Tips to help you navigate the “new normal”
Families are a source of companionship and gratification. With the COVID-19 reality, families are the primary pillar of support as people are instructed to “go home and stay home” alongside indefinite school, park, and public facility closures.
At the same time, despite being mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted, families are being challenged to find new ways to live together while letting go of old expectations.
Here are some tips that may help you plan for the “new normal”—and also help you create meaningful time together.
Ignore unrealistic images of family bonding on social media
I see tension reflected on social media right now that suggests COVID-19 is affecting families in many different ways. Yet families often judge their own lives based upon what they see others doing.
The reality is that some parents may have more time than ever with their children but are also experiencing financial insecurity. Some are trying to work full-time jobs while caring for children at home. Some are working in stressful essential services jobs and may not be able to come home at all.
Regardless of the situation, all families are having to rethink what home life looks like within the context of their own family. We shouldn’t judge our family experience by what other families are doing.
Play together to enhance family relationships
Play fosters a sense of togetherness and improves relationships and communication among family members. Now, more than ever, we need to find moments to let go of our worries and play with one another.
Plan a consistent hour or two every day when everyone can look forward to low-cost, home-based leisure activities. Here are a just a few ideas.
- play board games
- play soccer in the yard
- go for a walk
- read together
- connect with loved ones online
Foster family closeness with familiarity and stability
Research shows that families need a sense of familiarity and stability in their lives—and that these experiences can foster feelings of family closeness. As we begin to plan both short- and long-term for the new normal, it’s important to reimagine how we can bring some fluid structure into our families’ lives.
Children of this generation, like none other, live highly structured lives, and they’re feeling a sense of loss. With schools closed indefinitely, hockey leagues ending early, and soccer seasons facing possible cancellation, planning a consistent hour or two every day is essential as children look for that lost structure.
For families who are on the COVID-19 frontlines, or who are separated, a daily scheduled connection may provide an important sense of togetherness and stability, even if it has to be online.
Pick your time to talk about COVID-19 concerns
Spending time together in meaningful activities provides important opportunities for each family member to share what they’re feeling. Difficult conversations are softened when family members are experiencing an enjoyable activity together.
Rather than talking about fears, a sense of loss, and uncertainties with partners and children at the kitchen table, a better context might be while on a walk or during a picnic in your backyard. Then again, family leisure activities also provide an important context for momentary escape from the stress of COVID-19!
Recognize that spending time together can be stressful, too
More is not necessarily better: research points to the quality of family time and identifying activities that are individually satisfying and meaningful. Rather than thinking you have to be together all the time, recognize that short, scheduled moments in a day can be more meaningful for everyone.
Shared activities can also be stressful for individual family members. Family members might have different interests or skills levels, and not everyone in the family will see the same experience as enjoyable. When planning time together, be mindful of everyone’s shared, as well as unique interests, and try to ensure all interests are met even if it has to be on different days.
Mothers, in particular, take up the bulk of emotional and mental labour in the planning and organizing of activities. Make a family commitment that everyone “shares the fun” of organizing and planning an activity.
Find moments for self-care
It’s important to recognize the need for individual self-care as well as for couple activities. Research suggest that parents, particularly mothers, often sacrifice their own leisure in support of their children.
Prioritizing and scheduling time for yourself, if only for a short moment, will help families navigate the overwhelming fear and sense of loss in their everyday lives and will help contribute to the collective well-being of the family unit.
Remember that this pandemic, too, shall pass, and that your family can be stronger for it.