It’s okay to admit you have family fatigue

Hindustan Times | ByNatasha Rego
Sep 20, 2020 10:31 AM IST

Half a year in, with no end in sight, loved ones are getting less beloved as time drags on. One way out is to balance conversations with silences.

Many of the irritants are little things — a partner who starts discussing plans for dinner at 4 pm every day; a sibling who complains about her chores all the time; a parent who can’t stop nattering (or nagging). The positive persons who can only see the upside? Well, they can be annoying too.

(HT Illustration: MALAY KARMAKAR)
(HT Illustration: MALAY KARMAKAR)

As the months drag on with no release in sight, they’re calling it family fatigue. The lockdown is over but most sane people are still staying at home to the extent possible. Gyms, bars, restaurants are beginning to open up in some parts of the country but most people don’t want to take the risk.

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Family fatigue is the boxed-in feeling caused by a lack of variety and stimulation. There are no other people to talk to; no fresh conversations to have; nothing much to do. So cohabitants are on edge.

But family fatigue can be a serious problem too. A lot of young people have given up their independent lives and headed home to their parents in the pandemic so they can isolate better, help care for those in the family who need it, and live rent-free since they can work from anywhere (or, in some cases, have lost their jobs).

Many returned to find parents more different from those they remembered; parents opened the door to children they barely recognised.

A Chattopadhyay (first name withheld on request), 24, a digital marketer in Mumbai, returned home to Pune just before the lockdown, to be with her parents as her father battled a grave illness. “We were all relieved to have each other around during this difficult period,” she says. “A few months in, though, I was noticing things I hadn’t noticed before — like the way my father treats my mother, who is his primary caregiver. He says some very hurtful things and my mother doesn’t say a word. I was beginning to realise that this had always been their dynamic.”

If Chattopadhyay spoke up for her mother, it led to unpleasant outbursts. “The last time, we really talked, about the tone and the language he uses, which is often foul. And over the last few weeks it has been quite nice,” she says.

Gauri Dange, a family counsellor and author of Always A Parent, says she went into the lockdown knowing it could get difficult. “My partner and I decided we were not going to wrestle each other to the ground on the little things. Earlier you could curse and then take a walk to blow off steam; now we wouldn’t be able to,” she says.

Dange, 60, lives with her partner Tatsat, 64, in a 20-year-old house in Pune. Maintenance is more or less constant. Repairmen are no longer just a call away. This became a flashpoint.

“I can’t let the grass grow under my feet,” Dange says. “If there’s a drip under the sink, I have to fix it. But I don’t know how. I’m not good with my hands; he is. But he just puts a bucket under for the water to drip into.”

Often, when it does blow up, Dange says, it could indicate a larger underlying issue.

Chattopadhyay remembers when she forgot to shut the bathroom windows at 7 pm one evening, to keep the mosquitoes out. “The unprecedented response I received for that was not something I had witnessed before,” she says.


AB (name withheld on request), 28, a digital content creator, is back home in Bengaluru after six years and says her parents have become more extreme in their political ideology. “Initially I sat quietly as they watched those noisy news channels and then repeated the nonsense they heard,” she says. “But at some point I snapped, and we began to have loud arguments about fake news and propaganda.”

Every argument ended the same way — with a grilling about why she isn’t married yet. It got to the point where she was ordering her meals online, staying out of the kitchen and just waiting to return to her life in Mumbai.

“We have now made peace and agreed to let it go, because, you know, family,” she says. But the next argument could come at any time.

“The healthiest thing you can do now is articulate your feelings, if it is safe for you to do so. Use description in place of accusation. Say, ‘this is how this makes me feel’. Try and find a solution — such as not discussing certain subjects that you just can’t agree on,” Dange says.

“Don’t hold too much in. You might be surprised by the change a conversation can bring about.”

Dange had one such conversation with her granddaughters (aged 8 and 10), who visit on the weekends. Every time they left, the floor would be strewn with the things they’d left around. “The other day I found myself telling them that I feel very depressed when I see this, like a bomb has been dropped in their playing space,” she says. “The next time, they cleaned up their playing corner before they left. I hadn’t expected that.”

In Pune, Chattopadhyay has had a few conversations with her mother too. “We’ve talked about how she puts up with it all. And it’s helped me understand her.”

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