Dear Dr. Michelle:
I work as an ICU RN and for the past year or so I’ve been in the COVID ICU. It is like a war zone, where I watch people die every single day. The amount of stress has taken a toll on my health. Things were getting better for a while, but now as the COVID numbers increase again it means managing more cases and experiencing more death. My mom lives with me and has been living with me for about 5 years. We had a great relationship, but this last year her best friend submerged her into conspiracies theories. My mom doesn’t believe COVID is real, doesn’t wear a mask, and thinks vaccines are a way to control us. I feel so disappointed and betrayed knowing my mom thinks I am lying about COVID. Moving out for her isn’t an option, but the relationship is strained. We have talked, argued, even hurt each other in the process and I do not know what to do anymore. She doesn’t take it seriously and I feel like she is putting my girls’ lives in danger because she might bring home this virus. One of my girls is more susceptible to complications if she were to get the virus. What else can I do? Ignore her and pray she will change? Talk to her again? Get mad? Please advise. I need help.
Thank you for your service as an RN during the pandemic and for risking your life to help others. I am sorry for the ongoing emotional and physical toll that the pandemic is having on your life and on your relationship with your mother.
It seems you have tried all the right approaches to influence your mother. If after all that you have gone through, and continue to endure, she still cannot trust your experience or observe how much more difficult your work life is now versus pre-pandemic, then most likely you will not convince her that COVID is the cause.
Accepting Her Beliefts
No matter how much it hurts, it might be time for you to decide to accept the fact that you do not have the same beliefs. True acceptance requires you being okay with her beliefs without resentment.
This might mean you need to go through some grief and loss in the relationship – losing the ease of sharing similar beliefs and feeling the hurt that results from your mother not trusting your experience. Furthermore, your grief might need to include the fact that you have lost the support of your mother during a time in your life when you might need it the most. While you might feel angry, remember that anger masks deeper, more difficult feelings – sadness, hurt, sorrow, and loss. These are the feelings that you might need to experience and resolve to accept your mother’s beliefs.
By accepting her beliefs, it will allow you to be more effective at negotiating how to continue living together and working to establish ground rules.
How To Establish Boundaries
You mentioned that your mother lives with you – leading me to assume that it is your living quarters and that you provide ample resources to maintain the living arrangement. If this is true, in addition to the fact you have children in the house that you are responsible for, this gives you the right to take the lead to establish certain expectations.
Ground rules might include:
- Talking about COVID in the house is off-limits, for both of you.
- Neither one of you will have guests in the house that will talk about COVID beliefs or disbeliefs.
- Your work conversations will not be about COVID, but rather about the stress of the work in general.
- Neither of you can discredit or put down other’s beliefs.
Perhaps require that your mother not have guests over to the house that are not vaccinated. While these things might not protect you and your daughter from contracting COVID through your mother, it will help in maintaining a healthy relationship and will allow you both to live together.
It is also critical to shift the conversation. You want the conversation to move away from talking about COVID and move more towards focusing on your feelings related to work and the emotional toll it is taking. Even though COVID is the cause, focus on the effects - the fact that your work is overly stressful, you have too many patients that need your help, and that it is difficult for you to watch so many people die. Perhaps you could ask your mother to offer you emotional support and to be a listening ear while you process what you are going through at work.
If your mother is unable to be a supportive friend while you deal with your work stress, I do recommend that you seek counseling so that you have someone to talk to about what you are enduring. What you are experiencing is trauma and trauma needs to be talked about for its impact to be resolved and to prevent it from having lasting effects.
Dear Dr. Michelle blog posts are informational in nature. The posts are not meant to take the place of consulting your physician, mental health professional, or other qualified health providers regarding your well-being or the well-being of others.