Dealing with a guilt-tripping mother, COVID-19, a platform takeover by our friend Iris, and learning to tolerate your neighbors.
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“We have a choice in all of this, in how we’re going to react to self-isolation. I’ve been amazed at the creativity bubbling up in people left to their own devices, staying at home and finding the humor in it all.”
"My family is now all gone and moved away. My husband passed away last year. My grandchildren live 800 miles away. It seems that I find myself alone most of the time now and I am finding it very hard. I can’t seem to find any interest or energy to go out and make new friends. I don’t want to move to a retirement home as I really do love this house. I don’t want to burden my children and their families. Do you have any suggestions on how I can deal with the loneliness I am feeling?"
Signed empty-nested widow.
I just read an article in the New Yorker that talked about the realities of aging; not the fantasy often portrayed in self-help books about the Golden Years. It said that aging is very much a time of loss and often aloneness. We lose our loved ones through attrition as well as death as they move away or become absorbed in their own lives. The result is the situation in which you find yourself. You have a decision to make about how you are going to respond. You needn’t pretend that this is anything but necessary and vital to your survival.
You will need purpose and companionship for the upcoming years, and self care needs to be one of the elements of your purpose. Personal hygiene is easy to ignore so include showers and shampoos in your schedule that includes you and your house and your pleasures.
Do you like to bake and walk and exercise? Find senior classes and check out senior centers in your area. The Boulder County Area Agency on Aging Calendar of Classes, Workshops and Events is posted on bouldercounty.org under Adults and Seniors. Are you on Facebook? Well, you should be as it’s a great way to stay connected and to keep up with far flung friends and family. It’s all about an attitude of personal responsibility that you need to develop, proactive rather than passive. Perhaps you will make friends at these classes or exercise centers.
Your situation is a real problem and there are no easy answers. Look for people who need you as well. Everyday do at least one thing that will increase your connection with the outside world. The solution to this problem will not come easily and it’s a battle to be fought every day, from taking a shower to volunteering at the local library to having at least one warm meal. Good Luck!
"My father doesn’t seem to enjoy being with his own grandchildren. The girls are ages 4, 7 and 11 and he can only take about 30 minutes and he wants to leave. I think it is really important that he spends time with the girls. Mom can’t get enough time with them. How can I convince Dad to spend more time with them?"
Signed frustrated daughter.
How can you get your father to want to spend more time with your children? You must first understand his inability to spend more than 30 minutes with them before he loses patience. It must feel to you as though he doesn’t like them but please don’t make that assumption. Perhaps the noise and hyperactivity of three little girls is more than he can tolerate without becoming anxious and uncomfortable. What if he took one daughter out for breakfast at a time, less noise and less activity, a date with Grandpa? Or, a visit to the zoo or local aquarium? Your dad is not your mom. She may be able to juggle the demands of three little girls at the same time, more easily. I suspect he’s always been a bit like this, even when you were young. Try to build on what he can offer instead of lamenting about what he can’t do. Talk to him in that way and see what he says. He may have some ideas of his own. Your daughters might also learn that they need to take other people’s personalities into account when they approach them. This could be a learning experience for all concerned. Learning how to adjust and adapt one’s behavior to respond in an empathetic way, is a life skill that can be taught and learned. There’s an appropriate time for very active behavior and a time to sit quietly as Grandpa reads you a story.
"My mother constantly throws me guilt. I should feel bad about this, or bad about that, or I don’t do enough for her. How can I get my mother off my case? She is driving me crazy."
Signed over-guilted 13-year-old son.
Using guilt as a motivator is as old as can be imagined. It implies that if you don’t take out the garbage, you don’t love your mother. What she’s really saying is that if you take out the garbage, she will feel loved. There are different ways that people feel loved. There’s a book, The 5 Love Languages, that talks about this fact of life. Google it! Having a good relationship with your mom will make your life much easier and more pleasant. The secret of having a successful relationship is about priorities. Your mom needs to know that you care about her and that her happiness is important to you just as your happiness is important to her. Fighting over garbage and clearing the table seems silly in the end when you should be choosing your battles with her more carefully. You should be clearing the table with a smile on your face because you are a member of this family and it will also give you a better position from which to negotiate other more important issues.
I wonder if Mother Nature finally became so upset with us that she sent us to our rooms to “think about things” and to stay there until we are ready to change our ways! She’s giving us a chance to examine our lives, to slow down and look at our priorities and values. What I’ve noticed is that I’m feeling guilt-free about staying home where before my list of things to do was never ending. I even felt guilty about not seeing the latest movie or trying out the newest restaurant but, not now; I get to stay at home and feed the birds.
I received an email from the Department of Health in which we were encouraged to stay healthy and remain calm. To focus on what we can control… and to not overdose on the news or social media. Try to keep a schedule even though it’s technically not necessary. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day; have meals and showers and exercise and do your schoolwork without fail. But here’s the most important over reaching rule: stay in the present! Don’t look backwards or forwards. Don’t regret the past or fear the future. This could be the ultimate “Staycation,” if we can eliminate the fear, a time for home and family. How often I’ve wished I could simply lock my front gate and stay home and now it’s happened.
We have a choice in all of this, in how we’re going to react to self-isolation. I’ve been amazed at the creativity bubbling up in people left to their own devices, staying at home and finding the humor in it all. I’m certain you’ve all seen the wonderfully inventive videos that we’ve all enjoyed and forwarded on. We’ve become closer by remaining apart. My Grandmother Clara used to pinch back her petunias to make them stronger. Perhaps that’s a way we could think about this extraordinary time. We are by ourselves, we get to sit with ourselves and enjoy ourselves, perhaps to finally get to know and listen to ourselves in a deep and meaningful way.
This Covid-19 coronavirus attack makes me think about the Indigenous Peoples here in the Americas when the Europeans arrived. We decimated them with our smallpox and measles and every other disease to which they had no immunity. Captain Cook wiped out half of the native Hawaiians pretty quickly as they were not immune to his germs and viruses. The same thing is now happening to everyone around the planet: no one has immunity to the coronavirus. Approximately one in twelve older people who catch the virus will die. I am 78 years old with a compromised heart and that gives me pause. I never thought I’d say this, but, don’t visit your grandmother except on Face Time or Zoom or over the back fence while she sits on her porch. And finally, wash your hands and don’t touch your face. Hand-to-Face is the most common final step in the virus’s long journey to infection. Be safe.
In support of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, I decided to ask my friend, Iris, to write about her experience as a child growing up in the South. I also asked her to include her thoughts on raising an antiracist child in our society. She is an artist as well as a nurse, and is the author of a blog, “A Different Terrain.”
A DIFFERENT TERRAIN
As a child growing up in the South my neighborhood consisted of other little children like me. We were all black and lived in a tight-knit community where everyone knew everyone else. All of us had several neighbor mothers who provided several eyes on us all. I grew up in comfort and safety. All of my world was black. My doctor, dentist, and even my Santa Claus. I never wondered about race and, of course, I saw white people on television but in my mind that was another world. One very far away.
I was 4 when a little white girl came to play in our neighborhood. I had never seen a white child up close and personal and naturally I was curious. I marveled at the softness of her hair but one thing amazed me over anything else was the color of her skin especially her legs. According to my mother, I was mortified and very concerned that something was wrong with the little girl. It was at that time my mother sat with me explaining there was nothing wrong with her, that she had been born that way and that her skin was her normal color. I was intrigued and wanted to know all about her. Every day she would come to play and after a while her uniqueness wore off and she was just my friend like everybody else. I think back on that day when my mama sat me down to talk to me. I had to learn about race at a young age. I learned about the good but I also had to learn about the bad. I was 5 when riding with my daddy one summer evening we passed the local skating rink. I had always wanted to skate there but daddy said it was not allowed. It was that night that the Ku Klux Klan was holding a rally. Mesmerized at the sight of a burning cross and many men dressed in white sheets it never entered my mind the significance of such a sighting. I knew from my father’s behavior that something was very wrong. It was that night that I had to learn the bad side of race. I had to hear that I was not allowed to skate there because I was brown. I had to learn the history of those men in sheets and what it all meant. Even though it was ugly, I had to be told for my very survival. I was young but I heard and I saw.
As parents, we owe it to ourselves and our children to have honest conversations. Children are highly sensitive and it has been shown they are aware of differences as young as 4 months of age. A culturally sensitive child is a beautiful and wondrous blessing and is able to experience the world with passion and depth. Parents need to be willing to go the distance in conversations and discuss concepts such as privilege and how it helps one to navigate the world.
Cultivating a sense of curiosity in our children helps them to want to expand and explore beyond their boundaries. Allowing them to ask questions even if it feels awkward to you gives them comfort. Be willing to say “I don’t know” when you don’t. Talk about culture and different ways people celebrate holidays or events. Experiment with different food or clothing. Explore with your child. Oftentimes communities have a sameness. There may be no one of other ethnicities. Exposure to others as a young child goes a long way to fostering understanding. Children learn from their parents and parents must have the ability to look at their own biases and shine the light on themselves in order to be a vehicle for their child. Understand that it is through example children learn. Be a great one.
Iris’s blog can be found online at https://mingming56.com.
"They say that half of the population is depressed. What I am wondering is why half of the population isn’t? Are they doing something the other half should know about?"
Signed concerned parent.
This question has always interested me, why different people react in different ways to the same situation. Why does one child in a dysfunctional family flourish while another is devastated? I asked an Italian child analyst that same question at a conference and she answered “Vitale!” A vital life force that we would call resilience, and that’s what you’re asking about. Resilience is the ability to bounce back quickly, the “glass is half full” folks who don’t stay down long. It seems both innate and learned. Resilience is built on a foundation of self esteem, liking yourself, but not being egocentric, having confidence in yourself and your ability to pull through and survive adversity, realizing that “this too shall pass” and not getting bogged down in self-pity and feelings of victimization; are all essential to developing resilience. Ask yourself, what is your first response when something bad happens? Do you immediately wonder why bad things always happen to you? Why you can never catch a break? Or, do you get over the shock and move toward a solution. It’s easy to blame the “stars and planets” and much harder to develop resilience.
"We are in our 30s and have a 4-year-old son who we seem to never have any time with because we are both working all the time. We are stressed out and we are frustrated. We are thinking of selling our house and getting an RV and spending the next year on the road. We want to simplify and enjoy our lives more. Are we crazy to even be thinking about this?"
Signed Millennial parents.
No , you’re not crazy, you’re just Millennials! For people in my generation, the thought of impulsively pulling up stakes and becoming vagabonds for a year in a motor home to spend more time with your child feels wildly indulgent and maybe even irresponsible. But you’re right; you need to take care of yourself and your family because they must come first. You understand that if you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will, that security is internally regulated, not externally supplied. Fifty or sixty years ago, men would work for a company for life, knowing that company would care for them and their families until they died. Obviously, this is no longer true.
So when you make a decision today that feels selfish, it’s because you live in a selfish world where companies are no longer loyal to their employees and where you are in charge of your destiny. So sell your house and buy a camper and trundle on down the road. Take care of your family and your child in these tumultuous and difficult times. When you are ready to settle down once again, it will be with new knowledge and awareness.
"Our neighbor thinks the pandemic is a hoax and doesn’t wear a mask, has their friends over all the time and party. We are in a condo situation where we feel we need to be extra careful coming in and out. I am finding myself getting mad at this situation and they don’t even want to talk with us. (I think it is because we are Democrats.) Do you have advice on anger management for us?"
Signed nice family who wants to be safe.
There’s a schism in this country that’s growing deeper by the day. It’s causing emotions to run high and anger is among them. We have to do what we can to slow down the splitting of our nation. May I suggest watching a documentary on Netflix called “A Social Dilemma.” It brings some clarity to the matter even if it’s not the total answer. It explains that the Internet on all its platforms wants to keep our interest and attention for as long as possible so they can show us lots of ads and sell us things. That’s the bottom line! The way they keep our attention is by showing us content that we like, such as cute cat videos or conspiracy theories, meditation tapes or QAnon messages. But whatever you click on, it will simply generate more of the same in your platform feed. That may seem like a small thing but what it does is reinforce what we already believe to the point where we demonize the other side. We are whipped into a frenzy of extreme dislike. People are victims of forces of which they are unaware. Perhaps knowing this will make you more willing to try to communicate with your neighbors.
-Romona Scholder, M.A., RNCS, Psychotherapist