By Brandy Centolanza
As the COVID-19 pandemic looms on and families continue to spend more time at home while working and virtual learning, some moms and dads may begin to feel more stressed and overwhelmed. Such strain may cause friction in their marriage and their roles as parents. So, what can families do to ease the burden brought on by the pandemic?
One of the most important things families who are working and schooling at home should do is set a schedule and establish a daily routine. This includes creating a designated space that is just for work or school and ensuring everyone is clear on any boundaries or guidelines when it comes to working, schooling, chores and other responsibilities. A separate area that is just for work (preferably not the bedroom) can assist with differentiating between work, school and home since this allows for the illusion of separation when the space is only used for that purpose.
Nadia Speziale, a licensed professional counselor with Bright Horizons Counseling Services, recommends getting everyone involved in setting the family schedule.
“Kids and family members function better and are more successful when they feel connected,” Speziale says. “Get a feel for everyone’s ideas and feelings and make sure everyone is being heard. With that, parents can then set rules with schedules, what’s allowed at what time and what’s not. Time frames work great for this as well.”
Families should also try to avoid constant discussion about the coronavirus and try to maintain some sense of normalcy throughout the day, checking in with each other when problems arise.
“I always encourage family meetings even without the pandemic,” says Jeff Sumpolec, a licensed professional counselor with Victory Christian Counseling. “Families should talk about their day, find out what was good about it and what they need to work on.”
Spouses should also frequently have similar conversations.
“As a couple, you really need to be on the same page,” Sumpolec says. “Communication is key as you figure out how to adjust, make decisions, resolve issues and try to live in a healthy environment with so much uncertainty and so much disappointment. It can be a lot.”
That’s why finding time for self-care throughout the day is equally important, especially during stressful times. “Me” time may include taking a walk alone, listening to music in a quiet place, mindfulness, yoga or meditation, coloring or knitting or finding a new hobby.
“Make sure to take breaks and create a safe place that includes some things that you enjoy as well as some relaxing things,” says Speziale. “My two favorite coping skills are sleep and moving, two things almost everyone is capable of. Making small day to day goals to get good sleep and move today can change the whole day as well as being proud of yourself accomplishing these small goals.”
Still, with our normal routines out of whack, some bad days are inevitable. Partners should be respectful and allow each other to vent or share any feelings of anxiety, isolation or loss of control. And if you happen to become frustrated with each other or the kids or any financial uncertainty that may be added to your plate? That is when clear communication and respecting everyone’s needs is even more critical. No one knows what you are feeling unless you clearly share it with them.
Speziale suggests “open communication using ‘I statements’ such as ‘I feel this because…’ to identify how you feel about situations and why. This prevents passive aggressive comments and that ‘walking on an egg shell’ feeling with those we live with.”
As families learn to cope with everyone being home at the same time all the time, it can also be beneficial not take everything too seriously and laugh things off, remembering that this too shall pass.
Now more than ever, it is also vital to take each day as it comes instead of focusing on what will happen months from now.
“Most people don’t know what is currently happening and what will happen and worrying is only affecting you,” Speziale says.
It may be hard to take a respite from the daily grind while confined to the house, but there are ways spouses can find time to also have a little fun at home.
“A lot of couples are finding new ways to enjoy their time together,” says Speziale. “Some are creating a relaxing outdoor space to use and some are doing activities that they may not think about doing together such as puzzles or games. Set a time once a week to be together, on Friday night, for example, and make a routine of it,” says Speziale.
Other simple date night suggestions include enjoying fresh air together at a park, on a hike, or at the beach, planning a picnic together or camping out in the backyard, or even just ordering dinner in and watching your favorite TV show. Or, try whipping up a new meal together.
“It can be fun for couples to plan a meal, cook together and try something new,” says Sumpolec. “Active couples can go for a run or walk together in the evenings, or just get in your car and go for a drive.”
And if it all just becomes too much, don’t be afraid to seek professional help, which is easier now through telemedicine.
“I think a big part of all of this is understanding that fear, frustration, sadness, loneliness and a whole list of uncomfortable feelings are very real right now, and you are not alone,” Speziale says.