Beyond the obvious challenges we all face in dealing with the pandemic, many households are experiencing real shock as the activities that used to fill our days suddenly come to a grinding halt. Schools are closed. People are working from home. Life as we know it has been upended.
On the relational front, “sheltering in place” is guaranteed to ramp up your family dynamic at least tenfold. When you’re around each other 24/7, you can’t avoid little irritations and personality conflicts as easily as you can when you’re running in a million different directions. That can be intimidating, but you can make it work to your advantage if you keep a few tips in mind.
1. Make a routine and stick to it
When our schedules get thrown out of whack, we’re tempted to let our routines go out the door. All of a sudden we start getting up and going to bed at different times. Mealtimes become a free-for-all. Chores may or may not get done. That can be fine for vacations, but for times like this, maintaining routines are critical for managing expectations and cultivating a sense of normalcy.
You don’t have to maintain the exact same schedule you did when the kids were in school and you were going to the office, but it would be a good idea to create a schedule and stick to it. Get up at the same time every day. Get dressed. Eat meals together at regular times. Pick specific days for laundry, cleaning and other chores. Go to bed at the same time every evening. Sticking to a routine can feel a little arbitrary when the school bus isn’t coming and your boss doesn’t see you coming in late, but do it anyway. The fact is, kids and adults need routines to feel safe, cared for and connected. When we’re going through chaotic times, stable family routines help your household become a little island of sanity in a world gone mad.
2. Manage your relationships
When we’re following our normal schedule, we’re used to finding ways to connect (and stay out of each other’s way) as we move from thing to thing. But when the normal schedules are kaput, everyone’s expectations for the day — and each other — inevitably begin to clash.
Now is the time to become more intentional about managing your relationships. If you want to function as a real team, you’re going to have to start planning for it. Break up the day into chunks. At breakfast, have a short conversation about what you all need/want to do with your time until lunch. At the same time, discuss little things each family member can do to take care of each other over the next few hours. Are there times when you will especially need quiet for a conference call? What can everyone do during that time? Are there certain chores that really need to get done? How can you work together (or divide and conquer) to make them happen? Have the same conversation about the time between lunch and dinner, and dinner and bedtime.
Instead of letting your family devolve into an every-person-for-themselves dynamic, manage your time and expectations. Become the team you’re meant to be.
3. Work together
Do at least one chore together as a family every day. It doesn’t matter if you usually do that particular chore yourself, or if that’s generally someone else’s job. When you’re talking about how the day is going to go, choose a chore that you can all do together. The kids might groan at first, but put on some music (let the kids take turns picking something appropriate), and do your best to keep a playful attitude while you all pitch in to get the job done.
Working together cultivates a strong sense of team spirit as you pull together to maintain a more orderly household and start getting used to counting on each other to show up — not just for the fun times, but the other times, too.
4. Play together
Don’t forget to have a little fun together every day. Don’t let the kids play video games all day while you obsess over the headlines on social media. Dust off those board games and card games. Read a book aloud to each other. Play catch. Just waste some time together — on purpose. Remind each other how fun it can be to be around each other. Maybe, when life gets back to normal, you won’t be in as big a hurry to spend so much time apart again.
5. Pray together
Now more than ever, let’s make an extra effort to pray as families. Take a few minutes every day to gather together and intercede for a quick end to this pandemic, for people’s health and safety, for the restoration of the economy and for our own intentions. While you’re at it, make sure to praise God for the times when he has led your family out of past difficulties and for the little blessings of each day. When we’re stressed, it’s important to remind each other that God has always been present and that he still is right here, right now, guarding and guiding us.
Though the witness of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection, Christians have been given the gift of seeing that it is possible to draw the greatest blessings out of the darkest times. Although we all hope for a speedy end to this global tragedy, I pray that you and yours will be able to use this time to rediscover the blessing your family has been meant to be all along. And I pray you will spark a connection that will bless you for years to come.
Dr. Greg Popcak is director of CatholicCounselors.com, a Catholic tele-counseling practice.