The first two quarantine weeks might have been seen as blessing for families that never found enough time to bond.
But now it’s been over a month and nerves are frayed. The littlest things tick us off and everyone is on edge.
How can families cope with the extended lockdown?
Clinical psychologist and national social scientist Dr. Honey Carandang believes that even before we think of how to cope, we must identify what we are dealing with.
“There’s global crisis. We are dealing with something that has never happened. It’s different from the disasters, traumas that we have dealt with,” Carandang told Lifestyle in a phone interview. She is the founder of Mindfulness Love and Compassion (MLAC) Institute for Psychosocial Services.
The pandemic brings uncertainty that could lead to anxiety. “It’s not just our families or our country—it’s the whole world. In the past, when there were disasters or illnesses here, some people could just fly off to another country, but the whole world is affected. The whole world is perplexed. They’re just studying what it is.”
Once we have accepted this, only then can we think about how to cope, she added.
“The pandemic has forced us to pause, stop the frenzied pace, our automatic and unthinking way of life. The family is the burden carrier of the social order; whatever stress there is on society impacts on the family.”
To illustrate her point, Carandang used the Tagalog saying: Sakit ng kalingkingan ramdam ng buong katawan, literally translated as, the pain in one’s little finger is felt throughout the body.
The pandemic has forced families to endure each other’s quirks and idiosyncrasies. “Never before have families been together 24/7 for a long period, and it is difficult,” she said.
A family is different from a group, like a group of adolescents or a group of old people who share interests.
“A family is composed of people with different developmental stages and different psychological needs,” Carandang said. “What’s important is for them to strike a balance between allowing each member to have his/her own time alone and a time when they’re all together.”
She compared the Western family unit and the Asian/Filipino family unit to eggs. In the West, family members are like hard-boiled eggs, totally separate from one another, each with his own likes and interests, although fundamentally the same.
Filipino families impose traditions and rituals on their members, so that sometimes they end up like scrambled eggs. The ideal Filipino family unit would be like a batch of sunny-side-up eggs in a pan: Their whites may be touching, but their yolks are separate. “Ideally, you can be your own person but you’re not disconnected from your family.”
Families can take certain steps to deal with this social isolation.
Time apart and time together
Structure time alone and time together. Talk about this as a family because we cannot just assume that it will happen. Establish a routine. Meals can be eaten together, but outside mealtimes, family members should be allowed to do what they want. Children can play alone or with their parents or guardians. Older children can read a book or watch TV.
“When we allow people to have their space, they discover things about themselves,” she said. “Giving a person space will allow them to go inside themselves and allow creativity to happen. If you look at it that way, it will lead to a lot of good things.”
Children need to play, but parents who join their children shouldn’t force them to play with certain toys. “This is also time for the parent to allow the child in them to come out. Maybe in the past you were too busy, had to earn, go to to the office. When you play with your child, you will discover how joyful it is to allow the child in you to emerge.”
The lockdown can also be seen as a chance for parents to practice mindfulness. Instead of just reacting to what a child does, a mindful parent responds. When a parent reacts in anger, he or she shouts at the child and regrets it later.
“In mindful parenting, you look inside yourself and see what you’re feeling.”
The fact that families now spend all the time together makes it even more important for parents to be mindful. “You can pause. Even in the most crowded rally or crowded place you don’t have to react. It’s more necessary now that you’re crowded together. It’s also a form of EQ (emotional quotient), this regulating of your emotions.”
Families can also use this time to get to know the other members more closely. “We think we know our children, but I have encountered many cases where children tell me that their parents do not know them. Ask questions, tell stories to one another.
“It’s two-way street. Maybe children don’t really know their parents as persons. I remember telling my kids before, ‘You know I’m not just a mother, I’m also a person.’”
Tell the truth
Children absorb everything around them. If they begin asking about deaths due to the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Carandang said, parents should never lie to them or dismiss their questions.
“We don’t hide the truth from the child. Depending on the age or developmental stage child, parents should take the time to sit them down and explain what is causing all this illness and death. Use familiar terms like lagnat (fever), nahirapan huminga (difficulty breathing),” she said.
Parents should follow up this talk with an empowering message: that they can do something to help fight the virus spread (stay home, wash hands, refrain from touching their face).
“I did my dissertation on how children understand illness. You must explain things to them in a way that’s developmentally appropriate. When they’re around 10 years old, you can talk to them if they ask.
They can really understand if you treat them as intelligent human beings, but always follow up with something empowering,” Carandang said.
“In a very difficult situation like now, children deserve to know their parents can handle the situation. It is of primary importance.”
The pandemic should also force us to pay better attention to our relationships, those we may have taken for granted because of our hectic lives. Check on friends and relatives who live alone.
“Physical distancing does not have to be emotional distancing. If someone is alone, reach out, use the technology available. Don’t think that he or she might be disturbed or bothered—reach out. Whatever a person is thinking, he or she does not want to be alone.”
Once the “curve has been flattened,” Carandang said, we need to make a radical change. “The worst thing we can do now is go back to normal. I courageously and bravely will say that we should not go back to the previous normal at all. We have to come up with another kind of normal. We should heed the message of the universe, of a higher being, of God, and not go back to our old ways.” INQ