I’m not going to sugarcoat it. As much as we love our families, they drive us nuts at times. Fortunately, going to work, sending the kids off to school, getting together with friends, shopping, or heading to the gym are great ways to get the space we need and to appreciate our loved ones when we walk in the door.
But these days, the whole clan is always in the door, thanks to COVID-19. For the past few weeks and for who knows how much longer, families are home 24/7 and spending more time together than we ever have before.
So, how is this dramatic lifestyle change affecting parents and kids? To get a pulse on the issues families are facing, I reached out to Jason Price, a North Shore-based marriage and family therapist, who for the past few weeks has been conducting therapy sessions with clients via Zoom or over the phone.
“When the stay-at-home order was first issued, families were hoping it would be just a couple of weeks so they were playing games and really enjoying being together, thinking it was short term,” says Price, who has been in practice for 19 years. “But lately it’s started to wear on families and there is more conflict between kids and parents, siblings and married couples.”
Price, who holds a Masters degree from the Family Institute of Northwestern University, says one of the biggest factors in the challenge of families living amicably is stress.
“There is stress about getting the virus, financial stress, job stress, and people are grieving the loss of a having a normal routine, seeing friends, doing their favorite things and going to events,” Price says. “Everyone handles their anxiety and other emotions differently. One spouse might clean excessively when feeling anxious, another might be avoidant and choose to lay on the couch and watch Netflix all day.”
According to Price, the key to getting along is understanding that the behavior is a reaction to the stress, having a conversation about the feelings, and then finding some middle ground.
When asked if he believed the divorce rate will spike in the coming months (like it did in China), Price said it’s very possible, and that therapy is a tool that might be able to prevent some couples from splitting up.
“What tends to happen is that people aren’t very aware of what they’re doing or why they are doing it, so talking about the issues with a neutral party helps them reach a different level of understanding and gives them better coping tools to manage their feelings,” he says.
But is starting therapy during a pandemic a good idea? Price says absolutely.
“Because you can’t go into an office, I don’t think people realize that therapy is an option,” he says. “This is a time when people could really benefit from it. Most people don’t deal well with uncertainty. We like to be able to plan and it’s comforting to know what to expect. Right now, that’s not possible and that’s a huge source of stress. We aim to help that stress.”
Adults aren’t the only ones with stress. Kids have it, too. Sarah Taylor is a North Shore-based Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who specializes in therapy for kids, teens and young adults. Taylor, who has worked in the field for nine years, says her clients are experiencing anxiety, frustration and disappointment.
“Everyone has his or her own space in the home. Maybe Mom’s working in the office, Dad’s at the kitchen table, and kids are doing e-learning in their rooms. Everyone is spending so much time in a small place,” says Taylor, who holds a Masters degree in clinical psychology. “Kids are frustrated and trying to navigate this change in routine. They’re bored, and they’re disappointed that they can’t see their friends or spend holidays with aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents.”
Taylor says these feelings can cause kids to act out in ways that include: explosive outbursts, tantrums, frustration while communicating, projections of anger towards parents or siblings, or intense worrying.
“In the face of all this uncertainty, people can go to a place of, ‘What if?’ ‘What if I get the virus? What if I can’t go to summer camp? What if I can’t go to college?’” Taylor says. “Sharing what you are going through with a therapist or a friend helps you realize others are going through similar experiences. Knowing that puts it in perspective and can feel calming.”
No one can say when our extreme family time will come to an end. But through the challenges that come with quarantining, more family time might mean more enjoyment, more laughter, more bonding, and more meaningful conversation than before all this, when we saw each other so much less.
COVID-19 might be the worst tragedy we experience in our lifetime, but it is family—that same family that can drive you crazy, that provides the love and support to heal from heartbreak and come out of this horrible pandemic stronger than ever.
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Jackie Pilossoph is a former television journalist and newspaper features reporter. The author of four novels and the writer of her weekly relationship column, Love Essentially, Pilossoph is also the creator of the divorce support website, Divorced Girl Smiling. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism and lives in Chicago with her two teenagers.