– If it’s not very urgent, please leave it until after the session. We only have twenty-five minutes left, and this is supposed to be time for you and Joe. So, let’s continue, Christine, you mentioned you’ve been feeling under pressure.
– I’ve been busy. Work’s always very hectic in the weeks before Easter. People come in for repeat prescriptions before the holidays, and the flu’s still around.
– And how does this affect you?
– Well, I worry about the stress, because I know I should be looking after myself right now. But I think it’s becoming a negative circle for me. There’s so much at work, and what with my mother, and the Home.
– The nursing home, she’s a volunteer. As if our own home wasn’t enough.
– Joe, that’s different. Helping the elderly is important. Anyway, when I get back in the evening, I have a glass of wine to wind down, and then another one with dinner. Before I know it, a bottle’s gone down.
– She drinks wine like it’s water.
– It has been a bit too much lately.
– Can you describe a situation recently when you had that overwhelming feeling?
– Just the other day, I’d had a full day at work, stopped by the shops, and then popped into see my mother. She’s a bit poorly. Used to be so full of energy, one of those feisty redheads. Now she‘s gone grey, and she’s on her own. Well, she’s always been on her own really, dad was never very present in our lives. I cooked for her, put some extra in the freezer, and checked she’d taken her medicine. Then I was on my way again. I got home and was preparing dinner when Mo came back with a bag full of sweaty footy kit and a note from school saying “A job for Easter”. Great, I thought, just what I need. Another bloody job for Easter!
– You shouldn’t scratch at it. See those red rashes on her wrists? It’s eczema, chronic. I’ve told her before, scratching will only make it worse, but she won’t listen to me. She’s starting to get flaky patches below the hairline as well now. There.
– I know, I know. Anyway, it turns out that for Geography class they need to learn their home address off by heart. Including the postal code! He barely knows all the letters in the alphabet, and we’re in NW. He hasn’t reached W yet, he’s barely past ABC.
– They actually don’t need to learn the postal code off by heart. I saw that note you’d stuck on the fridge. It says you can put the postal code on an envelope that they bring to school with them.
– But what if all the other kids come back knowing the whole thing? Mo would feel awful. I want to give him the best chance I can at school.
– He’s just a lad, let him get on with it.
– What do you know about school? You never get involved with Mo’s homework.
– I did practice the two-times table with him. It went well actually, I enjoyed it.
– Once! You did homework with him once, Joe. It’s really important that he doesn’t fall behind at this age. It’ll be much harder to catch up later on.
– School’s not all there is. When they leave there are no jobs to be had anyway. I’ve told Mo. I’ve told him either you come work with me as an apprentice, or you set up your own thing. A man’s got to make his own money these days.
– Let’s take a step back. You may not agree right now about what your son should be doing in the future. But at the moment, he’s in school, and helping out with homework is one of the jobs that come with having a family. What are your thoughts on this, Joe?
– I want to help, but she’s the expert on everything, it’s intimidating. And I come back after six at night, and my whole body aches. I can’t bear to do anything.
– Not the cleaning anyway, that’s for sure.
– No one’s asked you to clean the house every week either, you just do that.
– But if I don’t do it, it won’t get done!
– I’ll interrupt here. Is this really about the cleaning? Is a dirty house unbearable to you Christine?
– Yes! Erhm, yeah, I suppose.
– Can you compare it to something else? Is cleaning more important than Mo’s homework for example?
– No, Mo’s schooling is very important.
– Good. You’re starting to identify priorities. Sometimes it might be worth considering what is a little less important, and give that less time.
– But it’s nice when the house is clean.
– Well, it’d be nicer for me if you were a bit more relaxed. You’re already doing the volunteering, and cooking for your mother.
– She hasn’t been well, Joe!
– I know. But she qualifies for Meals on Wheels. It takes you two nights a week to cook and stock up the fridge for her.
– Home-made is nicer.
– As I said, it may be possible to make priorities, and you would have to agree on which ones. Please reflect on that individually, and we’ll talk about it next time. Now tell me Joe, you mentioned that you feel very tired after work. What do you do to help you unwind?
– Well, not much, to be honest. I would like to have a bit more, you know…intimacy. But it’s like she’s too efficient. Especially since we started trying for another baby. She’ll only do it at certain times, when the temperature’s right and all that. Then again, she’s never been much up for it. A bit of a miracle we ever had Mo, if you ask me.
– You just don’t know how to…
– We’ll come on to your physical relationship another time. For now, I think we can agree that you need to readjust the balance of work, childcare, and time for yourselves and each other.
– There isn’t any balance at all!
– Our session’s almost finished, but I have a piece of homework for you. There are a few bank holidays coming up over Easter. Now, being away from work doesn’t necessarily allow you to relax unless you change the behaviour that causes you stress. Use these days to break the pattern. I want you, Joe, to take on the responsibility of cooking and cleaning, and also anything to do with Mo’s football training and Easter homework. Christine, you’ll go on a retreat of sorts. For three days starting tomorrow, which is Good Friday, you won’t do any housework. And especially stay away from anything that could worsen that eczema, like doing the washing up.
– Take time out for reflection. On Easter Sunday you have a family meal, and talk about how you’ve each felt over the past three days, including anything you’ve found difficult. Make sure to include Mo in this. Consider whether you think there’s something in the experience that you can learn from, especially reflecting on priorities. We’ll discuss it next time. Any questions? Good, I’ll see you in two weeks.
“Fourth floor. Lift going down.”
– You always come across as so good, Christine. No one can compare to you.
– I’m just trying to do what’s right, but it’s not easy. By the way, I’m not sure about this exercise, Joe. But I’ll do my best if it means saving anything.
– Saving us, you mean? I hope so, if you’ll give me a chance.
by Sara Westerberg