How to Survive A Bad Case

of Cabin Fever

On this page: Is this Really My Home?, Ask for the Graces!, Emulate the Virgin Mary, Look Around You, Learn from Others but Don't Compare, Look for the Joy

By Elizabeth Yank

Co-founder of the Greater Milwaukee Catholic Homeschoolers Support Group.

This article reprinted from the Spring 1995 issue of

The Catholic Family's Magnificat! Home Education Magazine

Copyright 1995


When the kids haven't been out of the house in two weeks, Mom is grumpy because the baby woke up three times last night, Daddy is working late again, and nobody can remember the last time you all did something spontaneously joyful - a whopping case of cabin fever has struck!


The first thing you have to do is tell Our Lady about the problem and she will add her prayer to yours and see you through. Next, try to get out for just one hour. If you simply can't, then shut the door to your room for five minutes. Even if you need to feed the baby while in your room, the simple act of closing your eyes for five minutes will give you an immediate sense of peace. Then alter your routine for a day, or a week, if you have to. You'll feel refreshed when you go back to the usual and you will have gained your perspective once more.


Is This Really My Home?

Why is it that children who can politely answer the phone when their mother is busy, cheerfully shovel a two foot snowdrift, and sweetly amuse the baby are the same children who cannot walk by each other without whacking each other with a pencil? (Ok, not whacking, but tapping.) To all those within ear shot, the blood curdling scream that escapes from the tapped person gives the general impression that he or she is being brutally murdered. Naturally, this doesn't happen all the time - just enough to irritate me.


Now anyone who says this is learned behavior is quite mistaken. I have never tapped, poked, prodded, or whacked my children when passing them. Furthermore, I have absolutely no deep seated urges to do so.


For those purists who think man was created perfect and think his environment corrupted him, I refuse to take the responsibility for the origins of this behavior. On the other hand, as my children's nurturer, I will take full responsibility to curb these tendencies immediately!


Created in the image and likeness of God, yet suffering the ill effects of Adam and Eve'' fall, children are neither perfect little cherubs nor depraved little demons. One viewpoint denies the reality of original sin and the other overlooks the wonders of grace.


Faced with a myriad of conflicting viewpoints, where do I go to seek the wisdom I need to be a true reflection of my Heavenly Father's love? By throwing myself into my Father's arms and begging Him to send me patience, I gain the strength I need to cope with this job.


Let's face it, children will be children. Although you may sometimes believe that their mission in life is to drive you crazy, they are here to help you earn the grace you need to gain Heaven, and more importantly, you are to guide them there also - by your shining example.


Ask for the Graces!


Fortunately, through the Sacrament of Matrimony, our Heavenly Father has supplied us with an abundant treasury of grace. Utilize your withdrawal slips! However, when things get tough, realize your deposits are benefiting others. Too often, this precious jewel lays forgotten in the dust-coated cobwebs. Wipe off the cobwebs and polish this gift of love until it glitters like gold. As children of our Father, we need to humble ourselves and ask for that upward boost.


In moments of desperation, the Memorare prayer has never failed me. Whenever I have sent the Blessed Mother an urgent SOS, she has always opened her arms to comfort me. Too often, I have waited until the eleventh hour to ask for her help. Toll often, I become enwrapped in my own misery and self-pity to remember that she is waiting to ask her Son to "change the water into wine." In fact, don't make that mistake. Hold daily conversations with Our Lady. Enthrone her in your home. As Christ's beloved mother, give her a place of honor. She will advise you to "do whatever He tells you."


When my nerves are wearing thin, it's time for me to drink from the well of graces. What is my prayer life like? Is it realistically possible for me to go to Mass before the children wake up, or go with them later? What about spiritual communion? Do I have a spiritual advisor? If I can't or don't have one, am I at least going to confession regularly? Am I keeping a particular examination of conscience or a spiritual daily order? I can't hide from my faults when I cross off those little marks. What is my special resolution for the day, the week, the year? Am I making the sacrifices I need to overcome my own defects and gain grace, or am I entrenched in my bad habits?


Because patience is love embodied in reality, it is the one of the most needed virtues for the mother. It is love demonstrated through living action. If we have yelled all day, our children will doubt the validity of "I love you" as we tuck them in at night.


As we have weak natures, the challenge to acquire patience is an upstream battle. For those who did not experience patience when children themselves, they can cultivate it - with God's grace.


Emulate the Virgin Mary


Too often I have heard mothers say, "I could never stay at home with my kids all day." When mothers have lost sight of their primary task - to be a source of love, to be a center of peace, to be the heart of the home, to be a reflection of Mary - then nobody wants to be at home.


Needless to say, there is one role model for mothers who outshines all others. Visualize how the greatest model of feminine kindness, the Blessed Mother, would react to a particular situation. Would she use this language or speak with this tone of voice? By comparing ourselves to the Blessed Mother, our spiritual lives will be greatly enlightened.


After taking inventory and comparing ourselves to the Virgin Mother, we don't have to lose hope! We can ask God for the graces we need to accomplish our mission in life.


Look Around You


Observe life. Without putting her under a microscope, we can watch a mother whose technique for handling children we admire. When a patient mother speaks to her child, she gives her whole attention in such a way that the child feels special and important. She speaks quietly and gently with edifying words. In this way, when a real emergency arises, the child knows it by the urgency in the mother's voice.


Read the lives of the saints who were also mothers. They, too, had to overcome their faults to attain heaven.


Of course, we're not perfect. When the rolls burn, the baby is crying, and the three year old has had another potty-training accident, we very well might blow a fuse. That's why God asks us "to forgive one another." A hug and an apology can go a long way.


Perhaps the children need a change of pace. Split them into different areas of the house, or send them all to the basement, find a game in which they must cooperate to win, assign an older child to take care of a younger one for a short period of time and give them a specific goal in mind (build a tower, read a book, put up a train set, play ball).


If school is becoming drudgery, find ways to make it less stressful. Pare down the unnecessary "twaddle," as Charlotte Mason called it. Teach what your value as indispensable - and nothing more. Teach what you wish you had learned as a child and what your children want to learn. Keep it simple, interesting, and fun. Naturally, the children won't love every subject. So find out why a particular subject is a problem and resolve it. Each child is unique. What one child loves, another abhors. Think of each problem as a mystery. As supersleuth moms, we uncover the clues, fill in the missing pieces, and solve the problems. Keep on trying. We will become patient, not through our won natural charm, wit and wisdom, but through the grace of God.


Perhaps what the children need is focused attention from us. The atmosphere in the home might become too tense because we're trying to be Supermom. (We all know Supermom. Her house is cleaner than Mr. Clean's. Her children are sweeter than apple pie. Her husband adores her every move. She's so self-fulfilled that she has self-destructed. In reality, she's a Madison Avenue fairytale created to make every woman feel inadequate.)


If a mother is trying to meet too many goals and she hasn't even gotten dressed yet, forget about washing the kitchen floor. Change the baby's diaper, get dressed, and eat breakfast. If the baby has colic, and all mom does is pace the floor with him, she's meeting his needs. In a few months, the baby will outgrow his fussing. (In these bleak moments, my guiding light has always been "this too shall pass.") Once the baby outgrows his colic, return to the old schedule - or maybe a new and better one will have been discovered.

 To gain a sense of accomplishment, meet a bite-sized goal and cross it off the list.


Throughout the day, continually evaluate what is the priority at that particular moment. It could be anything from cuddling up with a precocious three year old and a favorite picture book to starting dinner.


Learn from Others, But Don't Compare Yourself to Others


Perhaps you've seen the flashy "who's who" parade at a homeschooling conference and sat back dazzled and amazed at everything those speakers accomplish. Of course, they haven't talked about how to cope with the dust on top of the refrigerator! Many of these speakers don't have a newborn, a toddler, and a preschooler, or if they do, they have older children who help them. The point is, these parents have mastered the art of delegation and self-discipline. You must realize that your situation is unique to you!


We have the freedom to determine our schedules and adapt our curriculum to our lifestyles. Whatever the challenge is, step back, analyze it, meditate on Christ's life, reflect on your ultimate goals, and get the creative juices flowing to solve the situation.


Look for the Joy


As Catholics, we have been given a vision of life which transcends "cabin fever." We have the message of hope that all our suffering has meaning. All our miseries can be acts of love offered to our Heavenly Father for our redemption.


Does this mean our lives must be miserable? Christ said, "I came that you many have life and have it more abundantly" (Jn 10:10). How do we live spiritually abundant lives?


With a joy that refreshes. While living in the miserable conditions of prison, Paul continually exhorted us to, "Rejoice in the Lord always" (Phil.4:4).


Within the realm of the domestic church, we want to cultivate genuine, uplifting sensory, spiritual and supernatural joys. We want to experience the delight of singing, dancing, and sharing a good meal together. Through a stimulating conversation, a good book read together, or a hike through a forest, we can experience the noble, spiritual joys of truth and beauty. And because love is willing to sacrifice, it endures all things. Since they rest in the knowledge of God's love, the saints endured all things with heroic strength.


St. Francis de Sales said, "A sad saint is a sorry saint." Each of us should ask ourselves, "What kind of saint am I?" Without joy, family life would be suffocating. So, in each child, discover the talent, gift, or activity which sparks an enthusiastic, noble joy. By sharing the simple joys of life, we can create lasting memories.


Now, you may argue, "How can I find joy in waking to a mountain of laundry, a crying baby, and a stack of dishes?" By focusing on the positive and imploring God's help, you can say, "These children!" When children spill their milk for the hundredth time, believe that children are blessings - and count to ten.


I continually beg God for patience to deal with my children's quirky habits, their petty bickering, and the need to explain to them the same math concept over and over again while they whine, "I can't wait!" When my frustration level peaks, I need to step back from the situation even more than the child does. At this point, I usually ask the child to pull out a book on a different subject. The mental space and time this allows helps me calm down. Sometimes the problem seems to just click whereas before the child didn't understand what was happening. If not, at least the time has let me regroup my mental faculties, and I'' ready to try again with a more open frame of mind, a calmer attitude, and a new approach to the problem.


I wish I had patience by the bucket-full, but I don't. My frustration is caused by my perfectionist ideals and self-centeredness. I want things done my way - and now. When that sin of pride creeps up, I must remind myself that the children are being children. They're not street thugs, selling dope, or embezzling fortunes. And all too soon, they will be running after their own children. What I do here and now will impact future generations. This is a scary and exhilarating thought! I need to keep a clear perspective on the matter.


Whatever we do, we cannot blame homeschooling on a bad case of the "blahs." Even if the children went to school, we would still have to deal with their bad habits and petty bickering when they came home.


Because you love your kids, and learning about God's incredible world fascinates you, you are an ideal home educator. If you are seriously committed to imitating the Blessed Mother and in becoming more patient mother, then perhaps someday you will hear someone say, "What wonderful children. They're so well-behaved." You'll wonder, "Who are they talking about?" and turn around to discover - it's you.


Elizabeth Yank and her husband Raymond homeschool their five children in Milwaukee, WI. They have been home educating for eight years. Elizabeth is also the co-founder of the Greater Milwaukee Catholic Homeschoolers support group.

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This article originally appeared in the Spring 1995 issue

The Catholic Family's Magnificat! Home Education Magazine. All Rights Reserved.

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