Tending to Relational Dynamics of Home Life During the Pandemic

School is out. Parents are working at home. Summer camps and jobs don't exist. Don't Panic! Focus on family.

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For better for worse, but never for lunch. I love you, now leave me alone. School, camp and work provide adults with their own time, freedom from home life, family life, which we love of course, but 24/7 is not easy. Things are slowly opening up but life is not back to normal yet and this may be the new normal. Frank Wells, LCSW, Freedom Institute‘s Director, Family Services suggests some guidelines for surviving homelife during this moment of the pandemic.

#1 Compassion 
Offer yourself and your loved ones extra compassion. For most of us, everything that is happening right now is new, so we have no sense of the scale of how it is impacting us or other people in our household or extended friends and family. Assume that it is difficult for everyone and even more difficult for yourself than you realize. Then reassure yourself that some of the behaviors you see right now, are symptoms of this struggle in a health crisis rather than signs of greater flaws in individuals and relationships. Let it be the pandemic, not personal.

#2 Adults will be kids
In the same spirit as #1, be aware that we tend to have personal and social setbacks in times of stress. We can feel like we have lost progress with gains we have made in relationship dynamics and individuals can have setbacks in their own reactivity and emotional expression. That’s alright. It’s human. Children will pick up on stress and they will likely act younger than their age, and adults, well, as always, they will act like children at times. Again, it’s alright. Just be sure to say you are sorry later.

#3 Give up on being right
Being right does not help repair relationships and it does not help defuse tension. It is, in fact, one of the greatest inspirations for arguments. Replace being right with being (genuinely) curious about someone’s perspective. Fight COVID arm-in-arm rather than head-to-head.

#4 Pay attention to your social rhythms
What times of day do you tend to feel more social? When do you need alone time? When do you need physical activity? When do you need to eat? To rest? Notice your mind and body needs in the absence of the imposed structure of regular school and work. Tend to those needs and feel free to let others in your household in on what you discover. A lot of conflict and unnecessary relational struggle sparks from a simple case of bad timing.

#5 Be sure to take several times a day to unplug 
Step away from the screens, turn off technology and do something in person with someone in your household. You can play board games or cards, cook, exercise together, play music together, trade stories, work on a crossword. If we unstick our brains by offering variety then we will not feel as stuck at home.

#6 If you are thinking of others, there’s a reason
When you think of someone, when they cross your mind for even just a moment, let them know. In a time of forced isolation, it is easy to feel forgotten and left out. It can be a powerful antidote to hear that you are in someone’s thoughts. That simple acknowledgement can save lives. So, when someone crosses your mind, call them or send a quick text that you were thinking of them. That’s all. It may be the contact that keeps them on the rails for the next round of this crisis. And if you send your thoughts out there, you will likely start to get some of that same love and support back. We all need to be seen and heard.

#7 Take breaks from the news 
It is important to stay engaged and informed however, saturation with an escalating crisis is not good for anyone. Try to remember that children are taking it all in, the news on the television or radio, the conversations in the kitchen, the telephone calls. They are sharing our stress but often do not have access to the insight that we can use to regulate our worry. We can mitigate some of that exposure to stress by managing our media and being mindful of our conversations.

#8 Be more of who you want to be
Let yourself enjoy what you can from this time. Pursue your interests when you have some time for yourself and share your experience with your family. Let others in your household know what you are discovering and find out what they are into, what they might like to explore. Most everything is now available in online lesson form so go for it and have fun. And share!

#9 Good enough remote summer schooling and maybe next fall
The schooling programs adapted to keep the learning lights on during this crisis are all a work in progress. They are a range of exceptional to pretty mediocre but none of them are perfect. All of the plans have been adapted under the stress of this crisis by educators making heroic efforts to help keep things moving forward in our lives. But no one intended for your children’s remote curriculum to become a source of additional parenting self-criticism, household conflict, and worry. Your children will probably not be able to get all of their work done nightly and that is okay. They will need more help from you than you anticipate. That is a fact, even if it may not be okay. Do what you can and then let it go rather than trading assignment completion for peace and good spirits in the home.

#10 Finally, let home be a No Perfection and Judgement Free Zone
Despite all these helpful self-care lists and guidelines being distributed to address life during the COVID-19 pandemic, please try to remember that there is no one right way to do this. Of course, you should follow government health department guidelines and the advice of your medical doctor. But for all these other tips: take what is helpful and leave the rest.

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