Family. Have you ever wondered how you can share the same parents, grandparents, or even great-grandparents, a common bloodline, yet see things so differently and have so many different opinions? COVID-19 has highlighted the differences in belief systems, political views, economic status, and so many other issues that can lie within a single-family.

These differences can become polarizing, causing serious divisions and potentially irreparable damage to your family unit. You’re probably reading this because you’re aware that your family is at risk of ripping apart. And of course, you want to do everything you can to keep it together.

How can you keep COVID-19 opinions from tearing your family apart?

Call it Out. You may be the one who has to say, “I’m afraid that we’re going to allow this virus and our opinions on this virus to tear us apart.” You may have to ask, “All of the memories, experiences, love, and connectedness that we’ve shared as a family over the years, are we willing to throw it away because of our opinions about the virus? How do we make sure that doesn’t happen?

The awareness of the virus is infiltrating so many of our thoughts, plans, behaviors, and lifestyles. You may have to be the one who is intentional about shifting the focus to what it means to be a family. Family is the one place that you remain a part of despite the differences. So you learn how to thrive in the midst of difference. Bringing to everyone’s attention the need to be intentional about staying connected as a family in the midst of the virus can be powerful.

The family is bigger than one person. Don’t carry the weight of trying to control how others may or may not prioritize the family. No one person can carry the full weight of keeping the family together. Family means different things to different people even within the same family. Recognize what you can control. Leverage your influence to help your family see the bigger picture. 

Understand your need to be emotionally and mentally healthy. A healthy and secure you will have more influence than an unstable, insecure you. Your family may have helped you develop a sense of self. However, do not depend on your family for your entire sense of self. You can’t depend on your family’s acceptance and agreement to feel validated and complete. If you do, you can run the risk of trying to keep the family together out of fear or a personal need for fulfillment. 

Don’t invest energy trying to change the mind of others. A person convinced against their will is still of the same opinion. Let that sink in. Rarely do I see arguments and debates where someone actually changes their mind. I still haven’t heard of someone changing someone’s mind using social media. Often, the more we try, the more we can slip into trying to control others or lose control of ourselves.

Respect. Leading a conversation about what it means to respect one another can help the family set boundaries and be intentional about respecting one another’s thoughts, ideas, and opinions. Sometimes we can become so passionate about our position that we totally disrespect the position of others without even realizing it. As a family, having a clear understanding of what it means to respect one another’s differences can help family members coexist with the differing opinions.

Model healthy behavior. Be the one to talk less and listen more. Recognize that people are motivated by different things. Some have good motivations, and others not so good. Manage your emotions and be willing to try and understand your family. If you can help people feel heard, valued, and understood, then you’ve helped your family members know that they matter even if their opinions are different.

Acceptance of choices. Some family members are going to be extremely cautious and follow all of the CDC guidelines. Other family members may believe the virus isn’t a big deal and act accordingly. Some may feel like family members don’t care and are putting others at risk. Others may believe some are acting totally out of fear. A family is made up of individuals who have the freedom to think and feel whatever they choose. Give individuals the freedom to be who they are and you do what you need to do.

Make decisions based on what you know about the virus and your family members. This can be difficult because it may mean we don’t get to see certain people. When a person shows you who they are, believe them. There are conversations you may not need to have with family members because it always sparks animosity. Remember, everyone is learning how to live with COVID-19 in our world. Learning to live with differing opinions can take time.

Look for ways to show that you care about one another. Host virtual family game nights and Zoom family calls. Send one another care packages. Send messages of love and support. COVID-19 can have you so focused on what we can’t do that we forget what we can do

Set aside time to be intentional about spending time with one another and talk about other topics. This helps to remind you that the family is stronger and has more history than COVID-19. For example, celebrating birthdays. This has been a wild year! Instead of letting a birthday go by with just a card or phone call, consider celebrating virtually and making it a big deal because this year will be one for the books for sure! 

✭ Beliefs, opinions, and thoughts regarding COVID-19 dominate social media and news outlets. It hasn’t escaped family dinner tables and Zoom calls and it’s affecting everyone’s ability to show love and care to the ones we care the most about—family. This can cause fear, stress, loneliness, and anxiety. People develop their own expectations—some reasonable and some unrealistic. Family members will respond to change in different ways

You CAN’T control what family members say and do. You CAN focus on being your best self while at the same time working to care for and understand your family. As you model respect and value for each person, you can hope that the love and care you have for your family will help others see that the family is bigger than the virus.

Image from Pexels.com

COVID-19 has most likely contributed to the longest ongoing uncertainty people have dealt with in, well, maybe ever.

Should I send my children to school?

Will I have a job tomorrow?

Is the economy going to make it?

Are we going to lose our home?

If I get COVID-19, will I survive?

Will things ever be normal again?

These are just a few of the questions we are wrestling with as we try to create some sense of normalcy for ourselves and those around us.

The hard truth that most of us don’t tend to think about is that even when we are living our best lives, there’s actually a great deal of uncertainty. Anything could happen in the next moment that could throw our lives into complete chaos. The difference is, it’s not as in your face as COVID-19.

So, short of throwing in the towel, how do you deal with the ongoing uncertainty?

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl describes being separated from his wife in the concentration camps. Everything he owned was taken from him, including the manuscript for his book. As he shared what it was like living one day to the next with no idea whether his wife was still alive or whether that day would be his last day, he says he realized that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s own attitude in any given set of circumstances—to choose one’s own way.

Frankl says, “In order to live a meaningful life, we have to identify what is meaningful to us in every moment. There is a kind of mindfulness to meaning—a level of focused attention where we must focus on identifying what we find meaningful.” 

Straight out of the gates, it seems like this is a moment where we all have the opportunity to deal with uncertainty, starting with two things. We can decide what is most meaningful to us AND choose the attitude with which we will engage the days ahead. Making decisions about both of these things will anchor us in our journey and give us a mindset for everything else we need to do.

Other strategies for dealing with uncertainty include:

  • Making plans, but holding them loosely. Everybody would like to be able to make a decision about school and be done with it. In this particular moment though, that is probably not how things will roll. So, making a plan, but including a couple of alternatives can help decrease the out of control feelings uncertainty often brings. 
  • Doing what you will wish you had done. Sounds a bit crazy, but these are difficult times. Often when we look back on a time when we struggled, we will say, “I wish I had just gone with my gut and…” It is easy to second guess yourself, but seriously, looking back 10 years from now, what will you wish you had done?
  • Paying attention to your mental health and the mental health of those around you. Back to the attitude thing. Our brains have a natural tendency to go negative, especially when the going gets tough. You or the ones you love may really be struggling at the moment. Surround yourself with supportive people. Seek help if you just can’t seem to shake feeling down and depressed all the time.
  • Giving yourself permission to feel what you feel. Write down your emotions: frustrated, tired, irritable, abandoned, isolated, anxious, lonely, bored, confused, inadequate, jealous. None of these are bad in and of themselves. How you choose to respond to these feelings can either help you move forward or make your life more complicated. 
  • Making a list of all the things you actually have control over. Even if you did this early on, do it again. It’s a good and helpful brain exercise. Remember, your brain believes what you tell it. If you are constantly talking about everything being out of control, your brain believes you and acts accordingly. Feeling out of control creates fear, and our body responds to fear by creating adrenaline and cortisol. Research shows that the long-term activation of the stress-response system and the overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones can disrupt almost all of your body’s processes. It affects your ability to think clearly, make decisions, sleep and  literally function on a daily basis.
  • Considering things you can do to create some consistency in your daily living. Routines, rituals, consistency and structure help us feel more secure, especially in times of extreme uncertainty. Little things like going to bed and getting up at the same time every day or planning your meals can make a major impact on your well-being.
  • Enlisting the help of others. Once you have given some thought to your mindset and the attitude with which you want to engage life right now, ask friends, family members and/or co-workers to encourage you in your efforts. Ask them to help you be accountable for how you have decided to embrace the uncertainty, too.
  • Showing yourself some grace. You can do all of the things above and still have some really hard days. Instead of beating yourself up, acknowledge how hard it is. Cry if you need to, journal, go for a run—whatever it takes to help you process through it. The good news is, you know the direction you want to head and you can get back on track putting one foot in front of the other.

When you are lost and using a compass to figure out where you are, the needle may shake a bit, but it always finds north. The road ahead may be shaky and full of twists and turns, but working through some of these strategies for dealing with uncertainty can help you find your north again. That way, you can keep on keeping on.

Image from Unsplash.com

It’s nothing new to disagree with the ones you love, whether it’s about COVID-19, quarantine, religion, guns, racism, politics, football or something else. In fact, chances are pretty good that you completely disagree on certain topics with someone you care deeply about. The disagreements may be so intense you wonder how you can actually co-exist. 

The level of intensity might feel more so at this moment in time in our culture. In fact, many people can hardly believe that the people they love have such different perspectives from their own. The ongoing stress from trying to navigate these issues can take a massive toll on our relationships. FOR REAL.

What do you do when you strongly disagree with the ones you love?

Although you might be tempted to confront them and tell them they are just plain wrong, you might want to reconsider. That plan probably won’t go very well for you because it’s likely your loved one will feel attacked. Nobody wants to feel attacked, right?

Instead, start by asking yourself a few questions.

What is the goal of my conversation with this person?

Do I just want to share information?

Am I trying to understand their perspective?

Do I feel the need to convince them they are wrong?

Am I trying to prove that I have a valid point?

Do I have to WIN?

Taking the time to think about your ultimate goal can help you prepare to constructively engage with them.

It may help to remember that no matter how hard you try, you cannot change someone else or make them see something the very same way that you do. Yelling at them, belittling them, coming across as condescending, stomping out of the room or being sarcastic will only fuel the fire. And it will take you further away from your intended goal.

Plenty of married couples, extended family,, siblings and roommates have vehemently disagreed about things, yet their love and respect for each other was never in question. How you have the discussion matters.

Here are some tips you can use to make your conversations productive:

  1. Look for things you do agree on. It is likely that you agree on far more than you disagree about. 
  2. Kindness and respect goes a long way when trying to discuss difficult topics. Be aware of your tone of voice and body language.
  3. Avoid imagining how you think the conversation will go or how it has gone in the past. Playing negative scenarios in your head will actually increase your stress. It could also steer the conversation downhill straight out of the gates.
  4. Be prepared to genuinely listen to their perspective—even if you already believe you don’t agree with them and can’t fathom how they could believe what they believe. When people feel heard, you are more likely to keep the conversation going and avoid damaging your relationship. **PRO-TIP: Paraphrase what you hear and avoid using the word, “but.” Using “but” negates everything that the other person just said. Try using “and” instead.**
  5. If it feels like the conversation is becoming heated, remember that getting louder will escalate the situation for sure. Plus, it actually makes it harder to hear what is being said. If you are struggling to think clearly or keep your cool, take a break. Say you need to go to the bathroom or you need to get a drink of water—anything to take a break in the action and allow yourselves time to breathe. Pausing is powerful.
  6. Avoid using “You always, you never,” and “You should.” Instead, focus on yourself and share your perspective while using “I” statements (I feel, I believe, I want, I need, etc.).

These are particularly stressful times, and when you disagree with the ones you love, IT’S HARD.

This means that many of us are experiencing extended periods of heightened anxiety and are constantly in a fight or flight mode—which is totally not normal. Fuses are shorter and we are probably more easily irritated. And, we may react more quickly, especially if we’ve been thinking or dwelling on the topic at hand. Acknowledge this and think through the fact that how we handle difficult conversations can impact the quality of our relationships. 

It’s vital to remember that this is a process. If over time the conversation seems to go nowhere, you may need to set boundaries around this topic in an effort to keep from destroying the relationship. Keep in mind that if you choose to walk away from the relationship, you will no longer have the opportunity to present a different perspective.

Image from Unsplash.com

SQUASH goes your dreams, all underneath the foot of the one you love the most.

COVID-19 has made you re-evaluate everything. Maybe you discovered the joys and benefits of homeschooling. Or you want to enroll in school yourself. Perhaps you realized working from home is so much better than tackling rush hour every day. Or, maybe you’ve figured out that you don’t want to work at all. 

And you’ve worked it all out in your head. After all, you’ve had two months to think this through. And now, you’ve shared the good—nay, great—news with your spouse. You explained it to them step by step. I mean, it’s all right there on the slideshow presentation, and you even provided a handout for future reference. The road to success seems seamless

And then, squash. 

I know how you feel. I get a really big, life-goal idea in my mind about every two weeks. And when I drop my best-laid plans on my wife as if it’s a slam-dunk, somehow she just doesn’t see it the way I do. And that’s when things can blow up. 

Let me suggest some things I have learned:

I have learned that letting my mind go too far down the decision-making trail before I make my spouse aware of what I’m thinking is not a good thing. 

In my mind, I’ve often already walked down the road to success. I’ve already imagined how wonderful this decision will be. And I’ve already anticipated that my spouse is going to react by being completely supportive and on board. The issue lies in the already. What I often fail to do is invite my spouse with me on this road before my mind is already made up. And that’s unfair to her. It’s as if I’ve already made the decision for her. 

I have learned that my spouse might have some ideas that change my direction. And that is a good thing

When she gives me reasons as to why something may not work out the way I see it (and dang it, they’re good reasons), it feels like a total disregard for my dreams and aspirations. The truth of the matter is that my spouse (the person who I’ve partnered with to walk down this road of life, I have to remind myself) does indeed support me and wants what’s best for both of us. 

And this is backed up by research. Marriage researcher and author Shaunti Feldhahn found that with couples who labeled themselves as “happy” or “mostly happy,” an extremely high number of partners said they care about their spouse, want the best for them, and are “for” their spouse, even during painful times and arguments.  

✸✸ At the end of the day, decisions such as these aren’t just a me thing; it’s a we thing. And her input to this decision is extremely valuable, sometimes resulting in a better outcome than I had imagined. ✸✸

Finally, I have learned that my relationship with my spouse actually gets stronger when we struggle over a decision together. 

And, the outcome of the decision normally comes out better than what I had originally anticipated. The very act of wrestling through the decision itself brings us closer together and makes us feel more valued, and solidifies us as a team.

So what do you do when you have a big idea and you want your spouse to be supportive? Here are some steps you can take: 

1. Take some time to consider the implications of your idea. Remember that this decision doesn’t affect you alone. It affects both your marriage and your spouse

2. Don’t think of it as a decision made, but an idea to be considered. So you want to change jobs, or go vegan, or cut way back on the kids’ sports schedules? It helps you be more open to the feedback of your spouse when you label this as an idea to be explored rather than a decision that’s already iron-clad in your mind.

3. Reframe how you bring your idea up to your spouse. “I’ve decided I want to change jobs and work from home permanently, and I’m going to start looking next week. Isn’t that exciting?” See how that sounds? Decision already made.

Notice the difference here: “I’ve been thinking of what it would look like to change jobs and work from home. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and I have some ideas. I don’t know what this might look like in the end, and I’d like your help in thinking about this.

Framing your idea so that you are open to feedback makes it more palatable, inviting, and open for discussion. And consequently, it can make a big difference in how supportive your spouse’s response is. 

4. Be prepared to approach the idea at a slower pace. When you’re excited about an idea, it’s difficult to not want to see it happen right now. But when you are bringing your spouse in on the decision-making process, be ready to take some time. It might take more than one discussion. Great decisions are rarely made in a short amount of time. Embrace the process that you and your spouse get to embark on, and allow it to make your connection to each other stronger. 

5. Bring your spouse in on the decision-making process. Invite your spouse in on the discussion. Ask them what they think, if they see better ways of approaching the idea, and what different scenarios may look like. For example, what does it look like to quit your job now versus quitting your job in one year? 

Be ready to approach your idea in ways different than you originally had thought. Your spouse may take it and add caveats, as what if we did this…, or even right out reject the idea as you see it playing out. Keep in mind that you are a team and this is a decision that affects both of you. 

✸✸ Relationship researchers Scott Stanley, Howard Markman, and Susan Blumberg suggest establishing some ground rules for these kinds of discussions, such as allowing one person to speak their full mind without interruption and then clarifying what you think you heard. If the discussion gets heated, take a time-out for 20 minutes and reconvene with calmer emotions. ✸✸ 

And if your spouse is still not supportive…

This is a very real possibility, no matter how well you’ve presented your idea. If that’s the case, take a deep breath. Understand that even though your spouse doesn’t support your idea, it doesn’t mean they don’t support you as their partner or your marriage as a whole. Circumstances also change with time. It’s possible your big life-goal idea may present itself to be a better idea in the future. 

Remember that you are a TEAM. 

  • Don’t let this issue or idea divide you. 
  • Don’t think in terms of who won and who lost.
  • Do not let your relationship become adversarial. 
  • Don’t look at your spouse as the enemy of your idea or dreams. (You might not be on the same page—yet.) 
  • Be on guard that anger and frustration don’t turn into bitterness or resentment—these will wreak havoc on your marriage. 

And one thing you can count on: if you’ve presented your idea in a way that invited open feedback and scrutiny from your spouse, they’ll be much more likely to be supportive of the idea when that future opportunity comes about. 

For more help with your marriage, click here.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Image from Unsplash.com

Cyberbullying has been a hot topic for years. But when all of us, young and old, were thrust in front of our screens due to COVID-19, the experts warned we could see an uptick in this behavior—especially among young people. 

Sure enough, we are six months into the pandemic and Google Trends is seeing an 80% increase in parents searching for help in dealing with cyberbullying. According to a Digital Trends piece that came out in April about Cyberbullying and Distance Learning, research indicated a 70% increase in cyberbullying among kids in the first weeks of social distancing. Statistics indicate that roughly 50%-60% of kids have been cyberbullied. 

Just so we are clear about what we are talking about, let’s define it. Cyberbullying is using any type of digital platform to scare, harass, shame, embarrass, hurt or threaten another person.

With everyone online right now, there are lots of easy targets and the stakes are high. Some kids are taking their own lives because of it, and many others are dealing with anxiety and depression as a result. If you know what to look for and have some precautions in place, you have a much better chance of intervening before the situation takes a tragic turn.

The big question is, what can parents do to address this problem?

If you notice a change in your child’s behavior or disposition, pay attention. Here is a list of 10 signs your child might be the victim of cyberbullying:

  • Appears nervous when receiving a text, instant message or email.
  • Seems uneasy about going to school or pretends to be ill
  • Unwillingness to share information about online activity
  • Abruptly shutting off or walking away from the computer mid-use
  • Withdrawing from friends and family in real life
  • Unexplained stomach aches or headaches
  • Trouble sleeping at night
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts 

Now that summer is here, your kids don’t need to be on their screens as much. Deciding how much time you allow your children to use their screens and standing by it can be benefit the entire family. Screen Strong has a 7 Day ScreenStrong Challenge you might find helpful. Think of it as a seven-day cleanse for your entire family to help them kick off the summer.

Once you have completed the cleanse, set the tone for the rest of the summer. Have a family meeting about expectations moving forward when it comes to screen time. Parents say they struggle with this the most because it causes such a huge uproar in the home. 

Think of it like this. When you tell your child to hold your hand to cross the street and they throw themselves on the ground and pitch a fit because they don’t want to hold your hand, you don’t respond by saying, “Ok, you don’t have to hold my hand. Just be careful.” You get your child off the ground and tell them, “You are holding my hand. Period.” It doesn’t matter how big a tantrum they throw, you aren’t going to give in. Why? Because you know the street could be very dangerous. For older teens, it would be like putting them behind the steering wheel with no training and telling them to be careful.

Limits Are Important

Screens have a great place in this world. However, without limits or set expectations, they can negatively impact your children and the entire family for that matter. To create structure around screen usage, be very clear about what appropriate online behavior looks like and define cyberbullying for them. The goal is to create an environment where it is abundantly clear that cyberbullying will not be tolerated. It’s vital that you let them know what to do if they think they are being cyberbullied. Working through this together can strengthen your relationship, too.

Create a schedule of things your kids can do instead of being on their screens. For example, reading is one of the best things they can do to increase their vocabulary and build their imagination. Exercise, getting outside or even doing things inside to get their heart rate up and create some sweat can do wonders for decreasing stress and anxiety along with elevating their mood. Look for activities you can do together as a family. Find ways for your kids to meaningfully contribute to your family and the lives of others who may need help with things like mowing their lawn, weeding their gardens, walking the dog and such. First Things First has a 30 Day Family Activity Challenge you might find helpful.

It’s OK to Ask for Help.

If you do not see change in a positive direction, you may want to seek professional help to deal with this situation. Also, encourage your kids to talk with other trusted adults in their life besides you. Honestly, sometimes it’s just hard to talk with your parents about certain things.*

These are complicated times for sure. As parents, our role is to lead—even when our children don’t appreciate the direction and structure we are giving them. A child or teen’s ability to assess their wellbeing is extremely limited due to their prefrontal cortex not being developed. Instead of being intimidated when it comes to doing what you know is in your child’s best interest to help them thrive, let them know that you get how hard this time is and that you are for them. While they may act like they don’t care about being in relationship with you, don’t be fooled. Knowing that you care, love them unconditionally and are there to listen is powerful—and although they may not acknowledge it—rest assured, they notice.

*Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Hotline: 800-662-HELP (4357); National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)

Image from Unsplash.com

Something shifted overnight for me. At first, I scoffed at how absurd people were being about a silly virus. Then I began to feel a looming sense of dread, realizing that this was not something to take lightly. It was 3 months into my third pregnancy. I started questioning if that meant I was an immunocompromised at-risk person who would be more susceptible to COVID-19. And although I suddenly went from an apathetic state to a concerned and informed citizen, I still had no clue what it all meant. Or how it would actually affect all of our lives in such a drastic way. If I’m being honest, I still didn’t worry too much about being pregnant during a pandemic. That’s because I thought it would blow over in a month, or, at the most, by the time I gave birth. 

But being in the middle of a pandemic rapidly changed the landscape in which I conducted my life and consequently my third pregnancy. Ya know, they say each pregnancy is different, but now that I’m 6 months pregnant and COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon… I’d say this one is taking the cake. But just because this pregnancy is DIFFERENT, doesn’t mean it has to be DISASTROUS. I am realizing that finding the positives in pregnancy during a pandemic is ALL about shifting my perspective.

My prenatal workout class went from an amazing escape every Monday night, connecting with other pregnant mamas and getting an hour break from all the responsibilities of having two kids and a full-time job to a virtual Zoom session from home. And it’s quite the struggle to find a quiet space to exercise without my kids literally jumping on my back or bumping into me. attempting to do the moves alongside me.

UPSIDE: The kids are kinda cute when they try to do the workout moves. I still get to check in with other mamas, and working up a sweat contributes to a healthy pregnancy! (Also having my girls see me working out models good healthy habits for them!) 

Prenatal doctor appointments (specifically the 20-week Anatomy Scan) changed drastically. It went from a much-anticipated appointment where my husband would attend and we’d find out the gender together to an extremely lonely experience. I wore a mask, sat in an almost empty waiting room, and saw a skeleton crew of healthcare employees. I recorded the ultrasound to show my husband when I got home since spouses were (and currently are) not allowed to attend any appointments.

UPSIDE: I have a video of the ultrasound, which would otherwise not be allowed. And really, I’m thankful for the healthcare workers taking extra precautions to ensure the safety of their patients… even if it means I had to be alone for such a significant moment. 

Big announcements like gender reveals changed, too (because yes, gender reveal parties are still a thing)! We went from all our friends and family gathering around a big box filled with balloons that we would let free at just the right moment to yet another virtual Zoom session. Among only our closest friends and family, I let Jackie, my 4-year-old daughter, do the honors of announcing we’d be adding ANOTHER girl to the mix! 

UPSIDE: Having a special intimate announcement that I was able to record was priceless. And I saved a ton of money on balloons, food, and decorations. Just sayin’.  

Documenting my pregnancy went from a variety of social events where we would naturally take photos to trying to remember what day of quarantine it was and finding a split-second where the stars aligned (aka the weather was good, makeup and outfit were put on and I had my fancy camera on hand) to get a good picture to document my growing baby bump. 

UPSIDE: The photos that I do get will be that much more precious. And, the captions I write with them will give tremendous insight into this unprecedented time in history for future generations.  

The pregnancy attention went from the normal socially appropriate, “You’re glowing!” or “You don’t even look pregnant from behind, it’s all belly!” to crickets. Honestly, some days I think people forget I’m pregnant. They usually only see me from my shoulders up on video calls or FaceTime. If not for my intentional picture-taking that gets posted on social media, I probably would surprise everyone when I resurface from this quarantine to reveal a brand new baby! 

UPSIDE: The socially inappropriate comments have stopped, too! I don’t have strangers trying to touch my belly. I don’t have awkward co-worker conversations about whether I will be breastfeeding, either. And people don’t exclaim, “Are you SURE you’re not having twins?!” (All these things have most definitely happened in previous pregnancies.) 

These are but a handful of ways this pandemic has reshaped this pregnancy. I could choose to dwell on the overarching climate of fear, anxiety, worry, and confusion that only increases my stress. OR, I can focus on finding the upside in every situation. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary for the health of me and my baby girl. So, today, I’m choosing to be thankful. Yes, I recognize the downsides, the difficulties, and the disasters happening around me. However, I’m choosing to be positive, no matter what. 

First, the world shut down. It was inevitable as COVID-19 was spreading. But you weren’t sure how you’d handle it. Work, school, health, friends, jobs, money. There was so much uncertainty.

Then, at some point, you settled. You recognized what you could control. You started making the best of it and even realized that it wasn’t so bad. Who are we kidding? You were surprised at how much you were enjoying it. Slower pace. Family time has been fun time. Meaningful conversations with friends. You found your routine

You noticed the anxiety level in your home decrease. Not because of the absence of issues. Jobs aren’t all steady. Health concerns are everywhere. There’s lots of unrest in America right now. But the slower pace, the presence of the people you care most about, the ability to connect with family and friends, even if they are virtual connections, has helped you to live and process life in real time. 

During pre-quarantine days, many of us were moving so fast that we were simply going through the motions of life, but weren’t processing all that we were experiencing.  We had become accustomed to our way of doing life and never considered alternatives. And now the world is ready to open up and you’re not sure you’re ready to give up the benefits of this new lifestyle. So what do you do?

If You Aren’t Ready, Try These Things

  1. Accept: Just like we accepted the shelter-in-place orders and the fact that COVID-19 was spreading. We must accept that the world can’t stay shut down forever.
  2. Identify your fears: This could be anything from COVID-19 to busyness. You may be scared of losing the deep connections you’ve formed. The return of stress, anxiety, perpetual activity. Loneliness
  3. Name what you don’t want to lose: Family time, slower pace, meaningful conversations, quiet time, game/movie nights, time for mindfulness, and self-care.
  4. Be intentional: Just because the world is opening up doesn’t mean you have to dive in headfirst and resume everything you were doing before. Identify the things you have to do. Think through the things that are optional.
  5. Practice Using One of the Most Powerful Words in the English Dictionary: NO. Be willing to say “no” to those things that compromise the very things you’ve said you don’t want to lose. You WILL say NO to a lot of good things. Good will often keep you from BEST.

You may not be ready for the world to reopen for many reasons. Taking control of what you CAN will help you to re-enter the world with purpose.

Image from Unsplash.com

  1. On a video call… “Hey Dad, I’m hungry!” “But you just ate.” “I’m still hungry.”
  2. The dream of sleeping later every day since I am working from home… then remembering my 7 and 4-year-old don’t know what sleeping late means.
  3. Countless hours of Nerf battles and Lego builds.
  4. Using the parent face when your kid walks in the room while recording a video for work.
  5. Getting on to your child for walking into the room while on a video call but forgetting to mute yourself. Sorry team!
  6. Explaining to your child that show-and-tell is not part of your video meetings.
  7. Family walks all times of the day—just because we are home and we can.
  8. Eating lunch and dinner daily as a family and having great conversations.
  9. 4 weeks into quarantine and my 4-year-old was making her own lunch. Success!!
  10. Dodging Nerf bullets while on a work call.
  11. Apologizing to a work vendor for the loudness of your kids in the background of a call… only to hear “Oh, I get it” in response.
  12. When a one-hour webinar takes three cause you know… kids gotta have snacks.
  13. Your child answers a business call… oops!
  14. My 7-year-old constantly reminds me of his video call schedule.
  15. I might have used bribery just to make it through a meeting.
  16. Watched Frozen 2 so many times you’ve begun to wake up singing “Show Yourself.”
  17. Fully aware that Elsa singing “Into the Unknown” is the song of 2020.
  18. Muted by co-workers during a video call because you ran off to referee a sibling quarrel.
  19. Showed up to at least one video meeting in PJs and bedhead.
  20. Get overly excited to drive somewhere, anywhere… alone.
  21. Stayed up way too late too often to work after the kids go to bed.
  22. When your 7-year-old says, “Dad, you remember when we used to go to school?”
  23. Grocery shopping (alone) is something you get really excited about.
  24. Hiding my stash of cookies so my kids (and maybe my wife) didn’t find them.
  25. When all is quiet, not worrying about why it’s quiet, just accepting it, and taking a nap.
  26. All that saved gas money is not enough to keep up with the increase in grocery spending.
  27. Covid-wear is a real thing… business (or at least presentable on the top), PJs on the bottom.
  28. Having a 3-foot-tall shadow on every call.
  29. Surrendering your living room to be a site for fort building.
  30. Abruptly ended a group video meeting when my oldest ran in and said he got sick in the living room.
  31. Dropped $300 at the grocery store and realized I only bought snacks.
  32. Found all the creative ways to eat Nutella.
  33. The kids declare, “I need to do my work” while playing pretend.
  34. My sweet 4-year-old decided to draw a picture of what she thinks dad loves most during this time… running and Zoom calls. She might be half-right.
  35. Gave into otherwise ridiculous demands from your children in an effort to maintain your sanity and peace.
  36. PJs are acceptable attire for small kids… all hours of the day. Look, we’re ready for bed!
  37. Diligently trying to work on a project and your little one crawls up in your lap and asks, “Can you just come lay with me?” And the project is on pause.
  38. Best investment of the summer… inflatable pool. I can finally get some work done and they are entertained for hours.
  39. Having to constantly remind my kids that it is not okay to sit and talk outside the bathroom while someone is in there. Whatever it is can wait… and I want some peace and quiet.
  40. Realizing that no matter the chaos and stress, these moments will be treasured for the rest of my life and theirs.

Parents, these last few months may not have been what we expected—it definitely wasn’t something we were prepared for, but this time should be cherished. You are doing a great job and your kids see it. Have fun, be crazy, and enjoy the slower pace that still lies ahead for many of us this summer. You’ve got this!! Go make some memories and treasure every moment!

Image from Pexels.com

In the midst of COVID-19, death and its aftermath, grief, have become a mainstay in the news cycle. Every day the television news broadcasts tell us how many individuals have been infected by the coronavirus and the number of deaths as a result. While everyone has experienced major life changes because of the pandemic, many people have been touched by the COVID-19 epidemic in the ultimate, most tragic way. Many of us have lost friends or loved ones or our friends and family have lost someone and are grieving.

The pandemic has greatly changed and interrupted our culture and rituals around death. Because of shelter-in-place and social distancing regulations, people are sick and dying in facilities alone. Viewings and funerals are being conducted virtually and with limited numbers of mourners. Our rituals of sitting with a family and grieving with them or taking food to them have halted. This has left many people with the inability to process grief as they normally would. It also has created confusion for many of us that are trying to help others with their grief. (Check out this great blog on how to mindfully deal with difficult emotions.)

Beyond the direct impact of the pandemic, it is important to recognize that people can grieve a variety of things in addition to the death of a friend or loved one. This includes the loss of a job, the loss of a family pet, the loss of home and mementoes, or the loss of a relationship through divorce or separation. Many people are even grieving the loss of normalcy our “new normal” has created. We grieve not being able to attend weddings, graduations, and celebrate birthdays the way we normally would. 

How do I help my loved ones as they grieve? How do I help my spouse as they grieve?

Remember That Grief Is A Normal, Healthy Emotion

Jonathan Trotter of the Gottman Institute wisely suggests, “The next time you come across someone who’s grieving a loss, remember that they probably don’t need a lecture or a pithy saying. They don’t need a cliché or a vapid truism. They certainly don’t need you to outlaw their grief.” By “outlaw their grief” he means, “Allow grief, in your own heart and in the hearts of others. Don’t send it underground.” Grief isn’t something that needs to be suppressed, hidden, or to feel ashamed about. 

Often when we are close to someone who is grieving, we are afraid of saying the wrong thing, so we say nothing and avoid the subject of their loss. This can reinforce the idea that grief is a bad emotion and close avenues for people to express and process their grief.

Recognize That Grief Is A Multifaceted And Complex Emotion

Are you aware that there are actually 5 stages of grief? 

  1. Denial
  2. Anger 
  3. Bargaining 
  4. Depression 
  5. Acceptance  

These stages were originally developed by psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross as a way for people to process their impending death. It is now often used as a way for family members to process the death of a loved one. Be careful with trying to use this as a “blueprint” for your spouse. Not everyone goes through all of these stages. It might seem logical to you that they go through each stage in a linear fashion. However, that is not the case. Grieving can be cyclical and has no specific time frame or stages. Your spouse might feel acceptance one minute and anger the next. Don’t try to use the “Five Stages of Grief” as a roadmap or a guide.

Relationship expert, Patty Howell shared this after the loss of her husband of 40 years, Ralph: ”Tonight, 11 months down the road… I just feel depressed. Depressed that my life will never feel happy again. The funzies I’m trying to cobble together just don’t add up to very much at all… it just doesn’t compare with the love that Ralph and I shared… Doesn’t compare at all!”

We All Grieve Differently

Grief impacts us differently. Some of us want to be around people while others withdraw. Others want to talk about what they are experiencing while some prefer to process internally. Some experience an increase in appetite while others have no appetite. Your spouse may sleep more or not be able to sleep at all. Remember, grief affects us physically and emotionally. It is important to remember that there is no timeline or guidebook for grief. 

Misunderstandings about grief can be particularly damaging to marriages. It is easy to “judge” our spouse’s grieving or “judge” how supportive our spouse is to our own grieving. This can quickly lead to tension, anger, and deep-seated resentment. “Death in the family” regularly shows up as one of the top stressors in a marriage. Work so that grief drives you toward each other instead of driving you apart.

Feel What You Feel

As we support someone grieving, we have to give them time and be sensitive to the space they need, but we don’t need to be afraid of them or afraid of asking them what they need. Don’t be afraid to ask how they are feeling or questions like what their favorite memory of their loved one is. Your spouse will let you know if they aren’t in a place emotionally to talk. Respect that. We can’t hurry them through the process. We can’t tell them to “get over it” or “move on.” We can continually tell them that we are there for them to support them however they need it.

They’ll also experience a variety of emotions: sadness, anger, abandonment, overwhelmedness, even relief or joy—sometimes within minutes of each of other. There will be times when sounds and smells evoke smiles of remembrance or tears of sadness. “Firsts” might be especially difficult for your spouse—the first Christmas without their friend or loved one, the first birthday, Thanksgiving, and so on. Be on the lookout and be sensitive during these times while you also remember that grief can “spring on” your spouse without any apparent trigger.

It is painful when someone you love is in pain. All we can do is support them as they deal with the loss. Having unrealistic expectations that your spouse isn’t grieving “right” or that this will be a speedy process will only make matters worse. Don’t project how you are grieving or have grieved onto your spouse. Grief is something that everyone navigates differently.

As we walk this journey of grief for and with our loved ones, recognize that losing someone who is important to you is not just a single moment in time, but something that changes you at your core. It will become part of your spouse’s life story and part of your marriage. Our loved one may be gone from our physical presence, but the life they lived and the memories that they left will be with us forever.

Image from Unsplash.com

Parents, if there’s ever a time to sympathize with your children, now is it. If there’s one thing kids look forward to, it’s summertime. Think about it: summer camps, trips, vacations, jobs, and enrichment opportunities. 

Every couple of days, my teenage daughter comes to me with a realization of something she won’t get to do this summer because of COVID-19. She’s already missed one summer camp, the family reunion is not going to happen, and a summer program she was hoping to take part in is off the table. Oh, and she wanted to start her babysitting business this summer.

She’s bummed about it. Kids all over are bummed about it. About 20 million children, adolescents, and adults in the U.S. attend camps each year. Not this year. When your children are coming to the realization that COVID-19 is about to “ruin” their summer, that’s where you as a parent must step in and help your kids process what they may be feeling. Here are some ways you can help your disappointed kids. 

Deal with yourself first.

This is a blow to parents as well. A) We may hate that they might be home all day. B) We hate what they are missing out on, too. You may experience your own anger, frustration, sadness, or some other emotion. Identify and own it. Then do what you must to address it and move forward

Provide space for your child to express their emotions.

Your child may be experiencing disappointment, sadness, grief, anger, or any other emotions. You may see it on their face, in their actions, or in their responses. Asking them if they are disappointed because of summer cancellations with a soft, caring tone, or simply telling them it’s okay to be sad, gives them permission to experience their emotions

Empathize with and validate their feelings.

Regarding the cancellation of summer plans, child development and parenting expert, Dr. Deborah Gilboa says in TODAY that parents should tend to their child’s feelings but not put boundaries on their feelings. You don’t have to fix their emotions. Sometimes an “I understand” or “It’s okay that you feel that way” is all that’s in order. Your own stories of dealing with disappointments can provide your children with some comfort and help your kids process what’s going on.

Discuss what they are really missing.

It’s not just that they’re missing the activity of the summer. Kids look forward to reconnecting with family and friends they only see in the summer. The summer is a chance to explore their own personal interests. For teens, it might be the freedom that comes with having a job and, more specifically, having money. Students use the summer to do things to boost their resumé. Asking them, “What do you miss about not being able to do a particular activity?” can help your child think through what they enjoy about the summer and what it is they are really missing.

Look for alternatives.

Dr. Gilboa says that there are four elements to having a fun summer: independence, connection, purpose, and fun. What are some alternative ways to help your children experience those four elements that they often get from summer camps, jobs, and trips? S’mores, water fun, camping in the backyard, movie marathons, unstructured play, Zoom game nights with friends, gardening, building something, learning something new? Be realistic, but also be open to new challenges. It can make your summer memorable. This 30 Day Challenge can provide you some great alternatives. 

Keep Loving ‘Em Through.

This isn’t all one conversation for one setting. Having one conversation doesn’t mean the emotions are gone and won’t come back. And it doesn’t mean that your efforts to make it a meaningful summer are futile if they still experience sadness or grief at other times throughout the summer. Ongoing conversations can help your kids process ongoing emotions.

Your kids may be experiencing loss and uncertainty. They may be worried about how this affects their chances at college admissions and scholarships or feel like they are losing their childhood. Your consistent presence and willingness to both sit with and help them adjust to a different kind of summer can provide a positive memory of how to deal with disappointment that will serve them well for years to come.

Image from Pexels.com