mental health

[Two Pronged] The tired, overworked breadwinner

Margarita Holmes
[Two Pronged] The tired, overworked breadwinner
'I'm happy to do it for myself and my family, but this is causing negative psychological effect on me which is slowly manifesting.'

Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.

Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives

Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.

Dear Two Pronged,

My responsibilities are killing me slowly. I’m employed in two government agencies, I report thrice weekly to one, four times weekly to the other.

Both are in Quezon City, far from my home in Navotas. I wake up at 4 am, arrive home at 8 pm. I do overtime in one job and don’t get home until 9:20 pm. 

My parents are OFWs, but are in the Philippines right now without a job. I have to work double for my studies and for my family’s needs. 

I have one day na lang to rest but there are household chores because I don’t have mom or nanny to do it for me. I have a clothing business for extra income. This is every weekend and every night after work.

I’m not complaining. I’m happy to do it for myself and my family, but this is causing negative psychological effect on me which is slowly manifesting.

I am now makakalimutin (forgetful). I have difficulty sleeping because of the tasks that need sorting in my head. My health is compromised cause I eat very little, and, going out everyday, I get so much exposure to COVID.

I’m grateful to God that He gives me the strength and means to continue both my work and my studies. 

How can I manage to finish all this task without compromising my health? Should I give up one job? Is it normal na ‘di makatulog di makakain on time, makakalimutin, diminishing alertness, and minsan lutang po? 


Dear Olga,

Thank you for your email.

So you are the sole breadwinner in your family. You do not say whether you have siblings nor do you elaborate on your parents, so we do not know for example whether they are looking for work, or perhaps have a disability, or simply believe that it is your turn to support them after they have given up so much to clothe, feed, and educate you as you grew up. 

Of course this latter belief ignores the fact that you did not choose to enter this world, much less on those terms. However, this attitude is culturally widespread and difficult to resist particularly since to do so would be to attract the opprobrium of friends, family and society in general.

If we presume that you have no siblings capable of sharing the burden and your parents will remain non-contributors, then you have five activities to manage. The first two are the government agencies where you work. I have no idea whether it is feasible to transfer to a location closer to Navotas or to change your job to something less demanding in terms of time but this type of adjustment is certainly worth investigating.

The third activity to manage is household chores. You say you have no mother or yaya yet you also say your parents are in the Philippines. It has anyway been proven beyond any possible doubt that household chores are not beyond the capability of men (particularly an unemployed man). It is time that your parents help you by shouldering some if not all of the household burden and you should feel at liberty to apply subtle pressure to this end.

Next is your clothing business. Perhaps you can consider taking on a partner. This will transfer some of the work and with luck enable you to expand the business, particularly if the partner can inject some cash into the business.

Finally, there are your academic studies. I have no idea whether taking a break is feasible but it would obviously help financially as well as free up time.

Please write again if you have other concerns.

All the best,

JAF Baer

Dear Olga,

Thank you very much for your letter. 

I am glad Mr Baer suggested some fairly do-able, realistic ways to give yourself opportunities to not work so much. Recent WHO studies show that working more than 55 hours a week literally lead to loss of health and of life.

Not working as hard and as long as you do seems an obvious first step not only for yourself, but also for your family whom you work so hard for. The good news is that I can’t helping feeling you brought this stress upon yourself (no matter how your family may have subtly, or not so subtly, pushed you) and thus minus the guilt and/or having to say goodbye to being the family savior (taga salo) you can unilaterally decide to spend fewer hours working.

The second bit of good news is that because you have proven you can control circumstances in your life (sense of agency) in terms of working two government jobs, studying, being entrepreneurial, etc. you can more easily convince yourself that you have similar control over cutting back your working hours.

Dearest Olga, as you can see, I have given you incontrovertible links to prove that working so hard will not only hurt you, but your family.

In addition, I have pointed out how the same qualities of fortitude, courage, and hard work that enabled you to get all those jobs can be used to help you work less but hopefully just as effectively.

But even if your salary becomes less, for example, taking care of yourself helps ensure you can work for longer (though I hope that is not your only life goal).

Dearest Olga, I will not focus on the unfairness of your situation, since you know that as well as I do. Perhaps the last helpful thing I can do (for now-please, please write us again should you want to) is to share one last study with you. People often fail to anticipate how quickly they will make sense of things that happen to them in a way that speeds emotional recovery.

This is especially true when predicting reactions to negative events (like your quitting one job, for example; or getting a partner for your business) as the following article shows.    

Good luck,

MG Holmes


Need advice from our Two Pronged duo? Email with subject heading TWO PRONGED. Unfortunately, the volume of correspondence precludes a personal response.

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