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,
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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