She’s Overwhelmed by Sheltering in Place

Dear Vicki: I have always thought of myself as a good accountant, wife, and mother, but having everyone at home all of the time is driving me crazy. I’m impatient, cranky, and overwhelmed. And I only have one child! I’d love some help, but my husband’s marketing job is more intense than mine, so I haven’t asked him. This means that homeschooling Sammy, our 10-year-old, falls to me, too. I wish we could all just go to our separate rooms and get work done, but Sammy wants to be wherever I am. She also wants to help me with all the meals that are suddenly needed with everyone home, but honestly, she just makes it harder to get things done the right way. I’ve talk to my sister about this and even though she has three children at home, it sounds like she’s sailing through the whole thing. They all cook together! They make homemade gift wrap together! My sister has always been a great artist and kind of a go with the flow person, but why is she doing so much better with this shelter in place stuff than I am? My normal perfection is out the window! What can I do to get better? Signed: Overwhelmed

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Dear Overwhelmed: This may not help much immediately, but please know you are not alone. So many people I have heard from lately are overwhelmed. They are not used to being wife (or husband), employee, cook, housekeeper, teacher, mom (or dad), spouse, boss, and sane all at the same time in the same place with a house full of other people and no clear end in sight. So please, take a deep breath and some immediate comfort in the fact that you are not alone. Far from it!

Your question as to why your sister seems to be managing a husband and three children at home better than you are managing one child at home with you and your husband is a good one. The short answer is that you and your sister are clearly very different people with very different tendencies and priorities. And as you might imagine, I believe this can be traced back to the primary elemental personalities of everyone involved. So, let’s take a look at those because I think you will find not only the answer to your questions, but also some important guidelines regarding how best to survive this “shelter in place” phase most of us are in.

First, you sound like a primary Metal personality. I say this because you are an accountant, an occupation that requires detail and following rules, which Metal people excel at. Also, Metal people love alone time and would be very happy is everyone just “went to their rooms.”  As a marketing exec, your husband is likely a primary Wood personality because marketing involves planning and positioning, which Wood people usually do quite well. Wood people also tend to value personal accomplishment very highly, which could explain the fact that your husband is more interested in his job than helping out at home. And your sweet daughter Sammy sounds like a primary Earth personality to me. Earth people usually love food and always prefer to be close to the people who matter most to them. And your sister? Well, she sounds like a primary Water personality with a secondary Earth personality. Water people are artistic and, by definition, very “go with the flow.” But the fact that she has chosen to have three children and is very crafty (homemade gift wrap is pretty impressive), speaks to a strong amount of Earth energy.

So, how does knowing this help you feel less overwhelmed while everyone is home? First, I think a lot of what isn’t working for you comes down to expectations. The Metal personality usually has very specific expectations about almost everything which, as you well know, is pretty much the opposite of your sister’s go with the flow approach to life. And while expectations are important for the organized, orderly life that Metal people usually seek to create, all of that has gone out the window these days. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have expectations, but it does mean your expectations probably need to be tempered by the reality in which you find yourself.

For starters, I suggest that you have a private talk with your husband. While his job may well be more intense than yours, I think part of that is the fact that Wood people themselves are usually more intense than most of the other elemental personalities. It has to do with the forcefulness of their energy expression. But Wood people are also excellent planners and organizers, so if you ask him for some assistance, he should be great at assessing the problems and determining how best he can help. Perhaps he can take responsibility for a few of Sammy’s classes. Or maybe he can “own” lunch preparation each day. He is part of the household and it is not unreasonable to expect him to pitch in.

Second, I encourage you to have a long talk with yourself about the need for everything to be perfect right now. The expectation of perfection (as defined by the Metal personality) is legend. But we are all in a crisis situation and perfection as you have embraced it in the past is not going to be an option now. You grew up with a sister who modeled an ability to go with the flow, and it would help you a great deal right now if you could try some of that yourself. I have said here many times that we all have all five of the elemental personalities in our energetic make up. You do have Water energy in you; please try embracing some of it now. Perhaps you could wear more blue while you are sheltering at home, drink ginseng tea, or use frankincense essential oil, all of which will help increase your personal Water energy. At the very least, make sure you drink a lot of water. Becoming more Watery will not only enable you to flow with what is going on, it will also help you embrace trust, which is an important aspect of the Water personality.

Finally, Sammy probably does need you a little more than usual right now. Like all of us, her usual routine has been upended. She can’t see her friends. Learning at home is very different from a traditional classroom. It isn’t surprising that she wants more connection with you, and I encourage you to create that for her. Perhaps you could ask your sister exactly how they made that special gift wrap and try it with Sammy. And if that seems just too messy for you (completely understandable for a Metal), why not do several of the virtual online museum tours with Sammy, or even tackle a new recipe together. Her Earth personality will love the cooking and, because it’s a new recipe, your Metal personality won’t yet have developed expectations regarding how the meal should turn out. Finally, Earth people need to connect with people who matter to them, so perhaps you can arrange for Sammy to chat with her cousins or even school friends via Skype, Zoom, or some other digital platform. The connection will really help her feel better about what is going on in her world.

In truth, for all of us, countering overwhelm often comes down to being good to ourselves, re-evaluating our priorities, and reinforcing the connections that matter most. Blessings to you and your family. Please stay safe and well.

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