Family Relationships During the Corona Virus
by Pastor Craig Maart
At the time of writing this article, we are on day 34 of the mandated shutdown and social distancing. The stress on families this has caused cannot be understated. As I have talked with middle school leaders, they are telling me some of their students are saying, “It’s not going very well at our house” or “dad and mom are losing it.” Yes, this is filtered through the brain and voice of a middle school student, but it does communicate a reality. Here is a direct quote from a parent, “I’m slightly overwhelmed. Online learning with four is WORK. Inevitably someone needs something, doesn’t understand something, the WiFi goes out and the dogs are too loud.” The bottom line is, this is rough on everyone.
As I ache and empathize with parents right now I want to offer you some love and encouragement. My pastoral heart has been in prayer for families of Hershey Free Church and my desire is for you to be understood and encouraged at this time.
Here are some things I want to share with you:
1. Give Yourself a Break
This is not easy for anyone, so don’t allow guilt or frustration to knock you down. They may knock you off balance temporarily, but don’t allow it to knock you down. You cannot “do it all” so give yourself a break. Stop comparing yourself to others and cut yourself some slack. You did not cause this. You did not plan for this. You are in reactive mode like everyone else. There are more hoops to jump through to do simple things at home. It appears that about half the jobs are requiring more work and about half are requiring a lot less. Students don’t seem to understand what’s going on and can take out their frustration on you. And to top all this off, Uncle Mark keeps calling with conspiracy theories about what he thinks is really going on behind this “smoke-screen” called COVID-19. This is reality. Therefore, allow yourself to give your mind, emotions, and heart a break.
2. Make Time for Yourself
The requirements on most of you right now are different. I can easily envision you juggling work responsibilities as well as multiple workstations for your kids. I also imagine an almost constant pacing around the kitchen or pantry looking for snacks. You are probably very tired of hearing your name, in multiple tones, and are looking for boarding schools open right now to send your lovely spawn off to.
Therefore, make time for yourself. Don’t put this off. Be unapologetic about this. I would advise making a schedule for your family. Stick to some kind of schedule so the days don’t bleed into each other without some kind of order or routine. This is good for everyone. Schedule time for your kids to do work (without recreation screens), take study breaks, eat healthy snacks, and exercise. Include time for you in that schedule. Call or FaceTime a friend to talk to another adult for fun, not work. Take a nap. Get some exercise. Listen to worship music. Read a book, for fun. Spend time in the garage. Get out your hammock. Be with God in a way you enjoy. Just do something you want to do for you.
This will put you in a better place to re-engage as the referee, teacher, counselor, head chef, engineer, and, oh yea, spouse. The issues of life can wait while you take care of yourself.
3. Give Your Kids Grace
Your kids did not cause this. This caught them off guard also. The fun of not being in school has worn off. They miss their friends, teachers, sports, and church activities. They are all experiencing a loss.
It is important to understand, as much as possible, why your teenager responds to your question, “Why did you do that?” or “What were you thinking?” with “I don’t know”. As understandable as it is to want to respond with, “What do you mean you don’t know?! You just launched that science project off in the house!” A teenager’s prefrontal cortex (PFC) is not fully developed. This is the area of the brain that controls self-regulation, calculated risk-taking, and decision making. Therefore, the “I don’t know” answer makes complete sense to them. However, this is NEVER to be an allowance for destructive or overly-risky behavior without consequence or being firmly guided. You just need to be aware of the reality of what’s going on inside your teenager’s brain. Of course, grace would be easier to offer your irrational teenager if they reciprocated this grace. No matter what, you are responsible to set the tone and give grace in the growth process in your teenagers’ life.
4. Develop a common purpose and vision
I cannot stress enough how important it is for your family to develop a vision and purpose. Then all behavior, schedules, interactions, and activities can be filtered through them. For example, if serving others is part of a family purpose, writing a letter to a friend, neighbor, or relative to encourage them in this stay-at-home order becomes living out a purpose versus busy work. Or consider restrictions on screen time for family walks or some kind of Bible study to be a way of being with Jesus. These types of things will become part of living out your family purpose as disciples of Jesus versus taking away their “fun”.
The bottom line is, without a purpose a lot of time will be wasted and our lives will easily end up cluttered with bad habits and entitlement. Therefore, develop a plan and stick with it through any initial resistance. Work together as a family to be followers of Jesus in specific ways versus reacting to the urgent all the time.
5. Don’t Try to Control Everything
Yes, you are the parent. You are the main God-ordained authority in your kids’ lives. However, I don’t know of anyone who likes to be hovered over and micro-managed. The long hours of being all up in each other’s business can easily become, “Do it my way and your life will be so much better”. This causes aggravation and bitterness to build up. God’s command to, “…not provoke your children, or they will become discouraged” needs to be taken to heart. Would it make things in your home better if the kids loaded the dishwasher, folded the towels, or were quiet for the perfect length of time exactly like you want? Maybe. However, in the long run, it will hurt relationships. Therefore, give them the freedom to do things their way, as much as possible. If the dishes could be more organized, but they helped…let it go. Say thanks for helping, guys. If the bathroom is not quite as clean as your white velvet gloves would do it, but their heart was in the right place, and they helped out…let it go. If they need their school work done by a set time and they don’t get to it right away, let them figure out how to better use their time without being controlled down to the minute. Again, let it go, as long as the work is getting done. This does not mean you don’t guide and help them learn how to do it better. But to control and micro-analyze everything all the time will cause bitterness and rebellion. This way of parenting will quickly cause a teenager to think, “If they think I can’t do this right, I’ll make sure I don’t do it right and shove it in their face.”
Your family is in this together. Therefore, give them the freedom to get things done, their way, as much as possible, and under your overall guidance. Giving up the need to replace the time you used to do other things to control everything in your kids’ lives will give you freedom as well. You will also see a difference in the relational peace in your home.
I hope this short list helps you give yourself a break, see things differently, and continue to move forward. These weeks have been unusual, that’s for sure. You can do this.
As always, the CORE staff is here to encourage, support, and be a resource to you and your family. Please reach out to us as needed. We would love to serve your family.