By Andrea Blundell
You love your family. But you might now be spending more time with them, without breaks, than you ever have. How to survive lockdown with family?
12 Tips for Surviving Lockdown with Loved Ones
1. Stop calling it lockdown.
This might seem small, but the word ‘lockdown’ itself causes stress and anxiety, particularly in teens or those who has lived through war or confinement. “Quarantining’ is hardly better. Consider things like ‘cocooning’ or ‘staying in’. Try for yourself — say different words and notice how your body reacts.
2. Agree on a parenting style.
If there is one thing that causes stress and confusion in families with kids it is conflicting parenting styles.
You can hardly ask your children to get along with each other if you and your partner are squabbling about rules. In fact a study published in ‘the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships‘ found that if and how siblings get along is affected by the parenting styles they experience!
So sit down and make your decision now on what is and isn’t going to be acceptable. It’s okay to decide on entirely new parameters (mindful parenting is worth investigating). Write down your decisions, also involving any grandparents in the house. Then share together with your kids the new ‘ground rules’.
3. Lower your expectations. And then lower them again.
It’s an unprecedented situation we are all facing. And it comes with all kinds of stressors we are learning as we go. The less we expect, the less we feel disappointed and frustrated.
Often we don’t even admit to ourselves how high our expectations for ourselves and others even are, so sit down and make an honest list. Then try to cross off all the things that don’t actually matter during these challenging times.
This means don’t expect your kids to always get along, or to always be a good calm parent, or to not have a blowout with your spouse in front of the kids. It all might happen.
On the other hand, you will also witness unexpected good things. You might learn that your children are far more resilient than you realised, and that your partner is better at helping with home schooling than you expected.
4. Remember who you are speaking to.
It’s normal to revert to speaking without thinking when we are tired and frustrated.
But remember that different generations come from different places. The more we can talk in ways others can actually take in, the more we avoid pointless upset over misunderstandings.
So don’t rant at your mother-in-law about the slow internet if she never uses it and ends up feeling accused. Save that for your teenager who will be happy to moan along. And if your five-year old wants to know why you are crying in the kitchen, try to explain in words that make sense to him, so he doesn’t feel more confused, left out, or at fault.
5. Remember the basics of good communication.
Ideally, read our article on ‘Communicating Well Under Stress’, an art form we are going to be getting better at during lockdown. But to cover the basics:
- Don’t start a conversation when on an emotional buzz. Get the emotions out first with journalling, exercising, whatever works for you.
- Don’t use ‘blame language’, aka, ‘you did this, you did that, you made me feel…”
- Instead, start sentences with I, or use the “I feel—- when you ——“ structure. (“I feel frustrated when you have a long shower and leave me less hot water”).
- Avoid pulling other people who aren’t there into the conversation. “So and so always agrees with me that you do this and that…”. Keep it between you and them.
6. See this as a chance to become an expert listener.
Listening is also a communication art form. Don’t interrupt, allow space for reflection, reflect back, listen fully without preparing what you’ll say next in your head, and when in doubt ask good questions.
Go read our article on ‘How to Listen Like a Therapist‘ for more.
7. Have a time out space.
Everyone needs to know they can go somewhere to be alone if they are overwhelmed. If needs be, clear a storage cupboard and put its contents under someone’s bed so there is at least a time-out mini room!
Otherwise, if you are lucky enough that everyone has their own rooms, consider each making a ‘do not disturb’ sign, within limits… it can’t be used to just hide away and play video games.
You might also want to consider together coming up with a ‘stop word’ for when you anyone is overwhelmed by a conversation. It is fine if it is silly and brings laughter instead of conflict… ‘green bananas’ works as well as plain old ‘time-out please’.
8. Don’t triangle or ‘gang’.
‘Triangling’ is when you are disagreeing with one person and pull a third person in, even if they are not physically there (“well your sister agrees, she said that…”).
Ganging up is when there is a conflict and you pull everyone in the room on your side against the other person.
These things are so easy to do that many families have ‘normalised’ this behaviour. But an issue is best kept between you and the person you have the issue with. See lockdown as a chance to work on this.
What if everyone in a family does agree on one thing but one person? Isn’t that ganging up? Not if they are not made ‘wrong’ for having a difference of opinion and it’s a discussion, not a conflict. It’s perfectly fine (and healthy) to disagree.
9. Be angry at the person they were then, not who they are now.
Conflict of course WILL happen when we are confined in lockdown with no escape. And old issues can rise from the dead with dancing shoes on.
Suddenly your teenager daughter is furious about something you did when she was eight. Or you are angry at your own mother over what she said at your wedding 20 years ago.
It’s good to air old issues that need resolving. But remember that we all grow and change. You aren’t that person you were on your wedding day, and your mother, too, has changed. Let the anger come out, explain how upset you were, but remember it is at the person then, not the person sitting across the table from you.
10. Delegate more.
Are you the parent who does it all? Time to hang up those shoes. It’s no longer about getting things done ‘right’. It’s about letting everyone feel relevant and useful and part of the ‘team’. Sure, kids might moan about helping with the cooking and chores, but make sure you tell them you appreciate their efforts, as on another level it builds their self-esteem.
11. Find your wellbeing activities and then actually DO them.
We all know what wellbeing activities work for us, whether that is yoga, meditating, dancing, singing… The problem is actually taking the time to do them. Well now is definitely the time.
Also note that what helps you feel good might not work for your partner or your teenager. Allow each person time to do their own unique wellbeing routine.
12. Focus on the gifts of the situation.
How many times have you said you need more time with the kids? Or you and your partner need to reconnect? Or how often have you secretly wished you and your partner could be more honest about some things you disagree on? Here is your chance.
It might not be perfect, it might be messy in moments, there might be tears, but despite it all, this is a time of bonding. And when the smoke clears, you’ll still be family… and perhaps closer than ever before.
Family in lockdown meltdown? Or you and your partner veering dangerously close to a ‘quarantine divorce’? Did you know that both family therapy and couples counselling can be done over the internet? Book with a London-based expert now, or use our booking site to find registered online therapists UK-wide.
Still have a question about surviving lockdown with family? Post below.
Andrea Blundell is editor and lead writer of this blog. She has training in person-centred counselling and coaching.