Family issues during the COVID-19 pandemic

Due to Covid-19 restrictions I decided to move back to my family home before borders closed. My parents have had an uneasy marriage since I was born, but it has steadily gotten worse and came to a breaking point just before I went home.
Their relationship is highly conflictual, and they are in the process of getting a divorce. The environment at home is very difficult, my parents are verbally aggressive towards each other and will often speak critically about the other in the presence of myself and my younger siblings. When I speak to them about their behaviour it has not changed anything and leads to conflict. They are both at fault from my perspective and have not taken the steps required to create a better environment for my siblings.
My dad is very busy at work and often avoiding conflict with my mum, and my mum is preoccupied with her feelings about my dad. As a result, I end up being the role model to my younger brother and sister. This is taking a toll on the time in which I could be studying.
I’m afraid that when I leave to go back to Melbourne in the holidays nothing will change. I can’t focus on my exams and frequently find I am tired. I guess I just want some reassurance that I’m not crazy and that this isn’t okay, even though my parents treat it as the norm.

Thank you for sharing your story– what a difficult experience for you! I can see that you care a lot about your younger siblings and I’m really glad you reached out. The way you are feeling sounds like a normal response to a difficult situation and when we are experiencing hard times, we sometimes need extra support.

It sounds like you feel pressure from many sides: trying to be a good role model to your brother and sister; feeling stressed and angry about the conflict at home; concern about the impact on your siblings when you return to Melbourne; sleep difficulties; and also the challenge of keeping up with your studies and exams. This is a really tough situation and it makes sense that you are struggling with it.

When there’s conflict in a family (whether it’s expressed or not), it can feel a lot like being on a boat in a storm. A seasoned captain knows they need to make some adjustments (drop an anchor, let down a sail, get more sailors on deck) in order to get through the period of rough weather. They also understand the kinds of things that are in their control, and the things that aren’t. From your description of the situation, it is likely that you are not able to directly change the source of stress, your parent’s relationship and their behaviour, for which they are solely responsible.

So, as you find yourself in this storm the following suggestions may give you tools to help you to navigate this difficult time:

  • Look after yourself. This is a tough time. Studying at Uni is hard enough, let alone when there are other personal challenges. Check out the CAPS resources on supporting your Wellbeing, including information on how to improve your sleep.
  • Acknowledge your feelings.  When we are facing challenging situations, it is normal to experience intense emotions. Emotions are a form of energy, which may become overwhelming when we find ourselves in the midst of a personal ‘storm’. Allow yourself time to observe and express what you’re feeling. This could be through journalling, talking with supportive others, mindfulness practice, or creative activities such as drawing, painting, poetry, music.
  • Practicing mindfulness is also an effective way to cope during stressful situations. It helps us focus on the “here and now”, rather than on worries about the future or ruminating on the past. You might considering registering for the CAPS ‘Midday Mindful Moments’ sessions that are held via Zoom on Wednesdays and Fridays. There are also commonly used mobile apps, such as Smiling Mind and Headspace, which include mindfulness exercises and other helpful tips to manage stress.
  • I also suggest that you take time to connect with friends, and do things that you find enjoyable, such as a walk outside. There are established benefits for our mental health that come from connecting with others and from spending time in nature.
  • Consider booking an appointment to see one of our counsellors at the CAPS service. It may be helpful to have some one-on-one support to learn more about things like: personal boundaries (how to be responsible for our stuff, but not take on other people’s responsibilities); interpersonal effectiveness (such as assertive communication); and value-guided living (living a meaningful life).
  • Finally, although you didn’t mention being concerned about your safety, or the safety of your siblings, the Safer Community program at the University can provide support for students who are concerned about family violence.

 


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