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I Can't Deal With My Mother's Pandemic Irritability

Pandemic irritability is very taxing.

Dear Dr. G.,

I really need help dealing with my mother. I am a 17-year-old high school senior and I am dealing with my own stress this year.

My mother is so different than how she used to be. Before the pandemic, she was always so calm and easy to talk to. At the beginning of the pandemic, she was OK, but during the last few months, she has become so irritable. It takes so little for her to get annoyed at both me and my father.

My father just ignores her. I, on the other hand, am having a really hard time dealing with Mom. She makes the atmosphere at home so tense. I know she misses going to work in person and she misses seeing her friends regularly. She is a very social person.

I don't understand, though, why she has to take her frustration out on the family. I mean, it hasn't been the easiest year for any of us. Doesn't she know that? How can a good mother turn into a grouchy person? Doesn't she have the responsibility to set a good example? What should I do? Please help.

A Confused Daughter

Dear Daughter,

I am so happy that you reached out to me. Almost everyone who I have been working with these days is either irritable or is dealing with friends and/or family members who are also on edge.

Your mother, like so many others, is likely dealing with the fear of COVID-19, the inability to engage in her usual decompression activities, and social isolation. In addition, there is all kinds of ambiguity about when life will normalize and when life might be safer. Ambiguity or lack of clarity is extremely difficult for everyone to deal with. I am sure that you miss your mother's usual calm style.

It is important that you understand that everyone reacts to stress differently. Your mother is clearly on edge and may not even realize how she is impacting you.

I suggest that you find a time to talk to your mother and ask her how she is doing. After that sort of opening, explain to her that you miss her and you have noticed that she is not her usual self. You will be helping the entire family including your mother by opening up this discussion. I am always surprised that people are unaware of their own behavior and how it affects their families and friends.

Your mother's on edge behavior is not healthy for her. My guess is that when she becomes aware of this behavior she will try to change it. The hope is that she will monitor her behavior. Self-monitoring often leads to behavioral change.

You can also help your mother and yourself by letting your mother know that you miss her. This will motivate her to be mindful of her behavior. The next time your mother becomes irritable with you and you feel that it is an inappropriate reaction to the situation, point this out to your mother in as calm a manner as possible. Ask her if she is irritated at you and why. It is important to try your best to stay calm so that the interaction does not escalate into an argument.

I hope that you can work this out with your mother. I feel confident that you will be able to, given your history of having a good relationship with her. I also hope that this pandemic sorts itself out sooner rather than later as it is wreaking havoc on so many lives and relationships.

Good luck,

Dr. G.

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