Back in March, when the coronavirus pandemic had most of us sheltering in place, some of us did so with our grown kids and even grandkids. Where they had been living independently, now they were with us under our roof or we under theirs--or we were within a pod of safe visitors. Who knew the sheltering would last so long or that the promises of aid and assistance--babysitting, room and board--would last so long and be so exhausting.
What to do about the problems raised by the over-stuffed nest and pledges of commitment to our now too-close loved ones? Our once-quiet, empty nest may now be filled with the chaos of multi-generation visitors. Did we really mean to commit to serving three meals a day to four adults and two children? Or be available to babysit while they worked? Or share our car, cross trainer and bandwidth indefinitely? How do we get our life back when the end to the crisis is no where near? Here are some suggestions from experts quoted in "How to Set Pandemic Boundaries for Relatives," an article that reminds us that boundaries are necessary even when they may be hard to set and make us feel like we're being a bad parent or grandparent.
On feeling overwhelmed: Create a list of all of your responsibilities and then identify what you alone can do and what can be outsourced to your "guests." Examples: cleaning the bathrooms; grocery shopping; preparing meals.
Keep a relaunch in sight: Adult children who are boarding with you may have regressed into dependency. One expert suggests saying to your child, "We know that you don’t want to be here forever. But what can we think about to give you, and us, a vision for how great it’s going to be for you to feel autonomous and free and empowered?” Tht could be the road to mapping out steps toward a relaunch.
Renegotiate commitments: Promises were made back in March, before we realized how long the pandemic might last. But a commitment to, say, babysit grandkids when in-person schools closed last spring may no longer be feasible. You are allowed to change your mind, the experts say, offering this suggestion as a way to open negotiations: “Just because we’ve agreed to something in one moment doesn’t mean we’ve agreed to it for life.”
Clarify your needs: Be clear in your own mind what you’re still willing to do. Let your grown kids know you are still there for them, but within limits. You might reassure them that you've been happy to help so far but "we all thought this would be over by now, and it’s not." Then, the experts say, tell the truth. As in something like this:
“‘I can’t be at my best at this level, so I need to cut back’, or ‘I need to take a month off,’ or whatever it is you really need....You let them know, without defensiveness, without guilt, that you want to help them come up with a different solution that works for them, because this one isn’t sustainable for you.’”
Be true to yourself: There may be an expectation on the part of your grown children that you're going to keep doing this because you're their parent and they need you to do it. Oh the guilt! Here's one expert's suggestion on this point:
“Ask yourself, ‘Do I want my kids and grandkids to love me because I do something I don’t want to do for them? Or do I want them to love me because I’m honest and I’m being myself?’”
It ain't easy:
“Tolerating uncomfortable feelings builds emotional resilience. And standing in our truth is hard, but it’s the key to honest relationships."
painting: Repose by J Sargent @ National Gallery