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.

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Her Female Partner Not Included in Family Plans

Dear Five Faces: My mother recently made an extremely unreasonable request and I am writing for help on how best to deal with it. After a long illness, my father passed away this summer and our small family held a simple, private funeral for him. My fiance, Shelley, attended with me and all was well. Recently, my father’s brother (who lives out of state) has decided to stage an extensive memorial service for my father in January. My uncle is a very conservative person and Mom has asked that Shelley not attend; she’s concerned about flak from his family. Apparently, my parents never mentioned to Dad’s family that I’m gay. How should I handle this? Shelley says she understands and is willing to skip the ceremony for family harmony, but it just isn’t fair. How can I convince my mother that Shelley should be allowed to attend? I’m really angry that Shelley is being snubbed! Signed: Angry Daughter

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Dear Angry Daughter: First, I offer my condolences on the loss of your father. Losing a parent is always difficult. And losing a spouse can be just as difficult, sometimes more so, which means that your mother is probably in a pretty stressed place these days. She may still be reeling from all that needs to be managed when someone passes, so let’s figure out your elemental personalities and see if we can find a way to help you and your family with this issue.

Because you are angry and upset at the unfairness of Shelley not attending the service, I suspect you are a primary Wood personality. Fairness is key to Wood people and anger is where they go when things seem unfair. Shelley’s willingness to skip the service to keep the peace suggests she’s a primary Earth personality. Family harmony is very important to Earth people. Finally, your mother’s insistence on Shelley not attending because of appearances suggest she is probably a primary Metal personality. Appearances matter to them. And even if your mother isn’t normally a primary Metal, with the recent death of her husband she is probably in a Metal place these days. Grief, loss, and letting go all sit in the Metal element of the Five Elements model.

The main elemental dynamic at play here is that you and your mother (as she is now) relate on the Controlling Cycle of the Five Elements model, with her Metal energy controlling your Wood energy. Wood people do not like to be controlled, so it’s understandable that you are having serious trouble with your mother’s request. Something else Wood people hate is when things seem out of control, which touches on another dynamic involved in your situation that is probably bothering you, as well.

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Her Daughter and Son-in-Law are Working Too Hard

Dear Vicki: I’m very worried about my daughter and hope you can help. Karen is an attorney in her late 20s who is married to another attorney named Tom. They met in law school and married right after graduation. Karen was always a serious child who spend hours alone reading and painting, but now her life appears to be all work and absolutely no play. Given she’s in corporate law and he’s a trial attorney, the only time they seem to spend together is when they work from home on the weekends. They live in an absolutely sterile apartment (nothing cozy or homey, just empty surfaces in a metal high-rise) and eat take-out most nights. Where is their joy and beauty? How will their marriage survive? I’m concerned that Tom might be a bad influence on Karen because he seems especially focused on getting ahead. What can I do to help these two get a life outside of work? Signed, Worried Mom

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Dear Worried Mom: We all need joy and beauty in our lives. However, different elemental personalities find joy and beauty in different ways, so Karen and Tom might not be as unhappy as you think they are. In fact, they might actually be happy. But let’s take a look at the elemental personalities we are dealing with here so we can ascertain what might be going on for everyone involved. And we are going to start with your elemental personality so you can understand the framework you are using to assess Karen and Tom’s happiness.

Without a doubt, you are a primary Earth personality. Your assessment of their apartment as sterile and lacking aspects of “cozy” and “homey” are a clear indication. People with a primary Earth personality value home and family relationships more than anything else. Creating a home that is cozy matters to Earth people, as does fixing wonderful meals for the people they love. And while these things are everything to Earth personalities, they can be markedly less important to the other elemental personalities. Another clue that you are a primary Earth is the fact that you are very worried about Karen and Tom, and especially worried that their relationship could fail. Worry is where Earth people go when they are stressed, and the ending of a primary relationship is almost unthinkable to an Earth person. But while you are definitely a primary Earth personality, I can guarantee you that both Karen and Tom are not.

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Jealousy: Can the Five Elements Help?

Dear Vicki: My high school daughter Sammie, who I think is an Earth, has a close friend who’s started comparing herself to several of their classmates. Sammie says Tracy is jealous of their friends who have better grades, cuter boyfriends, nicer cars, etc. She even told Sammie that she wished her mother was as nice as I am. Tracy has become more and more angry about the perceived inequities in her life and it’s threatening their friendship. Sammie feels like there’s a “boogeyman” affecting her previously nice friend. I’d like to offer Sammie suggestions on how to handle Tracy and wonder if the Five Elements might help. I’m assuming jealousy is a Wood thing, right? What can Sammie do to help Tracy out of this Wood place? Thank you. Signed, Wants to Help

Dear Wants to Help: It’s easy to assume that jealousy sits in Wood because success matters to Woods. However, cute boyfriends and nice cars can be a status thing, and status matters to Metals. And nicer parents would matter to an Earth because family connections sit in Earth. So, no, jealousy isn’t automatically a Wood thing. Jealousy can visits any element, but what creates jealousy will differ by element. We can all appreciate what someone else possesses, has accomplished, or the lifestyle they have created, but the strong emotion that’s behind jealousy is usually fueled by the priorities of our main element. For example:

Waters value time for study and discussion and the freedom to go with the flow. A Water who is over-committed or too busy might be jealous of someone who has more free time and less structure than they have.

Woods do value success and personal accomplishment. A Wood who finds themself unable to make things happen no matter how hard they try might be jealous of someone else’s phenomenal success or good luck.

Fires value attention and excitement in their lives. A Fire who is unable to maintain an active social schedule due to work commitments might be jealous of someone who does have the time to mix and mingle.

Earths value deep and lasting connections with people and the ability to spend time with them. An Earth who lives far away from close family and friends might be jealous of someone who lives near their loved ones.

Metals value being right and acknowledged for their wisdom. A Metal who did not win an appointment to a prestigious committee or council might be jealous of the colleague who was appointed.

Because Tracy is predominantly coveting externalized accomplishments (good grades, cute boyfriends, nice cars), it seems likely that your original assessment is correct: She is probably an out of balance Wood. And if she is expressing her jealousy in an angry fashion, you can assume she probably has too much Wood. Sammie can help by building Metal energy around Tracy because it’s Metal that helps prune back Wood. As her best friend, Sammie can encourage Tracy to wear white or give her a hematite crystal to wear, all of which will build her own Metal to address her abundance of Wood.

Sammie can also bring her own Metal by being logical in the face of Tracy’s complaints. Logic really is a good counter to out of balance Wood as long as it offers suggestions and counterpoints, not flat denials of whatever is bothering the Wood.

If Sammie and Tracy are able to balance Tracy’s Wood, she might well be able to take the necessary steps to help herself obtain better grades and cuter boyfriends; that level of accomplishment is not impossible for motivated and balanced Woods. Obviously, Tracy won’t be able to change her parents, but if she is more pleasant to be around, she might find that her family will be nicer toward her. She will certainly be back to being someone that Sammie enjoys again.

One last point: I’m sure you will monitor how all of this affects your daughter. There could be more contributing to Tracy’s problems than Sammie knows, so professional help might be needed for Tracy. Also, Tracy and Sammie relate on the Controlling Cycle, and it is Tracy’s Wood that controls Sammie’s Earth. If Sammie becomes less of her sweet Earth self, an indication that she is becoming deficient in Earth, she may need to step away from Tracy until things are better. This is a complicated issue, bit one thing is for sure: Sammie is lucky to have a wise mother who can help her dispel the “boogeyman.” Blessings to you!

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Fire and Grief: Like a Cloud Over the Sun

Dear Vicki: My teenage daughter Stacy’s best friend Rachel was killed in a car accident last winter. Stacy and Rachel were very close and it has been a horrible time for Stacy. I’ve been as supportive with her process as possible, but there’s been no laughing, giggling, or joy in the house since the accident. A cloud has covered the sun of our family life and I think it’s time for things to get back to normal. Our family has a big vacation planned for the end of summer, something that’s been in the works for over a year, but Stacy still isn’t herself. She’s functional, but doesn’t laugh, isn’t very interested in the trip, stays in her room a lot, and is still withdrawn from the family. This is such a change from how she used to be: She was funny, outgoing, loved parties, and laughed all the time. I know she’s a Fire, but there’s no Fire in her now. I understand the need to grieve, but I’m losing patience. As her mother, is it appropriate for me to step in more firmly and demand that she snap out of it? This is affecting our whole family. Signed: Running Out of Patience

Dear Running: It’s always hard when someone we love passes over. The joy goes out of life. We feel empty, alone, and shaken. Grief takes up residence in our hearts and appears to settle in for a permanent stay. How long this lasts will vary greatly. You don’t mention if Stacy has ever experienced the loss of someone close to her, but if this is the first time, it’s important to support her and allow her the time she needs to process the loss. It’s also important to answer any and all questions she may have and offer wisdom from whatever religious or philosophic traditions your family embraces. And I believe there are ways that the Five Elements can help with the process, too.

The element that holds grief and letting go is Metal and no matter what our primary element is, we all usually become temporary members of the Metal Club when dealing with loss. The goal, of course, is that we use the solitude and synthesizing aspects of Metal as a safe haven while we process the grief, then return to our normal, balanced self. However, sometimes we can get stuck in that Metal place. With too much Metal energy, we find it hard to let go of the past and move forward.

When this happens, we need Fire energy because Fire melts Metal (Fire relates to Metal on the Controlling Cycle). The good news for you and Stacy is that as a primary Fire element, it will be easier for Stacy to tap into Fire energy and when it’s time, move out of Metal back to Fire. But the timing matters. It’s unwise to rush grief; it needs to be fully processed for the healing to be complete. And on this topic, I want to offer you a word of caution.

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