Family Dynamics in 2020 and How to Cope
By Tanner Hayes, MA
2020 has been a year to remember. As the world has been faced with many big, hard, and scary challenges we as a society have been forced to reevaluate the daily lives we once knew. As we have been challenged to slow down, physically distance ourselves from others, less connection, and increase isolation, our lives have changed drastically. In navigating this new life, we all have been home more with our families and adjusting to confined spaces with no end in sight. I have made many observations throughout this year, one of which is how our family systems and roles are changing and adapting.
With schools, daycares, and work places closing, forcing us to work and complete duties from home, we are seeing fatigue, burn out, decline in mental health, and all around struggles. The question becomes, how do we live in a pandemic and adapt to our changing family dynamics?
With that being said, the dynamics of a family and home environments are changing. Bringing awareness to these changes may shed some light on how to navigate this new life. As a parent, you are now forced to be a parent, teacher, lunch/ snack provider, physical education instructor, nanny, employee, boss, technologically savvy individual, and honestly, the list goes on. Kiddos are also adapting to this dynamic and adjusting to lack of peer to peer interaction and social skills as a whole. The question that I pose and want to challenge us to consider is this: how do we take care of ourselves through these trying times?
Routine is critical in maintaining daily stability to function as individuals. This may look like working out in the morning, making breakfast, dropping kiddos off at school, and going to work for an 8 hour day. Currently as the days continue, some days we go back to isolation and trying to maintain a routine at home that is not actually feasible. A sense of “normalcy” is being redefined with no actual answer to what “normalcy” has become. Many parents are asking the questions of “am I doing this right?” “is my child getting their needs met, especially not being around their peers?” “how do I work, parent, and teach at the same time?”. Reality is, we are all doing the best that we can with the information and situation at hand. Some validation for you as a parent, loving your child, meeting their basic needs, and most importantly TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF. We can not take care of others if we are not first taking care of ourselves.
Relational stressors are at an all time high. My biggest strategy for grounding myself is connection, first and foremost to ourselves, and then to others. When I was quarantined at the beginning of the pandemic I learned how much I dislike being with myself and I was forced to focus on myself. Being completely disconnected from myself was a harsh reality that I previously was not willing to face. Due to my disconnect, I was finding it hard to relate to other people. As a therapist, my mental health was also struggling. I started to reevaluate what I needed to do in order for my mental health to remain in tact. So, I started to reevaluate how I take care of myself, especially away from the people I live with as it was challenging to be around them day in and day out. Self care for me looks like watching an episode on Netflix, going for a run, standing in the shower and contemplating life, taking a deep breath, seeking therapy, and my very favorite, cuddling my dogs. As I found my self care I realized that setting boundaries went hand and hand with taking care of myself.
Boundaries are limits we put in place with others to protect ourselves mentally, physically, and emotionally. Boundaries may be telling your partner, “I do not appreciate when you hug me without my permission, please ask before touching me” or “I see that you would like to talk to me, I will talk to you in 5 minutes when I finish my work call”. Boundaries are hard, both to set and to follow. And at the same time, they create safety, empowerment, and a fulfilling life. As our family systems are changing, we can begin to set more boundaries. For example, bedtime routines can often be hard without set boundaries. A boundary to set may look like, “Five more minutes of watching your show, then we’re going to take a bath, read one book, and then it’s time for bed.” Boundaries create a lot of pushback, but sticking to the boundaries you have set is crucial to maintaining healthy relationships, mental stability, and taking care of yourself. Setting boundaries, particularly with children, can result in tantrums, crying, and yelling. Let that happen. Overtime the pushback on boundaries dissipates, and the boundary is respected. Boundaries are for YOU and models to children and those around you that setting boundaries is healthy, important, and teaches consent.
The life we are all living is new, scary, and sad. I want to point out that WE are doing it. WE can handle hard times and the proof is shown within the households. There are going to be many ups and downs throughout this trying time. WE can continue to make it and take care of ourselves. It feels lonely and that is what brings us together. Reach out to others, ask for support, provide support, connect, create boundaries, and most importantly take care of yourself.