Dear Mrs. Bluth,
These are such terrifying times that I find myself completely at a loss of how to adapt to daily life in seclusion and maintain my sanity. Having seven children home from school, my husband laid off from work, and Pesach around the corner with nothing done – I can’t even begin to tell you how fearful I am of catching the virus.
I know that somehow, when Erev Pesach comes in, I will have gotten it together, however rudimentary it may be; however, I am very concerned about some of my children.
My four youngest children, once bubbly and happy chatterboxes, have become sullen and quiet. They sit around and fight with each other and the two youngest cling to me all day. We live in an elevator building, and I seldom take them out, as I am afraid of exposing them to people in the elevator, so they get very little fresh air and must spend their time in tight quarters of our apartment. It has gotten to the point where I run into the bathroom to escape their constant refrain of “Mommy, Mommy.”
Before this madness, we were a happy family, always cheerful – there was never arguing between the children and certainly we, the parents, never raised our voices or got visibly angry with them. Now, after three weeks of being cooped up like birds in a cage, without their school friends or the freedom to go out to the park or even the hallway to play with other kids, with a grumpy and distant father who is wrapped up in his own misery and a mother who is one step away from losing her mind, I fear for their emotional and mental well being.
Will they suffer damage once this is over or will they go right back to being who they were before all this? Please give me some hope that we will all come out of this sane, healthy and emotionally intact.
I must have received at least 30 letters such as yours. These are truly extraordinary times and each and every one of us is tested in his or her own way. But these are also miraculous times, which, hopefully, herald the coming of Moshiach.
I understand your plight. It must be impossibly hard to be all things to everyone 24 hours a day and in such tight quarters. Your major concern about the youngest four children is understandable and I will try to address it based on the changes that you have seen in them.
Children as young as two can sense what is going on in a very general way, and they don’t yet have any refined coping mechanism in place to deal with the fear, loneliness, and imprisonment. Their world has suddenly turned upside down, their friends ripped away, structure of school and study has been obliterated, and they are prisoners in their own homes.
They cannot visit with family or go to shul on Shabbos and Yom Tov. They see their father lost and upset. That leaves only you to whom they can turn for some kind of sense of safety and reassurance, but you’re running away into the bathroom to escape them and are yourself engulfed in fear and anxiety.
So you ask: Will there be ramifications to their social and mental well-being after this is over? Sad to say, there very well may be. No one will be the same after this. How can we be? I venture to say that such signs will become apparent over many months after the fact and present themselves in noticeable changes of behavior or nightmares.
What may soften these effects is one parent always available to be a calming factor in the house. Enlist your husband to share this duty with you now that he is home. It will also give him something to take his mind off his depression. It should not fall on your shoulders alone along with everything else pressing at the moment, so step up and have a talk with him. The children need him as much as they need you now.