- Robert D. Cohen LMFT
Parenting During Quarantine- Burden or Blessing?
We are living through a time no one could have imagined. An intensive, unexpected, prolonged, involuntary experience for families. We are living life with fewer diversions, less social opportunity and decreased physical activity. There is more density creating more conflict, acting out, volatility and more angst. We are all wound up with no place to go. And if living through an unprecedented pandemic wasn’t difficult enough, here in California we are also wary of danger from life threatening fire and the ensuing poor air quality. Simple questions remain unanswered. How long will this go on? How long will I have to live this way? This is a quite challenging and historical time for parenting.
To prosper under these circumstances requires an explicit and new understanding of cooperation by everyone in the household. We must all change our behaviors to adapt to the new rules of the road. Everything gets magnified during this time especially if families are not on the same page. Parents are working from home while also taking care of their children. It’s not just the having their kids at home that’s different. In many cases there is a parent also adapting to having a spouse at home all day, when the home space likely wasn’t designed for everyone to live and work like this.
There is a troublesome and huge burden to overcome daily. Some of us personally know people who are ill or have died from the virus. There are numerous job losses causing additional family stress limiting the financial resources coming in. Yet in my opinion the single and most critical variable we can control and hold ourselves accountable for is how we and our family are dealing with these stressors and allocating our resources. It is important to take a closer look at what behaviors aren't appropriate and helpful now and would be beneficial to change. Otherwise you run the risk of your life looking a lot like the film Groundhog Day in that you might find yourself getting up and repeating the same day over and over again without growth, change, or benefit.
One of the best things a family can do is develop structure to their days to accommodate a family routine that has everyone knowing when things are happening. When do we wake up? When do we eat meals? What is expected of me? How does everyone participate and help out? What age related chores are assigned? Does your child clean up the dishes? Take out the garbage? This isn’t only for your benefit as parent. Having a responsibility at home helps to tie kids to the family.
We must also recognize the need for both alone time to allow individuals to take a break, as well as planned family time to be together. Setting up a scheduled routine facilitates everyone knowing the expectations. This includes having places in time to deal with any and all issues that may arise.
To turn this burden into a blessing, we want to specifically use this time to try and become a revised higher functioning version of ourselves individually and family collectively. How would a smarter version of you be spending their time right now? What could a better version of me learn how to do that I don’t currently know? I could learn a new language. Take up yoga. Teach the kids to cook or do laundry. Involve yourself in some aspect of previously unexplored life. Spend an afternoon painting. Work with clay. Read a book. Study stocks. Watch a movie together. What skill can I learn or teach others? What can they teach me?
Research has demonstrated that excessive use of technology is very dangerous for developing brains and screen time has increased exponentially during this forced time at home. We are not talking about this problem as much as we should because most of us don’t have any other alternatives. Any activities you can find that do not involve a screen are desperately needed and wonderfully beneficial. To give our brains a break from the technology while also practicing social skills with others. Play board games with your family. Set up a time to go on a family walk each day. Bicycle around your neighborhood. Schedule some activity to get out of the house. Take a ride to the mountains. Walk along the beach. This provides more than exercise. It also creates an opportunity to open up discussions with your family. Tell them about your family history. Teach them your values whiles inquiring into their belief system.
Of paramount importance to getting through this time together is your mindset. How do you look this experience? One response can be “We have this virus all over the world and it stinks now because my life is on hold.” Another response might be “We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to spend time together with those we love before they go off to college. What changes can I make to improve the quality of my family relationships?” Both are true but the second mindset attempts to turn this into a positive.
This is a great time for family improvement, to develop authentic intimacy in relationships, for parents to get on same page and to create magical memories. It’s worth noting that this will all end someday and we will go back to our busyness and mindlessness. Trying to turn this time into a blessing is a proactive step you can take to change the quarantine for you and your family. To be proactive rather than reactive. Be a better and more engaging parent. Start today.