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This is totally workable. It may not feel this way now, but this situation is a great opportunity—to learn about yourself, to learn about your family, and even possibly grow closer than ever before! The fact that you are asking “why” is a great indication that you want to have a relationship with your family. You haven’t given up or become spiteful and started ignoring them—even though you feel ignored by family. 

It starts with you!

We feel “stuff” all the time that we never stop to question, explore, or investigate. That doesn’t diminish the hurt feelings, but it gives us a place to start. Here are some things to be thinking through:

  • Is it possible they aren’t intentionally ignoring you, but you just feel left out? 
  • Are you taking into consideration three months of COVID-19 quarantine?
  • Is it possible that you’ve said or done something that offended some family members and you haven’t realized it?
  • Have you been trying to communicate with these family members? (Seriously, could they be wondering why you are ignoring them?)
  • Does your family do a lot of their communicating and planning get-togethers on social media and you just are not active in that particular arena?
  • Is it possible that “feeling ignored by your family” is masking the real, deeper issue?

Why you can’t let this go unresolved.

In 2018, a Pew Research Center survey asked, “Where do you find meaning in life?” The clear, number one answer was, “family” at 69%. This was more than double the next highest answer, which was “career.” In other words, family is at the core of where most people find meaning in life, so if there is static in that particular part of your life, there’s a good chance that your whole life feels off-kilter. 

You can’t sit on this. You can’t camp out here. And you can’t wonder. You are going to have to seek out some resolution. 

There is really only one way to resolve this…

If you’ve thought through the above scenarios or possible explanations without any peace of mind or clarity, or if you think there is even a chance that you might have said or done something that offended some family members, there is only one place to go for answers—your family.

With questions like this, a direct approach is probably best. Either there is nothing there and you’re worrying over nothing or there is something there. One word of advice: Use “I” statements like, “I feel like I’m being ignored by family. Did I do something? I really want to make it right,” as opposed to “You” statements like, “Why are you ignoring me? Why won’t you reach out to me? Why are you leaving me out?” The difference is between opening a productive dialogue and making an accusation.

So now that you have a plan—when are you going to ask? You can sit and wonder, or you can take a deeper dive into some relationships in your family. Don’t let it go another day!

This summer is going to look a little different than most because of COVID-19. Although some camps and travel may be canceled, the quality time your family looks forward to in the summer doesn’t have to be. Fun and exciting experiences create lasting memories that help you draw closer to your loved ones. 

Let’s make the most of this summertime! Here are 5 ways summertime can help your family bond:

If you were planning a trip that got canceled, explore the areas around you! 

Find a way to recreate the vacation you were planning as a staycation. This will not only teach your kids how to turn a situation around, but you’ll get the creative juices flowing. If you were going to the beach, go to a lake. If you were going to go skiing, try sledding down a hill with a cardboard box.

Take a look at our Parenting Toolkit for the Best Summer Ever with your Family!

Enjoy fun and intentional quality time. Each day has an activity with a moral to the story and an opportunity to talk through the value taught. Not only will you bond over playing together, but while talking about the things that matter most to having a happy, healthy family! Here’s where you can find the Parenting Toolkit.

Routines, rituals, and structure can help your family bond! 

They create an environment that is predictable and provides security. If your kids can depend on and are looking forward to the activities that happen daily and weekly, this will keep you close all summer.

For example, maybe Friday nights become pizza night. If you’re not working from home, your kids might expect a text or call from you at noon to check-in. If you’re working from home, maybe you all plan to eat lunch together. Maybe you can come up with a fun summertime morning tradition.

Give your kids unstructured playtime. (Sometimes go outside and play with them!)

According to the Gottman Institute, “Play is how kids learn all the things and develop all the stuff. This means leaving time each day for straight-up unstructured, kid-controlled, exploration of the world kind of play.” When you set aside time for your kids to take the lead, you’re actively encouraging their curiosity and imagination, demonstrating that you trust them, and helping them build character. 

Other studies show that children who spend time playing outside become more adventurous and open to new experiences. These children develop skills that help them make more friends. Children use their imaginations to recreate their own world and because of this, they’re able to hold their own attention longer. 

Try new things together!

You have an opportunity to step into your kid’s passions, interests, and skills. Do they want to learn to play guitar? Let them put on a performance for you! Does the night sky interest them? Plan a constellation picnic and (tele)scope out some stars together with your favorite snacks. Do they want to work at drawing? Have an in-house art exhibition with fun snacks. Show an interest in what your kids are interested in. This is an awesome way to connect with your kids by having something to ask questions about and cultivate conversations.

Even though a lot of things have been canceled and summer looks different than you may have hoped for, you can be intentional and creative with your time. Enjoy making new memories together and maybe even start some new summer traditions. Have a great summer!

Routines and consistency are vital to the growth of our children. Research tells us this and experience confirms it. But you know what? A global pandemic tends to be a routine-buster! Nothing rocks our daily flow more than the sudden closing of schools and businesses. 

So what did we do? Families had to make adjustments to meet a new temporary normal. Bedtimes shifted. Morning routines looked radically different. Navigating a “normal” day became a balance of school, work, video conferencing, and the ever-continuing struggle of screen time. 

For us, our kids’ bedtime shifted later in hopes that they might sleep a little later in the morning (that was a fail). The morning rush and commute was gone. Screen times increased for our kids, partially due to school, but mostly to help us get work done. Spring baseball was just a memory. Our biggest adjustments really were figuring out how to both work remotely and help our second grader with school. 

But here we are, eight weeks in and businesses and restaurants are reopening, childcare centers that may have been closed or limited to essential personnel are taking steps to welcome all of their kids back. Not only that, but the school year has ended, and for many of us, summer camps are now nonexistent. Virtual learning at least provided some sort of structure for our kids. My son knew he had assignments to do daily and when his video calls were… and he reminded us often. 

Now it’s time to shift routines again and get back on track. In just a few short weeks, my wife returns to work at a childcare center. My 4-year-old will also return to her childcare center sometime in the month of June. My son needs some structure for the summer as I still work remotely. So, what do we change? How do we return to some sense of the routines that we had before? 

Questions to Ask to Help You Get Back on Track

As we discussed this as a family, we asked ourselves some questions.

  • What do we begin to shift now to prepare our kids to return to a new schedule?  Bedtimes, for instance, need to adjust. Take gradual steps to resume a pre-quarantine bedtime. The same could be said for morning routines. We can make small steps to reclaim some of our routines in this area starting with what time we all get up. Abrupt changes are difficult for everyone—but especially for kids.
  • What have we started doing during this quarantine that we want to keep? Our kids have had tremendously more free, creative play. We have spent more evenings around the fire pit. More time has been spent in the hammock. How do we protect these things that have brought so much joy? 
  • What do we want to learn over the summer? As I look for ways to fill my son’s days, I’ll start by asking him what he wants to learn more about. What can we explore as a family that will continue their learning? Just because summer is over doesn’t mean learning has to end, but it can be fun learning experiences.

Prepare for Transition to Get Back on Track

As your family begins to discuss this next transition, here are 3 recommendations I have:

  1. Get your mindset right. Mentally prepare for transitions in your routines. Get ready for the battles that you may have to fight.
  2. Get your plan together. Have a family meeting to discuss this time of transition. (Check out this blog for some great ideas.) What does your specific situation require? This is a great opportunity to reinforce with kids why routines are important and why we have to also be flexible and make changes sometimes. 
  3. Get tough skin. (If you don’t already have it.) Let’s face it—kids don’t like change. Many of us adults don’t either. You may have had weeks with much less structure, but now we have to make more changes. Not everyone will be happy, but that’s okay. 

★ Nothing says that we have to return to the same routine as we had before the quarantine. Take this opportunity to evaluate what you as a family really want to do and what you value. You don’t have to make life as busy as it was before. ★

What are the words to describe this season of social isolation and self-quarantine during COVID-19? I can think of a few:

Frustrating. Stressful. 

Extremely inconvenient. 

Full of anxiety. 

Ruined my plans. 

What day is it again? 

(I could go on…) 

As I was talking with friends (six feet from my computer screen, of course) about how normal life has been turned upside down by this Global Pandemic, I was struck with an interesting thought: Social distancing has taken away all the excuses for not doing the things I’ve said I’m too busy to do. 

For those who are self-quarantined, it has removed a great deal of busyness. Sure, many of us still have to work or do school from home. But chances are we haven’t been fighting traffic to get home, rushing kids to ball games, or struggling to get dinner prepared at a decent hour. This weird point in our current history has created at least some margin in our daily lives. And where there’s margin, there’s an opportunity

I realize this calls for an intentional change in our outlook on our situation. You almost have to unnaturally choose to see the opportunities before you. But I really do think they are there. 

Below are five ways – opportunities, if you will – that social distancing can increase happiness in the home. 

  1. The opportunity to slow down. Social isolation has given us the margin of time. Even if you are working from home, or if your kids are doing school remotely, chances are you can dictate and shape your schedule more than you’ve been used to. 
    • Use that to your advantage. Ask yourself, what are the important things I’ve put off because I said I was too busy? Exercise. Taking a daily walk. Reading. Meaningful conversations with your spouse. Playing in the yard with your kids. Reconnecting with that old school friend. Yoga. Eating at the dinner table each night. Meditation. And don’t forget time to just sit on the front porch… and breathe. 
    • Make a list. Schedule it. Do it! 
  2. The opportunity to clean the clutter. There are two sides to this. Yes, now we have some time to fix that leaky pipe, clean out the garage, and weed the garden (how convenient for the pandemic to happen during Spring cleaning!). 
    • But there’s also the side of cleaning up the clutter that has built up in our relationships with the people we love in our home. Maybe the busyness of your previous life has caused some disconnection between you and your family members. Now is the opportunity to engage in good, healthy, deeper conversations and times of connection. 
    • Our family decided to open up the box of conversation-starter questions that’s been sitting on our kitchen table unused. Every evening at dinner, we’ve had some of the funniest and most interesting talks around these questions. However you decide to clear that space, make it an intentional and daily routine. 
    • One word of caution: Cleaning the clutter may also mean visiting some of the issues that have been lingering between you and your spouse or your kids. This may be a good time to work things out. However, be very aware of stress levels and be strategic as to when the best times are to talk things out. It’s not a good idea to work on old issues when the anxiety is particularly high. 
  3. The opportunity to focus on others in need. Obviously you are not alone in feeling the stress and anxiety. There are those in our neighborhoods and communities who are hurting right now. This is a great opportunity for you and your family to help ease the fears and uncertainties of others. 
    • One charitable neighbor of ours set out a tub full of hand-sanitizers on the sidewalk in front of their yard for anyone who had need. My daughter (on her own) created cheerful cards to give to the neighbors. Someone else in our neighborhood organized a “bear hunt” through social media – our neighbors were invited to display teddy bears and other stuffed animals in our windows so that when kids walked by, they could “hunt” for as many bears as they could. 
    • Anything you can do to bring a smile and sense of cheer to those around you will most certainly bring happiness to your own home. 
  4. The opportunity to be appreciative. When we are super-busy, it’s easy to forget to stop and remember what we should be thankful for. Practicing gratitude increases a sense of happiness and well-being in the home. No matter how much or little one has, there are always reasons to be thankful – for food on the table, the air you breathe, a roof over your heads, the people you love in your home. 
    • Acknowledge what you appreciate. Make it a practice at mealtime to share with each other what you are thankful for. Make a daily “gratitude list.” Thankfulness is a strong tool to temper anxiety and to boost happiness. 
  5. The opportunity to play and be creative. At no other time in our recent history has it been so vital to inject some fun, laughter, and play into our daily lives. Now is the time for family Monopoly games, Nerf wars, movie nights, making breakfast for dinner, camping in the backyard, playing in the rain, and family dance-offs. These activities cut through the stress and provide the glue that bonds family members more closely together. Don’t let the tension of quarantine compromise the opportunity to make memories. Laugh and have some fun!

Opportunities don’t take themselves. You have to be intentional about using the margin you’ve been given. However, the pay-off for you and your family is tremendous.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGbqNCkE6to&t=1s

I see you, mama, sitting in a messy house, filled with dishes from last night’s dinner and laundry piled high. You are trapped in a house during a quarantine and it’s taking everything to not go stir crazy. I see the exhaustion and the exasperation that comes with toddlers running around. Demanding snacks, begging for attention, needing to have what they want, when they want it. I see you trying, trying to juggle their needs and your work’s needs, and maybe, sometimes, even your own needs. I know that feeling of being stretched so thin that you’re barely keeping it together. The seams beginning to unravel, slowly then all of a sudden… you’re hanging on by one tiny thread. 

I see the frustration of an interrupted Zoom meeting, the agitation from a plea for yet another snack, the expectation to be completely focused on that work project and completely focused on caring for your kids. It’s not supposed to be like this. It’s unrealistic to think that anyone could handle the balancing act that all of a sudden we are called to perform. 

So why do you feel like a failure? You know it’s impossible. You know you’re only human. But what about them? What about society? And employers? And family and friends? Yeah… what about them? Everyone needs to adjust their expectations. Including yourself. You are doing the best you can. You are facing the unknown and taking on more than anyone should be expected to. Give yourself grace. 

In fact, give yourself permission to let the dishes sit in the sink a little longer. Make friends with the dust bunnies who have joined your space. Let your kids jump in the piles of clean laundry that still need to be folded. Go outside and take a second to breathe. Feel the fresh air fill your lungs and be grateful for all the things that are going right in your world. And for anything that’s got you stressed or worried or on edge, add “but” onto the end. 

“We’re stuck at home… BUT… we’re SAFE.”

“The house is a mess… BUT… I have a roof over my head.”

“The kids are driving me nuts… BUT… I get to be their mom.”

“Working from home with kids is so hard… BUT… I’m grateful for the flexibility and that I STILL have a job.” 

So, take it one day at a time, mama. This is just a season that you WILL get through. Be mindful. Tell yourself a different story. One of resilience and patience and overcoming obstacles against all odds. You are NOT a failure. You are capable. You are strong. You are amazing, in PJs and all.

In light of our current events and the chaos and disruptions they have brought, I felt the need to call a good, old fashioned family meeting! It had been a while, but we had a lot of new important things to talk about- new work situations, school cancellations, health concerns, and how our family was going to navigate these unique circumstances.

Once everyone was gathered around in the living room, several things were part of this particular meeting:

  • I asked how everyone was doing. How was everyone feeling- physically and emotionally? My colleague wrote a great blog about taking your family’s “temperature.”
  • I shared information from the CDC about the coronavirus, how it is transmitted, risks of exposure, symptoms of infection, and recommended precautions to take. I kept a calm tone and stuck to the facts. I allowed room for them to share what they had already heard and where they heard it. We talked about what information sources were trustworthy. (I have teens and up. Adjust accordingly for your children.)
  • I went over some new family routines and rules that would be in place for a while. No friends over right now. Who was responsible for sanitizing door knobs, appliance handles, remotes, light switches, etc. and on what days. What the schoolwork schedule would look like. We talked about how we would be having more Family Movie and Game Nights!
  • I allowed space for questions and encouraged everyone to be real about their reactions and suggestions. They had some ideas way better than mine!
  • I emphasized that this was going to pass and we would seize the opportunity these new obstacles provided- to spend more time together as a family, to learn new things, and to invest time in the things we always say we wish we had the time to do. We are a team and a fun team!
  • We talked about how “this” was not all about us and how we needed to keep our eyes open for creative opportunities to help other people.
  • Remember: This is opening a dialogue to what will be an ongoing conversation.

Sure, this meeting was necessary because of a set of new, unique circumstances, but family meetings should be a regular part of your family culture. Keep them going!

General Family Meeting Tips:

  1. Keep them positive and fun.
  2. Keep everyone involved.
  3. Keep them relevant. (Nothing worse than a meeting that feels unnecessary.)
  4. Keep them a brief but consistent part of your family life.

Every family is different so be sensitive to your specific family needs as you consider these suggestions and be prepared to make adjustments as needed.

  • Start them with something fun that gets everyone talking like a silly question like, “What superpower would you want and why?” or “What vegetable would you like to disappear forever?” Talking people are more likely to keep talking.
  • Use them to keep everyone on the same page. What was the best part of last week for you? What are you looking forward to this week?
  • Meetings emphasize family interdependence. They help the family to understand each individual member and help each individual to understand their connection to the family. Let family members put things on the agenda. Let them lead.
  • This is the time to address issues, schedules, current events, and even finances in an appropriate way. This is the time to celebrate grades, sport wins, recitals, and character growth you are witnessing as a parent. NOT a time to embarrass anyone or point out individual mistakes or problems. 
  • Be creative! Family meetings can be held at a pizza place (just not during social distancing, of course!), during a board or card game, or throughout a car ride. No matter what – end with some fun!

Since the family was all together in one place, we capitalized on this opportunity to transition from serious real-world problems into an incredibly competitive, very fun, homemade three-point shooting contest using a pot from the kitchen, a chair, and some paper wads. Walkout music was blasted for each player. Meeting adjourned!

Breakfast. Check. Son’s Math. Check. Respond to emails. Check. Help daughter with Reading assignment… Lunch… Complete project for work… Dinner. Check. Check. Check. Check. Whew. This was a good day. We got it all done!

Hold on! Wait a minute! You’re missing something. In fact, if you keep up this schedule, the morale in your home is going to drop, the productivity is going to drop and the opportunity before you will be missed. How do I know you’re missing something?

You’re missing something BIG! You’re missing out on an opportunity to increase your kids’ academic, social and emotional skills, their ability to deal with stressful situations and anxiety. You’re missing out on an opportunity to learn about your kids or your spouse, develop deeper connections and create lasting memories. Still don’t know what you’re missing?

SCHEDULED PLAYTIME. Yes. That’s the thing. SCHEDULED PLAYTIME.

Unfortunately, you may also be missing out on a way to make your life easier while you’re home with the family for the foreseeable future. Who doesn’t want that?

This is a MUST. We can’t leave play to chance and hope someone says something funny while we eat lunch or while they’re working on Math. We can’t just hope that the adventurous person in the family brings some excitement. And we sure can’t minimize its importance. 

We must add play to our checklist. Why?

  1. Let’s start with all the reasons I mentioned earlier. No need to rehash those.
  2. Brings positive energy, creating a more conducive environment for the work that follows.
  3. We’re a family. We do life together. We laugh together. We cry together. We play together. We feel each other’s stress and we feel each other’s joy. (I can feel it in my home when someone is really stressed out about something.)
  4. When we play and laugh, our brain releases dopamine, a chemical that lets us know that we like what we’re doing. We connect that joy and pleasure with the people we are doing it with, making us want to repeat it. 
  5. We’re living in stressful times. Laughter truly is the best medicine. 
  6. Play strengthens our relationships.
  7. Strengthens children’s academic skills. (I know I said it earlier, but it’s worth mentioning again.)

I get it. You’re the adult. You have to be the responsible one to make sure that everyone gets all their work done. That everything stays orderly and structured. And if we get everything completed, then we’ll play. Because play is the reward for finishing everything, right? Besides, how will it look if it’s 10:30 AM and we’re playing a game and they haven’t read their English homework yet or you haven’t quite finished that project? You don’t want to be that parent.

Think of the other side of being the responsible parent. The responsible parent who helps to increase their child’s ability to achieve academically and improve communication skills. The parent who builds their kid’s confidence and their immune system. The parent who’s reducing the stress level in the home and creating a positive, energetic homework environment. That’s what you’re doing when you schedule time to play. You’re scheduling all those benefits, which might make it a little easier to get through each day.

There are tons of lists of ways to play. Keep it simple. It can be just a few minutes as a study/work break or a designated 30 or 45 minute recess. Whatever you do, don’t not schedule time to play while you’re home. One could say, you’re not being responsible.

Ideas for Play at Home:

  • Ball up some paper, get a trash can and start close, seeing who can make the shot. Keep inching your way back. Add some flair. Celebrate creativity in shooting styles whether you make it or not.
  • Turn on an upbeat song and dance. Use a hat and whoever is wearing the hat, dances for about 20-30 seconds and then puts the hat onto someone else who then begins to dance. Profusely cheer on the person dancing with the hat on.
  • Draw designs on the driveway using sidewalk chalk.
  • Do impersonations of one another, other people in your life, or famous people.
  • Build a fort in the house using couch cushions, pillows, and bedsheets. Then let someone do their school/job work inside the fort.
  • Start making up a story. Speak for 30 seconds and then have the next person pick up the story from there for 30 seconds and then someone else for 30 seconds and keep going around as long as you can. The story may become outlandish, but who cares? 

Look at all the smiles, laughter, and imagination taking place. Check. Check. Check.

Most mornings, we wake up with little time to spare. Get dressed, shower, wake up the kids, get them dressed, tell them to make up their beds, brush their teeth, comb their hair, brush my hair, grab their things, grab my things, fix a cup of coffee, get ready to leave, oops, I forgot to brush my own teeth, brush my teeth, hop in the car five minutes later than I needed to! Drop the kids off at school or the bus stop, stop by Starbucks, head to the office hoping I didn’t forget that I have an 8:00 appointment. Sound familiar?

Guess what, while we’re practicing social-distancing, here’s the chance to create a new family norm that is less focused on punctuality and more focused on starting the day the way you want to start it as a family. As our lives have changed due to the pandemic, we can intentionally do some things differently that set the whole family in the same direction for the day.

Here’s one change that can make a HUGE difference.

Family Breakfast Time . Don’t let food be a hindrance, but let’s address food first. Breakfast can be anything from sitting together to drink a beverage, to toast with jelly, all the way up to to the big time – pancakes, eggs, fruit, and OJ.  Focus on the words “Family” and “Time.” Think of the word breakfast as the important time of the day. It’s before you launch into your “daily work/school” time.

Why is this so beneficial? Studies show the benefits of having regular family meals together. Benefits, particularly for children, include better eating habits, feeling more connected, increased communication skills, and better self-esteem. They also include being less likely to develop eating disorders, engage in risky behaviors such as smoking or drinking habits, or to become depressed. Eating together helps you develop the lifelong bonds that strengthen your family and help you make it through tough times.

Set the tone for the day. This is the perfect time to set expectations for the day. Everyone can know what is expected of them and what to expect from you. We tend to receive information better when we’re eating. It does not necessarily have to be a minute-by-minute schedule but just having a set time to explain the intended flow of the day while we are eating and all together can provide some predictability for everyone. The kids will know that there will be some downtime, playtime, work time, quiet time, eating time, etc.

Family Temperature Check. I go into further detail about this in another blog. Ultimately, this is a good time to find out if anyone just plain and simple woke up on the wrong side of the bed that morning or is having a very difficult time emotionally dealing with the fact that we are all stuck in the house together all day every day for the foreseeable future.

Give everyone a common starting point. Just like every football team huddles before running the next play and then proceeds to their position to start the play, the family huddles at breakfast and then starts the next play. As a parent, we have the power to send the family to their next play with enthusiasm or with dread. Even if you’re the only one with the positive energy, that’s OK, be that parent who the kids roll their eyes at and say, “Dad, you’re just over the top.” They’re going to say it with a smile on their face and move on after breakfast thinking not about the dread of being home all day yet again, but how silly their parents are. 

Tips: If you decide to have a family breakfast on a regular basis, here are some tips.

  1. Enlist your children to help with breakfast. Set the table with dishes, cups, silverware, condiments, whatever is age-appropriate. After all, they are eating as well. Do not become their servant. If age-appropriate, let them prepare some, if not all of the food.
  2. Keep it simple, but only if you want to. Don’t feel stressed that you have to pull out the pots and pans. Cereal and juice are fine. Pop-tarts and water are fine. An apple is fine. However…
  3. Go all out some mornings just because! Waffles, pancakes, omelets, biscuits. You have the time now. If your work and schooling get started a little later, since everyone is quarantined, it’s OK. That’s the opportunity here. Now, you don’t have to leave by 7:45 to miss the traffic and miss sitting in the long drop offline. (Teach your children how to make some of these items. Before long, they may do it for you.)
  4. Get started. When you get up, just because you are working from home, don’t spend hours procrastinating about getting your day started. Breakfast becomes the high point of the morning. Get into a rhythm and when everyone wakes up, announce that we will have breakfast in ___ minutes so that everyone is moving toward breakfast. That becomes our first destination for the day. For some people, simply having a set time for breakfast may be the way to go.
  5. Enlist children to help clean up following breakfast. Wash dishes, load dishwasher, clean table, sweep the floor, put away any extra food, be done
  6. Be real. This does not mean your day will go perfectly or even smoothly. This helps you to maintain a healthy relationship when things do get rocky.

Take advantage of this opportunity. I love to eat. Lots of us do. I love my wife and my kids (all 7 of them). Doing what I love to do with the people I love should be the formula for connection and peace in the midst of this chaos.

Families across the globe are about to find themselves spending lots of unsolicited time together due to the coronavirus pandemic. As I peruse through social media, talk to friends, and even think about my own experience with 7 kids in the house, there is plenty of anxiety, fear, and consternation over this one simple question, “What am I going to do with these kids all day?” Fortunately, there are many, many resources being provided to help parents answer that question.

The question I want to pose is, “How do we as parents, we as couples, keep from losing our minds while we are being asked to stay cooped up in our homes with these energy abundant children?” You’re going to have the opportunity to be more irritated, more frustrated, and angrier than ever. 

Let’s not spend our energy trying to figure out how to prevent the inevitable. That’s just setting yourself up for more frustration. Let’s plan for how we will respond in a way that does not ruin this unique opportunity we have to grow as a family. 

Before we get into the hamster wheel of just trying to survive each day, take some time each day with your significant other and maybe your children as well and do a temperature check. As a family, take a moment and ask one another, “How are you doing?” How are you feeling?” “What do you need?” “How is all this time together affecting you?” “What bothers you the most right now?” Listen to their answers and share the effects each day is having on you. 

It’s okay to acknowledge the difficulties. This is a good time to hear if Mom is feeling overwhelmed. Dad may be feeling helpless. Your daughter may be feeling restricted. Your son may be about ready to shut down and shut everyone else out. And your dog may be the one absorbing it all. 

These daily temperature checks take into account that this is new territory for us all. The uncertainty of the economy, of school, of our way of life as we know it can cause us to react in ways that we are unfamiliar with because we can’t always readily relate it to a past experience. 

Instead of just forcing our way through it, let’s learn how to talk our way through it. Let’s figure out as a family how to share our thoughts and emotions. Let’s learn how to address one another’s needs even if they can’t be met because of the circumstances. Let’s not act as though we know what to do as a family unit. Let’s figure it out together. Understanding the effect it’s having on one another in real-time is a good first step.

This is an opportunity to take advantage of the intended beauty of relationship, of the connections we have with those closest to us. If we can learn to be sensitive to the needs and feelings of the people in our own home, imagine how that may translate outside those doors when we get to leave the home again.

For decades, concern has been expressed about how family breakdown impacts children, but the future impact on adults hasn’t received much attention. That’s changing.

In 2018, a Cigna study set off alarms about loneliness and its potential root causes as it indicated loneliness is at epidemic proportions in America. 

In an article for City Journal, Kay Hymowitz, William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys and The New Brooklyn: How to Bring a City Back, addresses how the rise in the breakdown of the family has created an increase in kinlessness. This phenomenon is impacting older adults in profound ways.

Hymowitz cites studies, including one by Ashton M. Verdery and Rachel Margolis, that showed a surge in the number of “kinless” older adults. 

“A jump in the number of never-married and divorced adults is also part of the kinlessness story,” writes Hymowitz. “Baby boomers were the first generation to divorce in large numbers, and they continue to split up even as they amble into their golden years, giving rise to the phenomenon known as “gray divorce.”

Hymowitz also cites Robert Putnam’s work Bowling Alone, where Putnam raised the caution flag about the decline people were experiencing in social capital, especially the likelihood that boomers would experience a lonelier old age than the greatest generation before them. 

Divorced people don’t typically have ex-spouses who are willing to take care of them in their old age or illness, nor do stepchildren typically care for stepparents as they would care for their biological parent. Even biological parents who walked away from their children now find themselves navigating old age alone

Verdery and Margolis summarize their findings: “Evidence is accumulating that the legacy of divorce and remarriage has a long reach straining intergenerational relationships and suppressing the support that divorced parents, stepparents and remarried biological parents might expect from their children later in life.”

Additionally, Hymowitz mentions cohabitation as a key ingredient in the rise of kinlessness.

“Superficially, cohabitation looks roughly equivalent to marriage; couples live together as ‘husband and wife,’ sharing a bed, living space, meals and in many cases children, but without the ring and city-hall certificate,” Hymowitz says. She asserts that the increase in couples who are living together has added to the fragility of post-transition relations.

Consider this: Cohabiting couples break up faster and more often than married couples. Separated, cohabiting fathers are more likely to withdraw from their children’s lives than divorced dads. Cohabiting and single parents have looser ties to their own parents and friends than marrieds. Plus, the Cigna study found that single parents are about the loneliest Americans.

“Even evolutionary-psychology skeptics, might notice that though marriage has shape-shifted over the centuries and across cultures, it has always defined those people – spouses, parents, children, grandparents, siblings, in-laws – to whom we owe special attention and mutual protection,” Hymowitz says. “Marriage creates kin; cohabitation does not. Some of the most crucial obligations of kinship have always been to tend to the sick and to bury the dead.”

It is worth noting that even today, the vast majority of unpaid caretaking of the aging in the U.S. is done by relatives, according to Putnam. Hymowitz surmises that a lot of what’s happening is due to a change in our understanding of what the family is and its purpose. Hymowitz points out that kinless elders are often hoarders who hang on to every stray electric bill, used coffee cup or odd bit of broken furniture. They cling to their stuff for lack of meaningful human interaction.

“Uprootedness uproots everything except the need for roots,” wrote American historian Christopher Lasch. Hymowitz believes one of our greatest challenges is to communicate that need to coming generations before they make decisions that will further fragment their lives and communities.

In conclusion, Hymowitz reminds us that the policy discussions about the troubles of the American working class and poor center on vocational and technical education, higher-paying and reliable jobs and benefits. These are necessary efforts, but they are not enough to counter the loneliness, kinlessness and despair crushing so many spirits. There must be what Tom Wolfe called a “great relearning” about how to satisfy the human longing for continuity and connection.

This article was originally published
in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on June 14, 2019.