Rebecca Martorella: Too much of a good thing

I hope this finds you all recovering quickly from the tremendous storms that hit our area recently. While we did not suffer any major losses in the hurricane or the snowstorm that followed, the long bout of together time still put a major strain on our family’s mental health. And rumor has it we were not alone.

I was already getting irritated with my crew the weekend before the storm hit, bothered by their numerous questions about supplies and storm expectations, like I could predict the future. My irritability wasn’t entirely their fault though. I have trained them to consider me the family planner, and I too was frustrated with my inability to perform up to my own high standards this time. Turns out I don’t always have all the answers.

After school was cancelled on Monday, we spent the day just waiting for the storm to hit, constantly charging electronic devices and warning the kids that the power was going to go down at any time.  Though we were fortunate to never lose power, we did lose our cable, phone, and internet connection, which was hardest for my kids and husband. Then school was cancelled for the week, which was hardest for me.

Power and commuting issues led my husband to stay home from work, which alleviated much of the parenting burden and the overall worry.  But still I spent the time jittery and anxious, while he was more relaxed and somewhat puzzled by my demeanor.  We were relatively unscathed, and for my husband, I think this break in our routine was a break for him. More family responsibilities for sure, but no commuting, or meetings, or even dressing up.  Just time to stay home.

And that, my friends, was my problem.  Everyone was home all day.  The key words here are “home” and “everyone”.

As the primary caretaker of our two children, I spend most of my time in the house, so I can’t wait to get out. My husband, on the other hand, spends most of his time outside the house, so he can’t wait to stay in.

This shows up in our regular day-to-day life mostly on the weekends, when I want to venture out to local events and he sees every countywide family activity as a potential for traffic, crowds, and misbehaving children. (He is right, of course, but I am usually dying to trade in the chaos of my home for the chaos of strangers with sno-cones.)

While my husband took a break from his job, I watched mine grow and grow as the house got more trashed by the minute. Every couch cushion tent, art or cooking project, board game piece scattering, and movement in general just built one mess on top of the last and there was no time to tidy up. I reminisced about the days before I was a parent when powerless days would mean catching up on reading, sleeping, or creative projects, but now my kids required non-stop entertainment. After six days, I started staying up after midnight just to get some peace.

My angst increased with the unknown that surrounded each day. Would we have school? Would my husband be home? When would we have Halloween?  Would other events be on or off? Would I need a babysitter? Could I get a babysitter?

My well-planned calendar became just boxes of question marks and crossouts as each activity was cancelled one by one, with no real forecast for the future. Or as I call it, bedlam.

Perhaps the most important question for me was would I ever get one moment to myself?  I hadn’t realized how important it was for me to have those few hours of downtime that occur each week when the kids are at school and my husband is at work.  I never even considered this time as “downtime” before since I usually fill it with housework or errands, but they certainly are quiet hours when my brain, my ears, and my voice get a rest.  My introverted nature requires this quiet time to recharge. Without it, I noticed I get anxious and very, very cranky.

Things are slowly getting back to normal, but delayed openings and rescheduling mean I am still searching for that downtime. I even cancelled out on girls’ night, which for many was the required respite. I just felt too drained of the energy to be good company, though my cancellation didn’t help my need to escape the family.  Maybe I should have said I was going out, then crept back into the house unseen to curl up with a good book, alone.

Rebecca Martorella, LMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist, author, and mother of two. She works with individuals, couples, and families, and can be reached at [email protected]

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