Clinical psychologist Dr. Barbara Greenberg

My mom used to be pretty chill but during the pandemic she got really bad-tempered. Now she’s about to go back to the office but seems mad about that, too. What should I do?

Dear Barbara,

I am a teenage girl. My mother used to be easy-going but during the pandemic she got super-irritable and complained about everything. She likes to be around other people and said she hated working at home and talking on Zoom. But now that things are opening up and she may need to go back to the office, she is upset about that! She says she has gotten used to working at home and isn’t sure she wants to work in an office again. What can I do to get my old mom back? 

Dear correspondent,

I am so happy that you reached out to me. Almost everyone who I have been working with these days is either irritable or is dealing with friends and/or family members who are also on edge. The advice I’ve given them applies to you as well.

Your mother, like so many others, has been dealing with the fear of COVID-19, the inability to engage in her usual decompression activities, and social isolation. In addition, there have been all kinds of ambiguity about when life will normalize and when life might be safer. Ambiguity or lack of clarity is extremely difficult for everyone to deal with. I am sure that you miss your mother’s usual calm style.

It is important that you understand that everyone reacts to stress differently. Your mother is clearly on edge and may not even realize how she is affecting you.

I suggest that you find a time to talk to your mother and ask her how she is doing. After that sort of opening, explain to her that you miss her and you have noticed that she is not her usual self. You will be helping the entire family, including your mother, by opening up this discussion. I am always surprised that people are unaware of their own behavior and how it affects their families and friends.

Your mother’s on edge behavior is not healthy for her. My guess is that when she becomes aware of this behavior she will try to change it. The hope is that she will monitor her behavior. Self-monitoring often leads to behavioral change.

You can also help your mother and yourself by letting your mother know that you miss her. This will motivate her to be mindful of her behavior – that is, to pay attention to it. The next time your mother becomes irritable with you and you feel that it is an inappropriate reaction to the situation, point this out to your mother in as calm a manner as possible. Ask her if she is irritated at you and why. It is important to try your best to stay calm so that the interaction does not escalate into an argument.

It sounds like the news of going back to the office – which your mother had probably longed for at one point – is now bringing up some new anxieties. But she will likely adjust to her new normal, and it is still a good idea to have this conversation.

I hope that you can work this out with your mother. I feel confident that you will be able to, given your history of having a good relationship with her. I also hope that this pandemic (or perhaps this post-pandemic reality) sorts itself out sooner rather than later as it is wreaking havoc on many lives and relationships.

Good luck,


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