Families on Lockdown — 6 Ways to Navigate Being Together 24/7

written by: Mindy Parsons, Ph.D., LMHC

Every Saturday my husband and I drive a half hour to our favorite Italian deli – a place called Jimmy C’s in Boca Raton. The food is amazing, but the real attraction is the family atmosphere created by the owners – a husband and wife duo that crank out amazing food and have the whole family working side by side 50+ hours a week.

For most of us, we can’t imagine working full time with our spouses. No, the folks at the deli are an exception. Many of us share a quick cup of coffee in the morning as children are ushered off to school and possibly are fortunate enough to have an hour or two together at night, which is juuuuust enough time together.

Enter COVID-19 and mandatory shut downs of schools and businesses and you have families spending a week’s worth of “quality time” together in single day, every day, with no end in sight. The fear and anxiety of the virus is stressful enough and without many of our previously enjoyed outlets (interaction with co-workers, friends, parks, gyms, etc.) it’s a recipe for testiness and irritability among couples.

Here are some suggestions for coping with our current state of lock down:

  1. If possible, have separate areas where you are working so you don’t feel even more on top of one another. Separate rooms are best if the layout of your home permits.
  2. Communicate with your spouse any needs you have for not being disturbed, such as a Zoom meeting or conference call with work, so that he or she can keep the kids, pets, etc. from disturbing an important call or even a period of time that you really need to focus. Then, be sure to reciprocate when your spouse needs that support.
  3. Be sure to spend at least part of your day outside. Cabin fever is a real challenge these days and fresh air can help. Whether you’re on your front porch, in your back yard, taking a short drive with the windows down or a walk through the neighborhood, getting outside the four walls of your home will help release tension.
  4. Have an open and honest discussion about helping with the children who are home from school. Figure out who is helping with math homework? Who is helping with technology? Can you combine forces or is it better to divide and conquer? Expectations can hurt relationships, so it’s better to talk about needs and decide up front how to divide up the tasks and then revisit it later if areas need to be renegotiated.
  5. Find time to play together as a couple and as a family. The power of play has documented mental and emotional benefits. Card games, charades, board games, puzzles or getting outside for a game of tag can go a long way toward alleviating stress among the members of the family.
  6. Keep your routine as best you can. These days, it’s easy for work to be done a few hours in the morning, a few in the afternoon and then reboot the laptop in bed at night. However, getting up at your regular time, showering, making breakfast, making the bed, getting dressed (although the all-day pajama party is appealing) can help you be in a work mindset. Keeping life as “normal” as possible can help stave off anxiety and fears.

Acknowledge that these are unchartered waters for many of us and so anxiety and fear can be inadvertently directed at your loved ones. Do your best to be supportive of emotions that may be surfacing as a result. It may go without saying, but doing your best to be kind and supportive of your spouse is important for a healthy relationship but it’s critical when the two of you are both working from home.