These days are not normal for anybody. They just aren’t. Families are stressed in ways they may never have been before. When everybody’s together, stuck behind closed doors 24/7, it can magnify those little things in your relationships that drive you batty; and they can become giant issues. So how do we all survive love in the time of COVID-19?
First off, take a big breath. Then read on. MAHIMA GUPTA is a registered clinical psychologist with Thrive Family, working with teenagers, adults and couples. Here, she assesses the current situation and offers some advice. We can get through this – we really can.
The stress of being together all the time
Firstly, you’re not alone if you’re feeling stress in your family at this time. These heightened emotions are quite normal. Fighting more than usual is also normal in a period that is anything but normal itself. All those little things that bug you only get magnified in extreme situations. Add to that the lack of personal time and – well – people end up irritable and snappy, and relationships become more stressed than ever. And there’s nowhere to go to cool down if you’re together in the same space.
Sprinkle in some social distancing and isolation, and the marriage ends up bearing quite a load. Suddenly, it’s filling the space of multiple relationships as you aren’t hanging out with friends anymore. This can be incredibly straining, leading to disappointments and frustration. And being bored can make things worse.
Some couples might even have a long-held fantasy that things would be perfect, “if only we had more time together”. They can end up disillusioned when this doesn’t prove to be the case.
Additional financial and health stressors
Illness and financial strain can add to the anxiety. Is one of you constantly plugged into the stock market, freaked out about what’s happening? Worrying about your money only makes you feel even more on edge. Or, perhaps somebody in your home is a caregiver to somebody sick, or to the elderly or little kids. They’re likely to hit caregiver fatigue and exhaustion.
Expats who are separated from their loved ones back home may feel helpless and scared. This is especially true if you have no idea when and if you can see them again. If somebody back home is ill, the pain of not being able to return to their side is intense.
Then there are the parents who worry about their children falling ill. Or those with little kids who worry what might happen if a parent gets sick or loses their job. For single parents, this situation is more intense. To help reduce stress in your family, it’s good to have a plan of action in place if something does happen. Get your support team in place and line up local friends to agree to help you if you do get sick.
Having children at home 24/7
Exhausted? Irritable? Not doing enough? These are normal emotions when you’re juggling kids all day long. The kids are probably cranky and bored too. All of this can lead to anger and frustration and compound the stress in your family. “Mum, can you…” “Mummy, I need…” “Honey, please help…” If you feel like too many things are competing for your attention, you can end up overwhelmed and depleted. You might snap at your partner or kids — and then feel guilty. Or maybe you feel like you’re not doing enough to keep your kids entertained. Too much screen time? This can make you feel like you’re a bad parent. Truth is, screen time can be a sanity-saver for everybody.
Other emotions come up, too. Maybe you’re feeling unappreciated. Or perhaps the two of you don’t see eye to eye on how to entertain the kids. Maybe you feel like you’re doing a lot more than your partner.
The other point is that any notion of “me time” or “couple time” seems to fly out the door when the whole family is together all the time. “Intimacy? Now? You’ve got to be kidding! I’m exhausted!”
Some families are more vulnerable than others
There are some people who could find this family situation extra difficult. These include:
- sufferers of significant mental or physical illnesses, or those who have a family member with either of these;
- people with financial difficulties or who have recently been laid off;
- people without strong social support network who feel boxed in or isolated; and
- those in abusive relationships or relationships with high expressed emotions or anger management issues.
In fact, for many people, home is not a safe place. Studies show that in times of stress, domestic violence rises. Organisations across the globe are already reporting higher volume of domestic abuse cases, and those are just the ones reported. Many cases go undocumented. According to an article by Channel News Asia, here in Singapore, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) women’s helpline saw a 33 percent increase in calls related to family violence in February compared to the same period last year — a contrast to national data that shows a decline in cases from 2016 to 2019.
If you suspect somebody is struggling, reach out to them. Stay in touch and check in via messages and calls. When you do talk, validate what they’re saying, comfort them and empathise with how difficult the situation is for the other person. Offer practical help such as getting them groceries or medication or any products they may need. Perhaps share a movie via Netflix Party, arrange a group chat with several friends together, or even set up a chat for their children’s friends. Basically, let them know that you see them and that you care.
6 tips to help you through
If you read the above and totally relate, don’t fret. Things can get better! Mahima has some advice:
#1 Carve out personal time
If possible, have different rooms, corners or spots in the house for each family member, especially the adults. Think of it as a workspace sanctuary. It’s your spot where you’re not to be bothered without permission. Also, carve out some time just by yourself every day, even if it’s just taking a long shower. Discuss it all with your partner so they are in charge of the kids and home during your “me time”. Then, have a breather in peace. And don’t try to do everything as a family all the time – everybody needs a little space. This will reduce stress in your family.
#2 Communicate about expectations
Dynamics change with everyone home all the time. It may seem impossible for us all to finish our job or schoolwork. The big key here is communication. Be sure to talk about expectations, roles and responsibilities explicitly – don’t just assume everything will be okay. You really do need to talk about it. Each family member should have some chores. For kids, this can be a great time to learn valuable life skills. Couples should communicate about what feels like a fair and sustainable division of duties. Divide roles clearly; so, one parent could help with e-learning while the other figures out non-academic activities. This will prevent you from stepping on each other’s toes, in turn reducing stress in your family, and preventing you from getting depleted too quickly.
#2 Set realistic expectations
Don’t expect 100% efficiency. It’s not going to happen. Be easy on yourself. Your work will most likely not be as quick or efficient. The house? It’ll be messy. It just will be. Kids may not be as productively engaged as they usually are. It’s okay if the family doesn’t enjoy being around each other all the time. It really is okay. Just focus on the bigger picture and pick your battles wisely. Keeping your kids safe and happy is what really matters.
#3 Remember that this too shall pass
All of this is temporary. Just breathe. Try to remember that this is history in the making, so learn from this situation and make the best of it in any way you can.
#4 Get creative with play
Think outside the box. Allow your kids to be bored sometimes, too. Boredom encourages creativity and builds frustration tolerance skills; so, you don’t have to feel guilty for not filling up their every minute! Screen time can be a sanity-saver for everybody.
#5 Take time to reconnect
This is important. Rekindle with each other, with friends and family. Reach out to long lost connections. We’re all in this together and, by connecting to others, it takes pressure off the marriage to provide everything you need emotionally.
#6 Take up wellness as a family
Each member can be the leader one day. They get to decide which exercise or activity everyone will be doing. Like to work out a lot? Set yourself goals like reaching a minimum step count, running a 5k or being able to do 108 Surya namaskars. Celebrate with a reward of your choosing. You deserve it!
Need personal help? You can reach Mahima through Thrive Family.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive situation and needs help, call AWARE at 1 800 777 5555, Monday-Friday, 10am-6pm.