All these things God has given us to use but very few know or do not use them even if they do know.
In todays world we have to use them or pay the consequences. It has always been up to each of us to follow and use what He God has given us. I first heard of these things and than I asked or looked for information on what I did not know are understood. Sorry got carried away.
I just feel that people have to know more than just good advice which is wonderful.
But life, the light of God and protection is also needed.

Anne says:

“…we know that we are not being given the real science (to the extent that it is known) and that there are politicians and academicians playing with our lives.”

What does this mean?

Susan Lapin says:

Anne, I was busy over Friday and the weekend, so I didn’t answer comments as I usually try to. I’m going to answer yours as a catch-all. I don’t agree with some comments that COVID-19 is nothing. I think it is an unusually virulent flu and as such is affecting many people in very serious ways. However, I believe that the response to it has not been mostly scientific but rather bureaucratic and political. For example, Gov. Cuomo’s response of sending sick people into nursing homes was a disaster that led to a huge number of NY deaths. Rather than apologize (and he honestly could have said that he was responding in a crisis without a lot of into), he tries to blame the President. That is politics, not statesmanship. It also skews the statistics. Allowing mass protest gatherings but not allowing gatherings for worship is a non-scientific response. Reporters and politicians pontificating about mask-wearing and then taking their masks off when they think the cameras are off (unaware that someone is still filming so we see what they did) is playing with our economic, emotional and physical lives. That is what I meant.

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