Rebuilding a New Normal from the Ground Up: For Families

I was talking to my Mom on Mother’s Day and, like our usual conversations, we talked about everything. The weather. Our jobs. What we’re making for dinner. What we’re doing to try to stay healthy and in shape during quarantine. What movies we’ve seen or TV shows that are worthy of a binge watch. And, of course, what my kids are up to that day.

After sharing some of the most recent funny and outrageous stories parents of young kids can relate to, she mentioned she’s eagerly awaiting the day when we can all get together again, hopefully before cold and flu season picks up.

Honestly, I don’t remember much of the rest of the conversation. I got stuck on “cold and flu season.” The hair on the back of my neck stood up and my stomach dropped when she said that phrase. I felt myself getting anxious. I started creating scenarios in my head, asking myself a lot of the anxiety-driven unproductive “what if” questions:

  • What if everyone gets sick when the kids go back to school in the fall?
  • What if COVID-19-related hospitalizations spike again when everyone’s back in the same crowded spaces together?
  • What if we have to go back into quarantine?
  • What if my husband’s job isn’t so understanding about a split workday as we divide childcare so we both have time to work?
  • What if there really aren’t enough hours in the day to work, take care of the kids, maintain the house, maintain our health, maintain some semblance of normalcy? What will suffer? What will I have to sacrifice? What will my family have to sacrifice?

I felt myself getting nervous. Anxious. Scared. Things I do when I let my mind take over and don’t manage the flow of negative news always coming our way.

I took a deep breath and reminded myself those were all unproductive emotions. I didn’t judge the emotions or berate myself for feeling them. Quite the opposite: I acknowledged them. This is important because these feelings, when left unchecked, can inspire (unproductive) actions. The best way to diffuse emotions is to acknowledge them. By recognizing what I was feeling – and understanding why – I remembered that nothing comes from being worried or anxious about the what ifs.

Reality check: I know I’m not the only parent right now worrying about the what ifs. In fact, there have been countless articles talking about the psychological impact on people as a result of the COVID-19 quarantine (read: no one is sleeping, or at least not well).

But operating in a constant state of worry and anxiety is unproductive and unhealthy. And as the world slowly starts to reopen and we’re challenged to create a new normal, you will have to be present enough (not in a worry or anxious state) to wisely review and consider options for a new normal for you and your family.

Here are my suggestions to start navigating the new normal as a family:

  1. Start with a family meeting. We talked about the value of having a family meeting (or whatever you want to call it) to get everyone on the same page, regardless of what external factors are in play. Ensure everyone in the family is heard, has input and is included in the plan. Get in the habit of reviewing and planning together every morning or every evening.
  2. Talk about What’s Working and What’s Not. At the family meeting, talk about what is working and not working in the return to a new normal. No complaints, just the facts. Applaud the things that worked and encourage ways to continue them. For the things that didn’t work, identify why they didn’t work then brainstorm together to come up with ideas to try to make things better. This way all issues are dealt with and everyone has a voice, ownership and responsibility for their part.  Keep reviewing this list every few weeks to see how things are improving. Watch how this improves a productive approach to communication among the entire family.
  3. Play the Imagine Game. During the family meeting, ask everyone to imagine what life will be like when we go back to school. Challenge the family to think outside the traditional approach to the back to school season. For example, start by asking, what if you could never go back to the school building? Or, what if you had to learn in local small groups in our neighborhood? Or how could we make our remote learning sessions better/more productive? There are so many unknowns right now and we know that when we finally create the new normal, it will not look like what it used to be.
  4. Commit to your one thing. Life has a funny way of challenging our greatest plans. Though your family’s efforts to define and commit to living their safe, healthy and happy new normal, life may have other plans. So consider committing to just one thing. What is one thing that you would like to have happen – as a family – regardless of what the future brings? Maybe it’s family game night or movie night. Maybe it’s having dinner together as a family every night (or at least on school nights). Maybe it’s committing to learning how to do something new together once a month. Regardless of what life shares that may further challenge our definition of normal, this is the one thing you can commit to doing together.
  5. Ask questions. When we shift to the new normal, remember to check in with each other. It’s easy to fall into old ways if new habits aren’t practiced routinely. To keep relationships growing and productive, ask each other questions that encourage discussion, not just one-word or closed questions. For example, instead of “how was your day?” ask “what is one new thing you learned today?” or “what was your favorite part of the day?” Engaging each other keeps us sharing our thoughts. Feeling heard and involved is an important part of staying mentally healthy in changing times.

Take Action
Creating a new normal as a family doesn’t have to be a daunting task. This is your opportunity to create a new approach to how you want life as a family to be. Stop and notice what worked and didn’t work in the way things used to be. Do more of what worked, and replace what didn’t work with new ideas.

Imagine. Brainstorm. Create. It is yours to invent, so invent something better. Then work together to make it happen.

Define your new normal as a family.

By Kristin Allaben

Consider reading The Quarantine Diaries: Day ???

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