The “New” Family Life

Posted on by WellSpring

by Dan Vroegop

There are so many funny videos being shared of families caught up in the quarantined craziness that is going on right now. This new reality that all parents and families live in can feel surreal, but changes have happened very quickly. Every family, regardless of shape and size, are being affected right now and we are getting flooded with ideas, strategies, and advice, when in reality every situation is very different. Our family of seven, including four kids, two parents and one cat is feeling this push and pull just as everyone else is right now. As a counselor myself, and with my wife, who is an elementary school teacher, we put strategies in place the first few days of the Stay Home order, and then began to tweak them daily to try and live our best life during this time of family togetherness. We have been reminded, and relearned a few valuable ideas about this new life. 

#1: Structure is needed, but BE flexible.

Before all of the Covid-19 madness began, most families had a set time to get up, schedules to be places (school, work, sports etc..), but now that has changed. If there are one, two, or more adults in the house, find time daily to be on the same page, even if it’s just with yourself. Create a tentative plan of action for each day. What time should everyone be awake to start school? Which parent needs to work at what time? When does everyone break to go outside and have breakfast/lunch/dinner together? Keep in your mind that although a scheduled plan is great (especially for type A people), plans need to be flexible as the unexpected WILL occur almost daily, especially with kids. 

Put it into practice: Chat with your spouse, or plan with yourself for 10-15 minutes in the evening to time-block the next day. Don’t forget to include how much time you need for work, cooking/eating, exercise, unplugged family time, and the children’s schoolwork. 

#2: Be patient, take a breath when needed.

It is inevitable that plans, schedules, and children change each day, so what is your strategy to take a breath? I like the simple box-breathing technique. This simple process slows down the fight or flight response and the anxious feelings. Taking control of our own responses will help with unity in the home and de-escalate the tension that may be rising. As I will discuss later in this article, this is a special time that we have been given to be with our kids and families that may never happen again. Each small choice could make a big future difference for you, your kids, and your family.     

Put it into practice: When you feel your patience waning with your child, excuse yourself to the bathroom, lock the door and try the box-breathing technique. Box-breathing includes a 4 second breath in, 4 second hold, 4 second exhale, and 4 second wait to start the next box. Repeat until you feel your heart-rate slow down and calmness replace irritation. 

#3: Small victories lead to BIG ones.

Looking beyond our claustrophobia, anxious thoughts, depressive feelings, and “the numbers” we are hearing, lie small victories that WANT to be noticed. These victories may be completing a tough homework assignment, practicing piano, or working together on a project. No matter how small, when victories are noticed and praised, then courage will be developed to move onto bigger projects. Is there an incentive for completing a days’ or weeks’ worth of homework? There are opportunities to give positive reinforcements throughout the day, and each time you will start to see the self-esteem rise in each child. 

Put it into practice: Considering making a daily checklist for each child which could include specific activities for school subjects, instrument practice, chores, physical activity, creative play, etc. If the child checks off each item for the day, for a certain amount of days in a row, there could be a reward (not necessarily monetary...think of bonding activities like baking brownies with mom, or tossing a frisbee one-on-one with Dad.) 

#4: Be ok with grieving what has been lost (social, structure, time, etc..)

There have been so many changes so quickly in the last six weeks. It is ok to feel that loss and grieve over what each person misses. It could be social contact with friends, co-workers, driving, or playing at the park, but in each case, we can feel that loss. Dealing with grief is described well in the paragraph from the article, "That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief" by Scott Berinato on March 23, 2020:

“These aren’t linear and may not happen in this order. There’s denial, which we say a lot early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally, there’s acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed. Kessler also adds a sixth stage to grief: Meaning. He states, “I believe we will continue to find meaning now and when this is over.”

Put it into practice: Acknowledge your own feelings. If you’re a journalist, when you feel grief, write about it, put a name to your feelings and accept them. Understand that your specific feeling of grief in the moment, or in the day or even week, won’t last forever. If you don’t like writing, talk to your spouse, parent, close friend and take turns listening to one another’s challenges and be reminded that you’re not alone. 

#5: Be together! 

The sixth stage of grief, meaning, leads me to the final lesson, which is being together. It is difficult to wrap our minds around being together 24/7, but this is a potential time to be reintroduced to our children and spouses. While this may scare some of you, especially with teens, everyone, even teens, want to be known. You may get pushback at first and it will likely be awkward, but in a short time walls will slowly come down when you care and slow down to listen. Quality time outside, during a meal, and playing games together will reignite the family flame within each child. They may even state, “I didn’t realize mom/dad were so much fun!” Do not take this personally, but know you are making a difference. Imagine a time prior to technology when all the kids in the neighborhood played outside on bikes, in backyards and just sitting around talking. 

Put it into practice: This is the time to lose the everyday habits of just getting by; it’s time to get creative! Try dressing up, sing a song together, host a family talent show, set the scene for a family date night complete with candles and fancy clothes or a murder mystery dinner, have a dance party, play tag, dig out the nerf guns or legos, and eat outside. Your family may even decide to keep these traditions when life starts to speed up again! 

Final thoughts from Peter, the apostle of Jesus wrote in 1 Peter 1:5-9 (MSG), “So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good    character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus.”

Share |