Dear Dr. Chani,
It has been quite a challenging year for my family. Even though it seems like the world has adapted to Covid-19 and become more optimistic in the face of new vaccines, my family has not moved on. The effects of quarantining and home-schooling have worn down my family dynamic to the point that I fear it is beyond repair.
My husband and I have four children ranging in age from 16 years old to 5 years old. We both usually work in office jobs. Due to the situation with Covid-19, we have been perpetually working from home for a long time. Our children have been in and out of school. When our children are home during the day, it makes it very difficult for my husband and me to focus on our work. There are constant disruptions. We do not want our children to feel that they are not our priority so we try to respond to them when they need our help or want our attention. But it seems like it is never enough. My husband and I are worried about losing our jobs because we struggle to keep up with the deadlines while working from home. We eventually get worn down by the stress of being pulled in two directions and we lose patience with our children. It is a losing battle. We feel failures at work and failures as parents.
We have also noticed that the relationships between our teenage children have gotten worse. We live in a modest three-bedroom home and our children share their bedrooms. Our teenage children are always fighting with each other. They get into screaming matches over who gets to use the room to talk on the phone or when to turn off the light at night. Their relationships are strained to the point that they are barely civil to each other when we eat family meals together.
Everyone is under a lot of stress because our routines have been disrupted. It is impossible to describe how tense the atmosphere in our family is right now.
What can we do to repair our family and restore our sanity?
Your family has been through quite a whirlwind. The ongoing struggles to be productive and get along with each other when you are all home together more often than usual have worn your family down. Right now you are feeling so emotionally exhausted that you are wondering if your family will ever get past this point.
It is understandable that the pandemic’s disruption to your status quo has deeply affected your family. As human beings, we thrive when we feel a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives. Often, man’s pursuit of meaning is actualized by a specific schedule, significant responsibilities, and required behaviors. When we feel like our life has a specific goal and direction, it makes it easier to get up in the morning, navigate the day, and go to sleep at night. When many of those disappear, are altered, or are not consistent, one can feel that life has lost some of its clear meaning. When a sense of meaning fades, one can become angry, short-tempered, irritable, and hopeless. These feelings are a natural outgrowth of one losing or grappling with a sense of meaning. This is part of what your family is going through. Coronavirus has caused many of the ways you and your family have felt meaning in your life to disappear or fade. The results are impatience, stressed relationships, and a sense of despair.
Another part of the stress your family is experiencing can be related to helplessness. When we are in a situation that we are powerless to change, we often react by feeling generally hopeless, trapped, and incapacitated. As a result, we begin to feel down, uptight and stressed. This has been the Coronavirus experience. First, it exposed our inability to combat it, and then our lack of power to control significant areas of our lives such as our schedules, routines, finances, and personal space. It, therefore, makes a lot of sense that you have seen a negative impact on your family’s moods, interactions, and relationships.
Given this background, there are several things that you can do to help your family recover from this situation. Firstly, help your family communicate about the difficulties of this experience. Carve aside time each day to touch base with each member of your family and ask about what he or she is going through. Listen, validate, and empathize with their worries, concerns, and frustrations. Discuss your observations about your family dynamic and work together to explore ways to improve it. When it comes to your own worries about your jobs, speak to your employers to share your commitment, efforts, and struggles. Ask them what they think about your performance. You might be pleasantly surprised. They might be impressed with your resilience and determination. Discuss with your employers what you can do to meet their expectations going forward so that you have clear goals to work towards. There is no doubt that each of your family members is suffering in ways they have not yet expressed. As you encourage your family members to communicate and empathize with each other about their stresses and worries, they will have the ability to cope better with their stresses and frustrations, and their interactions will improve.
Another strategy you can take to boost your family dynamic is to help each person in your family find meaningful goals to focus on that are within their control. Since it may be difficult to stick to your regular schedules and routines, identify new goals that you can consistently pursue each day. A new goal might be developing a hobby, following an inspiring podcast, studying a topic in-depth, redecorating part of your home, or volunteering. Setting a clear and achievable goal is like charging your internal emotional battery. Pursuing a goal helps to give you a sense of control and it establishes new meaning, purpose, and direction.
Finally, let the change in your family dynamic start with changing yourself. It sounds like you are holding yourself to a standard that you set before the wave of Covid-19 washed over you. You know that it is impossible to maintain the status quo but it still feels like you are failing when you are unable to do so. It sounds like you are suffering from Coronavirus guilt. It is very common for parents to feel that they are disappointing their children. They feel that they are letting them down and not being the parents that they should be. In point of fact, most parents are doing an excellent job considering all the things they have to balance. If parents would be kinder to themselves in their own minds, they would have more patience with their children, which the children would feel. Furthermore, they would be in a more positive mindset, which trickles down to the whole family. Internalize and model the attitude of being kind to yourself. Acknowledge and celebrate your successes, even small ones – like making a healthy meal. Encourage your family members to be kinder to themselves and celebrate their achievements. Being kinder to yourself and encouraging others to do the same, will lift your family’s mood and improve your dynamic.
Although Coronavirus has made life very challenging, with a combination of communicating your struggles and getting validation from others, discovering a renewed sense of meaning, and internalizing positive attitudes about yourselves, your family can pull through the extraordinary difficulties of this situation and eventually reflect on how they grew from this experience.
Wishing you much success,