After multiple weeks of being told we need to stay home, a lot of folks’ nerves are frayed (parents in particular). Life might have been complicated before—keeping up with schedules, work and home. Now, things seem 10 times more complicated. Everybody is under the same roof all the time with nowhere to go for a break. Many parents are silently asking how long they can actually survive social distancing and this COVID-19 crisis with their family relationships (and their sanity) intact.
It’s true that most of us aren’t accustomed to spending so much time together. Things that you didn’t even know got on your nerves—well, now you know. And, some of them are seemingly little things. Maybe it’s the way someone chews their food, the amount of dirty laundry, or the constant questions without answers. Or maybe it’s the way your perfectly capable kids seem so totally dependent on you to do everything.
Honestly, it’s enough to make a parent ask, “Where do I go to resign?”
Before you turn in your notice, here are some things that might be helpful to consider.
Emotions are running high for everyone. There’s tension in the air and we feel it even if we don’t acknowledge it. It has its way of oozing out of people through petty bickering, short fuses, tears and an abundance of energy. The close proximity to others in your home may feel like someone has you in a stranglehold.
Even if you’re in pretty close quarters, there are some things you can do to help your family avoid unhealthy behavior during social distancing.
Recognize that your children are taking their cues from you. If you’re really struggling with all that’s going on, find ways to process your thoughts and best next steps. Even if things are upside down, when you know the next steps you’ll take, your children will follow your lead. Your children need to know that you’re working to ensure they are well cared for. This provides comfort and security, especially in times of uncertainty. It’s ok if you don’t know all the answers. Having rules, rituals, consistency and structure in place helps everyone to know what to expect and provides freedom within healthy boundaries.
Speaking of boundaries, establishing boundaries is helpful. It lets people know where the fence lines are for your family. If you haven’t had a family meeting to discuss what this looks like, now is a really good time to do that. Items up for discussion include:
- How will household chores get done?
- With whom outside of immediate family will we engage during this time of social distancing?
- What time is quiet time in the house? (could be until a certain time in the morning, a period of time in the middle of the day or a time at the end of the day)
- Where and for how long are people using screens? (for work and for leisure)
- Is there unlimited access to the kitchen and food?
Getting in the groove of functioning as a team will help your family now. It will serve them well in the future, too.
Even though your family is all together, don’t assume they’ll automatically talk about the thoughts and feelings that are rolling around in their head. This is a scary time for everybody. Establishing a quick daily check-in makes it possible for you to share information and answer questions. It’s also a good chance to talk about the flow of this particular day and address concerns or misinformation anyone may have.
With everyone under one roof, establishing times when you expect people to be in their own space away from everybody else can help. If your children share a bedroom, perhaps there’s another location one of them could be. The goal is for people to have a break from being on top of each other. It can be as simple as going outdoors when the weather is nice. Maybe it means taking a long, hot shower or a walk in the rain. It may even help to get up earlier or stay up a little later to have time alone.
What Each Person in Your Family Needs to Know
According to the authors of the Survival Skills for Healthy Families program, each person in the family needs to know:
- How to speak up and say what they need. The ability to say what you want helps others to know what you’re thinking and feeling. It also opens the door for understanding.
- How to listen. As a listener, we can choose to seek connection, be respectful and look for understanding. Or, we can react, fight and argue.
- How to cooperate. Teach your children how to find balance between their needs and the needs of other family members.
Realize that there’s a time to talk and time to listen. Everyone wants to feel heard when they speak, so ensure that your home is a safe place for family members to express themselves and discuss things without dismissing them. Acknowledge your feelings, and really listen to work through the emotions you’re experiencing. Show empathy and remember that if all this is hard to process as an adult, it can be even more challenging for younger family members to understand or express what they’re dealing with on the inside. Those things will probably show up in how they behave, so it’ll take some wisdom to dig deeper as you handle misbehavior while helping them understand their emotions.
It’s highly likely you will encounter challenges while you are in close quarters. By looking for solutions together, you’re modeling how to find answers to other sticky situations down the road. In order for your family relationships to come out stronger on the other side of this pandemic, these are a few safeguards you can put in place now to help keep the peace in your home.