Smriti Sawhney Joshi is one of the first certified telemental health providers in India. She’s a clinical psychologist with 15+ years of experience in the field of mental health in diverse settings ranging from NGOs to schools to hospitals and attending to corporate clients. She answers a reader’s question here.
Reader: I am a housewife and mother of two from Meerut. I have been married for 15 years, and we live in a large joint family. The men run the family business during the daytime, while the women stay home and manage household chores. I was a nursery teacher before the children were born, and now am forced to sit at home. I don’t get along with my in-laws and I feel claustrophobic in this house. My sister-in-law once sexually abused my 13-year-old daughter while they slept in the same room, but I did not mention it to anyone for fear of being called a liar. My husband is good to me, but he does not understand why I am unhappy and bitter all the time. Sometimes I want to die, but the thought of my two girls jerks me to reality. Please help.
Dear reader, the struggle you are going through it brutal and painful and I appreciate your willingness to seek help. People around you may find it difficult to understand how you can be lonely when you’re never alone; how caregiving selflessly for people you love and looking after your household which for you should be the most important in the world can feel like it’s slowly suffocating you.
These things are not contradictory. They are real. This is depression and this is life for millions of women who stay home post-marriage whether by choice or by circumstance.
According to a GALLUP survey, homemakers are more likely to report feelings of sadness, anger and depression than working moms or their single counterparts. The reason for most women is never having time for yourself; frequently feeling like the least important member of your family and not having your own needs met.
There’s a mundane routine and fatigue coupled with unhealthy dose of poor self-care. There also could be conflicts with joint family members. The pressures for homemakers to be perfect “bahus”, peppy parents and spouses can be overwhelming and can cause significant anxiety. And all this without almost ever getting appreciated or acknowledged! It can lead to isolation, loneliness, frustration and depression.
Firstly, get rid of any feelings of resentment or guilt, and appreciate yourself for having tried coping with this for the past 15 years. Stop your daughter from sharing room with your sister-in-law and make alternative arrangements, even if it means her sleeping on an extra mattress in your own room. Teach her about good and bad touch, and how to call for immediate help.
It’s important we teach our daughters that it’s not their fault and it’s nothing to be hidden or feel ashamed of due to family pressures. Speak about all this to your daughter in your sister-in-law’s presence, indirectly giving a gentle warning about telling the other family members if the abuse is repeated. Also, speak with your husband as he would probably take a stand for his daughter’s safety.
How is your relationship with your husband otherwise? Is he supportive on other aspects? If yes, could that be a motivating factor for you to continue this marriage with a little more zeal? Do keep trying to talk to him explaining your feelings to him without making it look like a blame game involving in-laws.
Make your conversations more ‘I-oriented’ like “I wish to do more than just be a homemaker as I have the need to be creative or productive outside the scope of household chores too,” or, “Just being at home with the kids growing up fast, I feel the need to be occupied with more positive activities to feel happy and healthy and contribute to our kid’s growth in positive ways.”
If not work, would going out for a walk, yoga, joining a course or being a volunteer at an NGO working for benefits of children or elderly or animals help you feel strong and happy? Research says that each of these activities has a strong positive impact on one’s self-esteem, mood and resilience to stress.
Exercise is a natural mood-lifter as well as an important self-care activity most homemakers ignore. Standing up for your own self and taking care of yourself are important since you can’t pour from an empty cup.
Similarly, joining a spiritual or religious group or a hobby class or volunteering helps you meet like-minded people and develop a feeling of belongingness, learn something new and get appreciated or acknowledged for your contributions.
Three, if you are net-savvy you could also take up online courses or work from home jobs like online tutoring and so on. There’s light at the end of the tunnel so don’t lose hope and your courage.
Explore avenues and resources other than a job to get a breather or break from your claustrophobic atmosphere at home. You are your own best friend, so love yourself more and take care of your own needs.
Lead image credit: Scott Umstattd on Unsplash. Read the October 2017 issue of eShe magazine free here.