We Americans are amazing when it comes to pulling out the good from a monumental heap of bad. COVID-19 is horrible. It is unlike anything that most of us have ever experienced. It made us prisoners in our own homes. If we wear a mask to the grocery store, we feel a little silly or guilty or heroic or superior—even scorned. We ask ourselves, “How will I be perceived? Will I be praised or persecuted?” If I get stopped by a cop, should I tell him I’m shopping for an iron lung? Or do I explain that my young children are begging me for some M&Ms?
Shared hardship can heal
Maybe the best way to handle this state of strongly recommended isolation is to view it as a wonderful bonding opportunity for the family. According to Erica Pandey, who writes for Axios, sociologists claim that enduring hardship together builds stronger connections. For example, the U.S. divorce rate decreased dramatically during the Great Depression and the 2008 recession.
Shared suffering increases selflessness
Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, tells Axios to “expect the same during the pandemic. When society is facing a tremendous challenge or there’s a big uptick in suffering, people orient themselves in a less self-centered way and in a more family-centric way.”
“The strangest thing I’ve noticed is a sense of bonding,” says Steven Singleterry, who works in finance. “We’ve instituted more hands-on activities with regard to art and music that we had not done previously—the kids have enjoyed that.”
For many families, the current situation ‘forces a total re-evaluation of work-life balance,” adds AnnMarie Thomas, professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.
The other side
There is a caveat to all of this, Pandey points out. In a family full of conflict and turmoil already, constant togetherness can exacerbate the tension. Historian and author Judith Flanders tells Pandey, “In good family situations, this is fabulous. Then in bad family situations, the badness will be magnified.”
Pandey says while many families are undergoing a kind of revival at home, other families are experiencing just the opposite. Essential workers who are still going off to work—approximately 60 million of us—are working longer hours to fill the gaps. This causes less time at home with the kids and, in some cases, adds the burden of finding child care. Last but hardly least, when families are turned upside down and inside out, the result can be an increase in domestic violence and broken marriages.
Dad, if you packed up your work station and transferred it to your home, two good things will happen. First, you will save on gas. Second, you’ll have opportunities to spend more time with your kids. Just make sure you know when to quit working and start playing. Be attentive to your kids’ moods and bring out that old trait from the closet – patience.