School closures and the work-at-home situation many of us find ourselves in will result in a lot of unexpected family togetherness. What, as the fashionable cliché asks us, could possibly go wrong?
Before I offer some ideas about how to cope with all of this, Let us acknowledge with gratitude that we are among the blessed if we can complain about working at home and having our families underfoot. It will mean that we have a family, and a job—a job that allows us to work at home. Many, including doctors, nurses, clinic, nursing home, and hospital employees, first responders, ambulance drivers, home healthcare workers will continue to go to work, putting themselves and their families at risk, Let’s remember them in our prayers and to look for ways to show our support and gratitude.
With all this unexpected time together, how do we keep from driving each other crazy?
Social distancing at home. Kids will need to be encouraged to spend time outdoors, in keeping with recommendations from health officials as we go forward. Let us give ourselves permission to speak up when we need space. Examples: “I’m taking a walk. No, if you don’t mind, I need some time alone.” Most of all, it may help to have a conversation about the potential irritations in advance. “Look, guys, we’re going to be together a lot. That’s good, but we’re not used this much time. So, let’s try to be kind to each other, and patient, and give ourselves permission to speak up if we need things from each other, including getting out of each other’s faces.”
Awareness of each other’s stress. Many of us are going to be stressed. Adults will be struggling with working at home, or not working at all, or about the economy and the future of their jobs and businesses. Adults whose work exposes them to the risk of illness will be stressed. Young people will be struggling with online learning, missing the academic help that they typically get at school, missing their friends. Very young children, not capable of understanding what this is all about, will still know that something strange and unusual is going on and may seem emotionally and behaviorally troubled. To the extent we can, we need to comfort and support one another.
Talking about the epidemic. Parents are often unsure about how to speak with their children about an event like this. Let’s remember that few of us have experience with disease outbreaks of the magnitude this one seems likely to approach. How we talk to kids about it is obviously going to depend on how old and how mature they are. But we may also have to factor in our kids’ individual personalities. Some kids are naturally resilient and handle adversity well. Others are prone to worry and anxiety. Psychologists like myself need to be cautious about presuming to know what’s best for YOUR family. Consider, though, these general ideas.
- Bring it up, or wait for questions? Should I go ahead and sit down with my child and explain what’s going on, or just wait for them to ask questions about it? Either may make sense, but there’s a middle way. It might go like this: “The coronavirus is a disease people can catch from each other. It’s like having a bad cold or the flu. Most people who get it may be sick for a while but will get better. A smaller number of people, mostly older people, can die from it. That’s the reason school is closed, and a lot of adults aren’t going in to work. What do you know about it? What questions do you have?”
- Sharing our anger or skepticism. If we are honest, we will acknowledge that there is no shortage of opinions about the coronavirus and how it is being handled by the media, the government, and the public health community. I admit to being concerned about the impact on children if those who are angry or skeptical are too free in sharing that opinion in the presence of their children. If our children are worried about what is to come, will we add to their worry by teaching them that they can’t trust doctors, scientists, and public health officials?
- Expressions of Love and Care. Children—well, none of us, really—call flourish unless we feel loved and cared for. Let’s not let our stress in the coming weeks or months keep us from reassuring each other of our love for one another and of God’s love for us. This time together will likely include some fussing and arguing and hollering and carrying on, as we say in these parts. But let’s not forget that the added time gives us more time to have conversations, to play together, and to pray together.
you are the true source of health and healing.
You heal our spirits when we call to you.
You heal our bodies by the gift of medicine,
and the skill of those who you have inspired
to be our doctors, nurses, and
all who work for the sick.
In you there is calm and freedom from our fears,
and the only true peace in our world.
Grant us an awareness of your presence
in these troubling times,
and give us faith in you.
In all pain and weariness and anxiety
teach us to yield ourselves to your constant care,
your unconditional love for us.
Knowing that your love surrounds us,
trusting in your wisdom and will,
to give us health and strength and peace.