10 Stories That Prove Family Dynamics Seriously Affect Our Well-Being

Family can act as a major source of anxiety—or crystallize something about ourselves that we didn’t know before.

Image by Andrii Yalanskyi/ Getty Images

In a recent interview, actor and new father Jesse Eisenberg mentioned that fatherhood had the effect of easing his anxiety, and his comment prompted a conversation in our office about parenthood, family, and mental health. Family can bring us together and remind us of our roots, but every once in a while, a shift in our family dynamics can act as a major source of anxiety—or crystallize something about ourselves that we didn’t know before.

We asked Thrive’s contributor community about how a shift in family dynamics impacted their mental health and well-being, either positively or negatively, and how they were able to cope. These stories are personal, sometimes uncomfortable, and ultimately hopeful. No matter how jarring the change in family dynamics, these people persevered.

Becoming a parent helped me ease up on myself

“Jesse Eisenberg’s reflection on how becoming a parent eased instead of amplified his anxiety makes perfect and utter sense to me based on my own experience of becoming a parent for the first time. I vividly recall going back to work full-time as a senior associate in my firm when my son, now 23, was 11 weeks old, and understanding fully, ‘If I can do and be all of THIS, I am one resilient amazing human!’ And I meant it. And I knew it. And I liked the change of view. We’re all just ‘walking each other home’ like Ram Dass said so famously. It’s beautiful and true.”

—Nedra Chandler, mediator and coach for government leaders and teams, Helena, MT

Dealing with my parents’ divorce as an adult was harder than I thought
“A year ago, my mom broke the news to me that she and my dad were separating. I never expected something like this to happen in my adult life. Our dynamic completely flipped from one where I had a childlike emotional reliance on my mom, to having to take on the parent role of listening, checking in, and supporting her. Meanwhile my dad and I, who were always close, grew frighteningly distant. I found myself drowning in thoughts and feelings I couldn’t process — it took a toll on my own relationship, work, friendships, hobbies — everything felt like it was falling apart. I finally listened to my boyfriend’s suggestion that I talk to a therapist, and it saved me. I always thought therapy was for people who couldn’t step up and deal with real life (probably a side-effect of my Russian upbringing). I wish I knew sooner that it’s OK to need and seek out help.”

—RK, Sales Manager, New York, NY

My connection with my daughter heightened my self-awareness

“Being a mother to a wise 10-year-old girl always brings me back to presence. Our time together grounds me. My connection with her has heightened my self awareness, as I am more aware that how I show up in the world is going to influence how she shows up in the world.”

—Radhika M, human potential and health coach, Austin, TX

Dealing with my aging parents from across the country forced me to fight for information

“I am in my early twenties and am dealing with my parents aging from across the country. It has caused a huge spike in anxiety because I keep falling into the familial role as the youngest — aka no one tells me anything ‘to protect me’. I’ve had to resort to very dramatic confrontations to be seen as an adult with skill sets that can be helpful in this situation, but it is still very hard for a lot of my family to be open and honest about the situation. I am 2,000 miles away and being left in the dark has caused me to assume the worst.”

—Clare Owen, human resources, Asheville, NC

Nothing prepared me for becoming a stepmom

“I have a lot of mom experience. I am a mom to 3 and a grandma to 6, and I am a clinical social worker by profession. You’d think that becoming a stepmom would be a piece of cake, but it’s not! Nothing I had done previously prepared me for the finesse required to be a successful stepmom. I’ve learned to say very little, biting my tongue when I normally would interject and making sure that everyone’s favorite food is there when they visit. After 5 ‘exciting’ years, I think I am doing OK.”

—MF, clinical social worker, Long Branch, NJ

Having a baby focused my priorities

“The first few months of new parenthood were riddled with sleepless nights, anxiety, and stress. Soon after the fog cleared, I found that my priorities had been severely shifted for the betterment of my well-being. Dinner went from 8:30 to 6:30 so we could all eat together. What I noticed was that small changes lowered my stress levels, increased my quality of life and gratitude for family and what I have, and my life was more enriched. I also feel so much calmer — not sweating the small stuff that may have thrown me off course before baby. When you have more to live for, take care of, and handle on a daily basis there simply isn’t time anymore to focus on things outside of the top list of priorities which silences the noise.”

—Laura C. Schneider, certified health & wellness coach, Los Angeles, CA

Moving away from my family brought us closer

“I was always the caretaker in my family. I stepped in, even when I didn’t need to, and I put a lot of my own needs behind to be able to take care of my parents or my brother. It wasn’t until I took the leap to move out on my own that I had the opportunity to really embrace myself and, with that, my own mental health. My perspective changed on my life outlook, and I am now clearer and more confident about my life goals (and much closer to my family!).”

—Aleks Slijepcevic, project coordinator, Newark, DE

Watching my baby fight for life made me more resilient

“I suffered from severe anxiety and depression during a difficult pregnancy. For the first few months, there was little hope that the pregnancy would reach full term. The delivery was life-threatening and Baby was ill. However, when Baby and I came home, I felt hope and strength fill our lives again. I always thought that if this tiny baby could fight like that to be born and to be healthy, then I can fight to be whole again. And I am. Today my entire family is thriving.”

—GS, writer, London, UK

No one talks about the “terrible twenties.”

“People talk about the terrible twos. I’m in the midst of the ‘terrible twenties.’ Be sure, I don’t like calling anything terrible, especially anything relating to my kids. But I’m struggling with my kids being in their twenties and living on their own now! I don’t have an outlet for my nurturing, and I miss the mundane day-to-day interactions we had.”

—Christine Bradstreet, life coach and writer, Winter Haven, FL

When I realized there was no “back to normal,” I could let go of stress

“After having my first child, I felt like a different person. I was hyper-focused on ‘getting back to normal.’ What I didn’t realize was that “normal” wasn’t a possibility anymore. Now that I had a little human who relied on me, I had to rediscover my identity. It was a stressful process and put a strain on my relationships with family members. What ultimately helped my anxiety to decrease was renegotiating boundaries with family. Learning new ways to interact and communicate with my loved ones allowed me to let go of stress and lean on them for support.”

—Taylor Bento, MBA, Knoxville, TN

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