I often make the same joke when I’m talking with parents – that if they saw the chaos in my house on some mornings, they wouldn’t take advice from me. I don’t say that because I have it tough at home. On the contrary, I’ve got a great family who loves each other, and more often than not we’re as happy and lucky as they come. That said, there’s an element of truth to my joke. As merry a band as we may be, there is no shortage of turmoil in my house, and there are some mornings (and afternoons and evenings) when we probably wouldn’t want the cameras rolling. And that’s my point. That real life – perfectly healthy real life – is often messy. People bicker, school and work get stressful, tasks get overwhelming, feelings get hurt, houses get untidy, chores go undone, and so on. I’ve been a psychologist for over 20 years now, almost entirely focused on working with kids and families. In all that time, I have yet to meet the family that doesn’t struggle, argue, or go through rough patches. I also know that when one family member struggles for whatever reason, it usually impacts the dynamics of the whole house. As the saying goes, “you’re only as happy as your least happy child.”
January and February can be particularly challenging. The excitement of the holidays with all of the lights, celebrations, and vacation time is in the rearview mirror. It’s cold and gray and will be for much of the next two months. Many of us get a touch of the “winter blues,” and some even tip into something more severe that approaches (or reaches) Seasonal Affective Disorder. And that’s just in an “ordinary” year. Add to this year a lingering pandemic that’s left us feeling so confined, weak, and socially restricted, top that with the disheartening events at the Capitol last week, and it’s no surprise that so many kids (and parents) are feeling listless, unmotivated, and irritable.
So what to do about it? First, recognize it. If you are seeing someone in your home who is uncharacteristically flat and disinterested in the world, or if your child is suddenly refusing to come to school, stop and take note. Understand that the situation may resolve by itself at some point, but potentially at a glacial pace. As I write this, we’re already 1/3 of the way through January. We’re past the winter solstice, and each day the sun stays out just a little later than it did the day before. Vaccines are starting to roll out, and there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Even so, we’ve got a ways to go.
Which leads me to the second point -- Remember that you’re part of a caring and stable community. We’re here to help one another, and that includes supporting you if someone in your house is in a funk. That doesn’t mean that there will be an instant, easy fix, but it does mean that you’re not alone. And there is no small value in that. So please reach out if you need to, and we’ll find time to connect.