The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting safe distancing measures rolled out by the government have caused our daily lives to be impacted by various adjustments and restrictions as we all do our part to be personally and socially responsible.
Now that we are staying home almost all the time, the increased interactions with our family may be bringing about more opportunities for tension and disagreements. It is not uncommon for families to comprise a married couple living with their children and elderly parents. All these important family relationships may come under strain in the present situation.
How can we relate to and care for our family members in a way that turns the possibilities for conflict into the potential for closeness?
Thrive with limited space and time
With everyone always being at home now, we might find that living in such close proximity for an extended period of time beginning to rub us the wrong way. As working parents adjust to working from home, we may also need to help our school-going kids with home-based learning and holiday activities. Our elderly parents, who are used to having their own space in the day, may also experience tension with the whole family being at home all the time now.
- Navigate limited space
Space, as they say, is a premium in land-scarce Singapore, and our home is no different. When it comes to living in close quarters for an extended time, it would help if the family can come to a mutual understanding of how to give one another personal space, when to come together for family time in common spaces, and how to be more thoughtful about sharing common spaces with higher likelihood for friction, such as the toilet.
- Work with limited time
For parents who face challenges with working from home, dealing with their children’s needs at home as well can create a lot of stress and take up much time.
Working from home with kids is not easy, but can be made more manageable with a few helpful practices for yourself and your kids—such as sticking to a “ritual” for getting ready for the day (e.g. waking up at a fixed time, having breakfast together, changing out of pajamas); clearly designating work, study, and play spaces, and making sure everyone in the family understands where they are and what they are to be mainly used for; planning a daily schedule that includes breaks and mealtimes; practising self-discipline in sticking to the schedule yourself, and in so doing, modelling for your children how to do the same; and rewarding yourself and your kids for the small victories in the day to positively reinforce what was done well.
- Give everyone grace
You may need to take some time to figure out what are the best physical, emotional, and mental structures for you to achieve your desired work goals, family goals, and personal goals. And that is okay. This is all new for everyone, so it is natural for the whole family to go through a period of finding out and fine-tuning what works well and what can be done differently.
In the midst of all these adjustments, remember to give yourself and your family members grace. When our stress comes from our own expectations of how things ought to be, it can be beneficial to loosen—if not let go of—them, so that we (and everyone else at home) can have a little more breathing space to cope with the present crisis and its stresses.
Team up and bond with your spouse
While it is easy to go into survival mode and deal only with the day-to-day practicalities, it is especially important for you and your spouse to draw close to each other during this time. Only when your marriage is strong, can you both work together well to help the whole family weather the current situation.
- Discuss how to support each other
Initiate conversations with your spouse on how you can better understand and care for their emotional needs.
From this place of closer connection and trust, it will also be easier to talk about supporting each other’s practical needs in this time. Share openly and respectfully on how you would like for the both of you to share the responsibilities in the home. It is important to address any unclarified or unvoiced expectations, so that you and your spouse can come to a common understanding that is agreeable for both parties.
- Conflict can lead to intimacy
Interacting more with your spouse may lead to heightened tension in your marriage that can cause conflicts to arise more easily. It is good to recover from any cold wars as soon as possible, so that you and your spouse can get back on track to hold the family together. Instead of letting disagreements fester, see them as opportunities for deeper conversations, so as to better understand your spouse’s needs and to attune more accurately to how they would like to be cared for.
Remember that you are both on the same team, so rally together—be on the same page and be on each other’s side—to help each other and the rest of the family to not only survive, but thrive during this challenging season.
Help your kids cope and manage their media usage
The COVID-19 pandemic provides rich opportunities for parents to build a closer relationship with their children, as they help their kids to deal with and talk about these unprecedented times. In addition to these important conversations, here are some other ways parents can bring stability to their children’s lives.
- Model how to cope with the situation
To help kids cope with the new reality, parents need to teach and model for them how to keep calm, maintain regular routines, and adopt new habits of hygiene, family bonding, and connecting with friends digitally. The composure of the home atmosphere and the predictability of a daily structure can establish for children a sense of order and settledness.
- Moderate and leverage on media usage
Since kids can no longer go outdoors as often as before, they are probably using their digital devices more. To protect children from excessive media usage and its likely adverse effects, kids should also engage in non-digital activities daily, which provide opportunities for them to bond with the family, enjoy play time and exercise indoors, and learn how to help out with cooking together and other household responsibilities. These activities also allow them to use the pent-up energy they usually would have expended outdoors.
Not all screen time is unhealthy. Using technology interactively for the purposes of education, building family memories, and connecting with friends is beneficial, and different from passively consuming mindless entertainment.
Connecting with your elderly parents
Some seniors stay with their married children, while some live by themselves. Each situation has its own concerns, especially since the elderly are more at risk of the coronavirus. How can we care for our elderly parents and parents-in-law amidst the constraints of safe distancing measures?
- Establish a routine with them
A daily routine allows the elderly to know what to expect: it reduces the stress of the unknown, gives them a sense of stability, and improves their sleep quality1, which benefits their emotional and mental health. Discuss with them how to comfortably set a routine which achieves what is important to them while staying home, including exercising safely, interactions with friends, family bonding time, leisure time, and replenishment of food and daily essentials.
Our parents may be reluctant to ask us for help—be it for grocery shopping or running errands—because they do not want to trouble us or they worry that it will put us more at risk of catching the virus.2 We can be proactive in reaching out to them to offer help. We may need to explain to them repeatedly that we can purchase the groceries, household items, or meals for them, and have them delivered to their doorstep. We can also assure them often that we will be extra careful in taking the necessary precautions if we need to head outside our home. Even as we worry about our parents, they will also always be concerned for us.
- Make the effort to connect with them
If our parents used to spend time regularly with their friends outside the home, they may struggle with frustration and boredom from having to stay home all the time. So it is important that we seek to understand their struggles and make time to connect with them, whether they are living with us or by themselves.
For elderly parents who stay by themselves and struggle with using technology, asking them to do FaceTime or a Zoom call may prove to be very frustrating for them. We should not be adding more stress to them in the current situation. Instead, we can be creative in thinking of non-digital ways that our parents can connect with us and their grandchildren.
For elderly parents who live with us, we need to be mindful not to make them feel like they are in our way, as we and the kids scramble around the whole day with work and studies. One fear seniors have is that they have become “useless” and a burden to their family who keeps troubling everyone. While it is understandably tougher to carve out time to connect with them in a period of adjustments, doing so would go a long way toward helping our parents feel cared for as a valued member of the family.
Bonding with them intentionally may look like being fully present during family mealtimes or spending pockets of time to talk to them throughout the day. Our children often take their cues from us and pick up the family culture more from our behaviour than our instructions. When we relate to our elderly parents with honour and gentleness (instead of frustration and impatience) in the midst of our busyness, we are modelling for our kids how to make time for and to treat their grandparents with respect and love. We can also involve our parents more in their role of grandparents to our kids during this time. This may help them to know that they are playing an important role in keeping the family going by contributing usefully in the home.
Keeping the family together—in tenderness, not tension
When we are thoughtful about investing in all the important relationships in our family, it will help us to stay strong together during COVID-19 crisis. As we learn to give grace and spend time to build connection with our family members, living under one roof with (or apart from) our elderly parents will not be a source of conflict, but closeness.
© 2020 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
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