What are families finding helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic?
In our clinical team meetings over the last few months the subject of families has kept coming forward as something our clients have been wanting to talk about. Some families have been really struggling whilst for others it has been a time of opportunity for improving their relationships. In response Family Therapist Marybeth Mendenhall, Psychotherapist and Counsellor Monika Smolar, Psychotherapeutic Child and Parent Counsellor Kati Mencer and Nicholas Rose met specifically to talk this through as a way of understanding what was important in improving family relationships right now. In this article we outline the main points from our discussion or if you prefer you can watch our YouTube channel here.
- You need to be feeling ok in yourself
What we have noticed is that when clients are concerned about dynamics in their families the first factor in them being able to improve family relationships is to address how they feel in themselves. The main reason for this is that when we are relaxed and calm those around us can also feel relaxed and calm, enabling easier and better quality communication.
Says Monika “It is so important to be patient with ourselves”. Monika advocates thinking about self care so identifying things that we enjoy doing and making time for those, setting small and achievable goals and focussing on what we can control.
Marybeth thinks “good self care, taking responsibility for ourselves” and asking the question “what do I need right now?” are thoughts helpful to achieving calm. As Kati suggests “Do whatever you need to do to feel grounded…. to feel ok with yourself.”
- Why can it be hard to achieve?
Of course it is not always easy to do these things, it is easy to get stuck with negative thoughts and feelings about what is happening in the world, in our relationships, with the things that others do we find difficult. So what can we do or think about that can help us move our focus to self care?
Remembering these are difficult times for everyone and that you are not alone in your struggles is important, Marybeth says there is so much pressure on parents both externally and internally “to do the right thing”, as Monika states “remember its a very unusual situation” and then Kati suggests reminding ourselves “If you are ok the children will feel safe and then the whole family can function better”.
- What can families do?
Monika suggests that family meetings are a great way to start creating the conditions that can start to enable better communication. “A space for everyone to express themselves” she suggests starting off by ensuring time together where everyone can relax and enjoy the time together she suggests “Look at what everyone would enjoy”.
Marybeth thinks “This is a perfect time for us to understand what triggers us in relation to our families and for us to share those vulnerabilities….… If you don’t share you can come across as just being upset or angry.
So it is a good time to think about our boundaries, to think about what we find difficult and to take responsibility. In speaking to others it is really important to remember that other people are not responsible for how we feel instead when we can talk about what we find difficult families can work together to find solutions.
- Working together
The changes brought about by the pandemic and lockdown has obviously meant change for everyone. In a family it can be really important to ensure that everyone gets to say how they are doing and what they would find helpful - otherwise resentments can start to build and conflict can arise. One of the things that can helpfully be discussed in family meetings going forwards is everyones understanding of any changes to guidelines, this to enable everyone to feel supported as and when they experience further change. Kati puts forward the example of school reopening pointing out that there are the guidelines and then peoples individual interpretations of them.
As Monika and Marybeth point out it’s really positive when restrictions enable family members to experience more freedom but the amount of information can be overwhelming and confusing. So for families to be talking about this can be really helpful.
In summary we suggest that you can find it easier to improve your family relationships if you ensure that you are feeling relaxed and calm, you think about how to create opportunities for the family to get together and enjoy time together but also giving everyone the opportunity to express how they are feeling. As Monika suggests put “emphasis on self compassion”, Kati offers “This is an interesting time… use the time to get closer to each other” whilst Marybeth thinks “This is an opportunity for change, for something different in our relationships, our family members are irreplaceable”.