If your family is anything like ours, you may be finding the sudden enforced social isolation somewhat disorienting, as normal routines and social interactions have gone out the window, and family life has suddenly become 24/7. In our family, my husband and I are now working from home, and our young-adult daughters have had to move back home from Avondale University College. As we’re learning how to navigate this new reality, these are some things that we’ve found helpful:
Practicing gratitude each day. Positive psychology research reveals that gratitude is “strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness”.1 The Scriptures, from the Old Testament to the New, also exhort us to “give thanks” and to “be thankful!” We make it a practice to identify 10 things we are thankful for each morning. Most days it’s easy; some days it’s hard. I had a difficult day last week when I had to come to terms with the fact that we’d sold our house at just the wrong time, and would have to move during a lockdown without having a new home to go to. I went to bed at 8pm and cried. When I woke up and my husband said, “What are you thankful for today?”, I didn’t feel very thankful for anything. But he started to tell God about the things he was thankful for, and by the time he was at number three, I was ready to join him in giving thanks. We then went for a long walk and by the time we came back my self-pity had lifted.
Exercising outdoors each day. Green space has been shown to have positive effects on mental health,2 as has exercise.3 Put them together and you have a powerful antidote to anxiety and depression. We’ve discovered several new walking tracks near our home, which we are enjoying. Our daughters take roller-blades and long-boards and tear around the tracks while we try to clock up 5km. We always come home feeling better.
Finding ways to be creative each day. Creative behaviours have been shown to improve mental health, boost your immune system and increase happiness.4 Between the four of us, we’ve been cooking new foods, writing poetry, painting, playing musical instruments and singing. Yesterday, when everyone was just a little morose, our daughters pulled out their violins and my husband tuned his guitar, and they jammed while I listened. These jam-sessions never fail to put a smile on our faces. We also dream about a garden to dig in once we move, as there are many ways in which gardening benefits mental health.5
Staying connected with friends and family. The World Health Organization is now advocating against the term “social distancing” and is recommending the term “physical distancing” instead, as the importance of maintaining our social connections has never been more important. “Ironically, the technologies we often blame for tearing apart our social fabric might be our best chance, now, of keeping it together.”6 If you’re used to walking down the hall for a chat mid-morning/afternoon, you can replace this with a FaceTime or Zoom chat with a friend or colleague. If you’re missing your small group or book club, you can still connect with these friends via Zoom. Even my 76-year-old mother and 81-year-old father have learned to use Zoom, and now have a regular 8pm prayer time with their friends from church. We’re enjoying reconnecting with friends in the USA, who are also practicing physical distance at home and so have more time than they would usually.
Maintaining a regular daily routine, as well as a dedicated work space and time. While this takes a level of self-discipline that is difficult when working from home, we’ve found we really do feel better when we keep a somewhat regular time for rising/going to bed, when we get out of our PJs in the morning and maintain our grooming, and when we keep a somewhat regular schedule for eating meals. And by the way, children who regularly eat meals with their families have fewer at-risk behaviours as they move into the teen years, so consider this period of working from home a unique opportunity to make up for lost time.
If you are home schooling for the first time, I sympathise with you! Our family home-schooled for many years and know from experience that those early days and weeks of home schooling can be overwhelming. My advice is that you try to relax and remember that your children will learn many new things through this experience that they could never have learned at school. If you’re working with a school that you’re accountable to, I encourage you to connect with your children’s teachers to ask them to prioritise what is not negotiable and what might be optional. In times of transition, our home schooling consisted of only reading and maths every day. While at the time we wondered if our children might fall behind, they never did. Take the time to enjoy this opportunity to discover how your children learn, what their strengths and weaknesses are, what their unique talents are. One day, you may look back on these days as formational in your relationship with your children.
In addition to these practical suggestions for learning to navigate family life 24/7, remember to daily ask God, “who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” (Ephesians 3:20), to give you all you need to face each day with “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).