DEAR CAROLYN: Our parents, who are in their 60s, cannot see our son, who is their extremely cherished only grandchild. They all miss him terribly, which I understand — and it's mutual, he asks for them hourly — so now our daily schedule includes what amounts to hours of phone calls and FaceTime meetings with the sad grandparents. Thank God for technology, but it's really wearing me out. I really want to put everyone on a schedule — there are divorces and remarriages, so this involves four separate households — but in the back of my mind I am always worried about all those stats about the elderly and how isolation can lead to depression, early onset dementia, etc. Should I just suck it up and consider it our role to help brighten their days with these nonstop phone calls? For his part, my son loves them.
WORN OUT: This will not last.
By "this" I can mean any number of things, short-term and long-: The need for separation (presumably) won't last; the feelings of missing your son so acutely won't last; the novelty of these calls and v-chats won't last, for your son or your parents; your need to manage these calls won't last, as your son gets older.
Your sense of duty to your parents likely will last, but this current "sprint" mode will give way to "marathon" mode and you won't feel so undone by it all.
That means you have a choice here. You can set a schedule now and get it over with — or you can postpone that and, for now, think short-term only and ask yourself as you need to: "This will not last, so, what can I manage today?"
If you feel you can manage unlimited calls today, then allow them. If you feel you can't today, then say no. "But check with me tomorrow." They won't get depression or dementia before then.
If you find asking and re-asking yourself this question, renewably every single day, also wears you down, then rein the calls in whatever manner is easiest for you to explain and maintain — a time window, a daily maximum, whatever itself doesn't add to your stress.
The separation is unfortunate, and it does present specific new challenges like this one, but: Unlimited access is not a standard anyone rationally expects either to meet or have met. And irrationality isn't your problem to fix.
HI, CAROLYN: We are under shelter-in-place orders and my family is actually pretty lucky. We have plenty of space, we have savings, and my son's school quickly transitioned to virtual learning.
But I feel like I'm on the verge of sobbing uncontrollably often during the day. What's worse is that I feel like drinking. I have abstained for over 14 years and never felt so close to picking this habit back up. But now, the resources normally available to me and others like me are not accessible. Any suggestions?
Lucky in Oregon
LUCKY IN OREGON: "Others like me" indeed — anxiety and idleness make us magnets for false comforts and bad habits. Good for you for recognizing how vulnerable you are. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism offers a treatment locator that includes telehealth options: alcoholtreatment.niaaa.nih.gov. Talk to your regular doctor, too, in case referrals jump the line. Take heart, and take care.