There was a time when after working long days and dealing with a tough commute, you wished you had more time to spend with your partner and children. However, with the rapid changes in our lifestyle due to covid-19 pandemic, you might be thinking: enough is enough!
Cooped up at home, many spouses and partners are around each other more than before, and parents are sharing the same space with their children more than they used to due to school closures.
The bottom line is social distancing might be keeping us apart from friends, extended family and co-workers but it is putting us in closer spaces to partners, spouses and children.
And with that new dynamic comes a whole new set of challenges because all of this time together may strain even the healthiest relationships. It's no secret stress can drive couples apart, and there's no underestimating the stress many are feeling as a result of the covid-19 pandemic.
But there are steps you can take to promote harmony at home – this bubble many of us are now in 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The covid-19 pandemic has spurred changes in how we work and how we care for our children, and the tough part is we haven't had time to prepare for this transition. Under "normal" circumstances, partners usually have some time away from each other when one or both leave the house to go to work. At work, we are used to a somewhat structured environment with socially learned boundaries. Co-workers generally respect office spaces. If the office door is closed, you knock. A professional demeanor is expected.
Boundaries are less clear at home. If the novel coronavirus pandemic has you working at home with your partner and family, you may be figuring out how to navigate tight spaces. You might be having debates over who gets the home office, who is working at the kitchen table and who is helping the children log in to the school portal. You may be trying to figure out how to have a conference call without interruption or background conversations by family members.
Children and adolescents are sensitive to transitions and shifts in their routine, and may show you how they feel by being clingy or whiney. They might have a short fuse and bicker more than usual with you and/or their siblings. They may seek attention in positive or negative ways. You may recognize their need to be comforted in the moment, but it might not be possible when you are juggling work.
The first thing to do is recognize and accept that two worlds – work and home – have blended together and that these are unusual circumstances. Work with your family to redefine the rules of engagement. Maybe that means routinely reminding children they can't interrupt when a parent is on the phone. Or reminding your spouse that when the office door is closed, not to walk in and ask what's for dinner.
Respect that everyone in the house has their own, unique routines. Then work together to adapt those routines to the current circumstances.
- Make and discuss a schedule, and discuss boundaries for work. Just as you would at work, create reasonable expectations by establishing a visual plan that everyone can see in writing using a white board calendar or other visual cue. Work with your partner and children to come up with a schedule for the day. Take a close look at who has conference calls, and translate that as "quiet time" for everyone else. You might find your teenager needs quiet time for schoolwork. Your partner might need to use that time for a quiet activity. There should be shared roles when one parent may need to keep an eye on younger children while the other is on a call. Have a morning huddle to go over the plan for the day.
- Define a beginning and end to the work day. Insidiously, it can become a habit to begin work earlier and lose track of time by working later when there are no longer natural motivators to end the day such as getting on the road before rush hour or picking up kids from after-school activities. You need to honor your start and stop times, as well as breaks in the day, as part of the routine. That will provide much-needed structure and a natural segue to family life.
- Dress the part. One of the keys to success in working from home is dressing like you are at work. This is a mental and social cue to yourself and those around you. It puts you in a mental state not to be distracted and to focus on work. It also sends a visual to those around you that you are in "uniform," and need to be engaged accordingly.
- Talk to children/provide direction. Tell children they need to share responsibility for chores around the house and model good family citizenship. When delegating tasks, be specific rather than generalize a task to a group. If you give everyone the task, no one does it. Even group projects need a leader to direct accountability and responsibility. Younger children are more capable than you may realize. They might not be as precise, but the encouragement can help.
- Define spaces. I like to think of a part of the home as the quiet car, another as the dining car and another the chatting car on a train. Figure out where in the house someone can go to be alone; to eat; and to take a break.
At all times, remind your family that we are all in this together. With patience and understanding, accepting the situation as a part of life, you'll be able to weather this challenging time with your family relationships stronger than ever.
Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group, P.C. (Permanente) is our network of over 1,500 physicians who practice in our medical centers located in Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia.