When my two grown daughters come back home for a visit, it’s usually cause for celebration — I scurry around cooking their favorite recipes and buying flowers to brighten up the house. Now, like many other families dealing with social distancing mandates in the time of COVID-19, here we all are, together on lockdown, getting along as best we can.
While we are all grateful to be together, it’s not surprising that we’re experiencing some tension. There’s a tendency to revert to old patterns: my daughters, ages 21 and 25, complaining about my “nagging,” while I try to resist bickering about tidiness and laundry.
For practical tips on keeping the peace, I talked to Lorraine Thomas, chief executive of The Parent Coaching Academy. Living in the same space again can be challenging, but as Thomas says, “It’s a great opportunity for families to forge a deeper connection and nurture a positive and powerful team spirit.”
Here are four keys to creating harmony at home.
Respect everyone’s space
Living together in the family home can be stressful, unless you respect each other’s need for privacy. My 21-year-old points out that I knock on her bedroom door and then barge in without waiting for a response. Creating clear boundaries means everyone can have a space of their own. “That is important for all of us,” says Thomas. “Not everyone will necessarily have their own room, but we all need time alone. If one person is focusing on a project in the living room or kitchen, let them have that space for an hour or two. Make that work. It leads to a more harmonious environment when everyone has time alone without interruption.”
Treat everyone as equals
I’ve been accused of insisting on having the final say, because we’re in “the parents’ house.” I’ve discovered that is not helpful! “Shift your mindset from parent/child to an adult community approach, where you are all on the same team,” Thomas advises. It comes down to collaborating, treating each other with respect, and listening to different points of view. “When your child was a toddler, you wanted them to be independent, to have a voice, to stick up for what they believed was right,” Thomas says. “Now they are — so celebrate that and listen to what they have to say rather than assuming you have all of the answers. Schedule chats to get everyone’s input. If you are all involved in the decision-making — you are all much more likely to make everything work.”
Structure the day
It’s good to have a structure in these unpredictable times, but be flexible and prepared to compromise. One member of the family might be working from home, while another is taking college classes online. Be mindful to rotate chores, and plan some together time each day you can look forward to. Agreeing on having one meal a day together, for instance, can be helpful and bonding. My family and I have got into the ritual of having dinner together every evening and taking turns cooking. “Focus on making that time as enjoyable as possible,” says Thomas.
Find little moments of joy individually — and as a family. One of my daughters is enjoying knitting and gardening projects. The other is reading George Eliot’s lengthy classic, Middlemarch, with a friend — they’ve formed a virtual book club. Get everyone’s ideas about activities to do together. In our house, we are watching limited news (enough to keep up with important information), but we’re also watching a lot of comedy — we’re delighted that “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” has returned! “Consider a family film night, pick a board game or puzzle, arrange a virtual evening with others in lockdown. Look through those family photos that haven’t seen the light of the day,” says Thomas. “Rather than thinking about it — make it happen — and aim for connection, not perfection!”