There are many families at this time that are home together for the longest they have ever been together. There are many people who are finding out just what their families are made of – good, bad and ugly. Through the difficult moments we are facing today with Covid-19, it’s important to focus our attention on the things we can control. While you are at home with your family, this may be the perfect time to stop and take a pulse on how your family is functioning. I mean, really being honest and considering your family and individual strengths and the features you can take time to work on in order to become even stronger.
Strengths are critical because it is important to celebrate what you do well and use your strengths to move you forward. Right now you may be discovering that you are better than you thought you were at helping your kids with their homework or cooking homemade meals. Maybe your son or daughter came to you for advice today and you had a really fruitful conversation. Smile about that, congratulate yourself! Also, stop and think about how you will maintain these gains in the future to benefit your family relationships. Don’t look at these positive moments as only unique to your time in “isolation”. Sure it might have started out of necessity but it doesn’t have to stay that way. I encourage you to make a conscious decision about adding to and modifying family life so that you are stronger together. Plan for regular family nights or one-on-one chats and activities between parent and child. Plan to take a cooking class or parenting class. There may even be an online one you can sign up for now. Take this moment to reinvest in yourself and your family.
What if you are discovering some “ugly” truths about yourself and your family? What do you do? First, be honest. Identify your challenges. Acknowledge your imperfections and then decide if you are willing to address them. This is crucial because acknowledging a problem doesn’t make it go away. It may be so tempting to bury your head in the sand and wait it out until the social distancing restrictions go away – pretend you didn’t see it in the first place. If you do this though, your problems will become like the virus – it will likely grow and likely infect your family, maybe in seriously damaging ways. This isn’t about looking at other families across the street and saying “the Robinsons look like they are having more fun than us,” it is about looking at your own family dynamics including communication, quality time, conflict resolution skills, attentiveness, etc.
Are you finding yourself becoming easily irritated and impatient? Do you and your children sit in opposite parts of the house for the majority of the day barely talking to each other? Are you finding it hard to relate to your kids and their interests? Do you get to the end of the day wishing you had a different relationship with your family? These questions aren’t always easy to ask or address but if you are honest and willing, this can be a great opportunity to do some “work at home” on your family. This could mean taking the initiative to set up a family activity, learn about your child’s interests or learn some emotion regulation skills for yourself. It can be helpful to have a family meeting at express your thoughts and feelings and encourage other members of your family to do the same. You might be surprised to learn others have similar feelings. Just taking one step towards change can set you on a path of restoration. Even if you’re the only one in your family willing to take that step, it has the potential to start a positive chain reaction. There may be some bumps along the way as you make an effort to do things differently but consistency and persistence often pays off.
In this unusual season, it is normal to experience some tension, anxiety and frustration as you and your family are forced to interact in new ways. It is okay to take space within the home and communicate your needs appropriately. If you are unsure whether what you’re seeing is temporary or not, ask a professional for support. If you are worried or unsettled and think things should change – big or small – why not do it now? Start by evaluating your family, together and independently, celebrate the things that you’re doing well, write them down, and then pick one or two things that you’d like to work on. This whole process of social isolation has been about strengthening our world and communities. You may be medically healthy but let’s all be stronger in every way possible.