By Gill Jardine, Counsellor/Psychotherapist
We keep hearing the expression ‘household’ recently, talking about what a ‘household’ is allowed to do and what it is not allowed to do.
The reason for this is that the government are constantly measuring the effect of the virus and ways to reduce the spread. As this a virus that is spread from person to person, clearly one of their tasks has been, and still is, to keep as many people as possible at least 2 metres apart. So, the government latched on to the concept of ‘household’ to explain the basic ‘rules’.
Has this been helpful? Well, in that we know that we can mix freely within our own household (unless one contracts Covid in which case that individual is required to isolate within that household) we can move forward, understanding what is expected of us in terms of mixing with others. But what is going on in these ‘households’? How much are they struggling to put up with each other in these circumstances? How is each family and each individual’s mental health?
Everybody is at home. This is not the usual way the household is – usually, or in more ‘normal’ times, members will be going out to work, to school, college etc. They will spend large parts of their day with their contemporaries, peers, colleagues, people of a similar age group with similar interests – people probably with a common purpose in being where they are. Now, they are all on top of each other. Dad and Mum are perhaps trying to work from home and also educate the children, the children are with their siblings all the time whilst trying to do their schoolwork on a computer in their bedroom, or in the lounge, probably where Mum and Dad are trying to do their work. Everybody is working to different timetables and deadlines – perhaps not entirely understanding the pressures on each other.
Instead of choosing outdoor activities, everybody is ‘allowed’ a limited amount of time and space to exercise. Wow! What a miracle that anybody is coping without at least bickering with other members of the household!
So, what can we do to help? How can we make this situation easier, more tolerable, manageable? The answer may be better communication between members of that household. How can this be – we are already under each other’s feet all the time? This can be by arranging a time to discuss the entire situation. We mentioned family meetings in our last article SUPPORT – Relationships and the Pandemic. Well now it is time to delve a little further into the practicalities of this technique in an attempt to support those households that may be struggling during this tough and alien time.
Mums and Dads tend to think that the whole responsibility lies on their shoulders – this need not be so. Children of all ages have ideas of how to make things work. They have their own views, their own thoughts on the matter as well as their own worries. What they don’t have, is any power of their own.
Parents, especially frazzled parents, may be inclined to issue instructions and commands just to get things done and keep everything going – completely understandable but not always helpful. The children will be inclined to fight back and be difficult because they also want to be heard and they might completely disagree with Mum or Dad’s view. As we mentioned before, it can be really helpful to include the children in the plans – they too are struggling with the changes in their lives and will want to improve the experience too and are likely to be more settled if they feel that they’re included in the plans.
So, to return to the word ‘household’, think about the makeup of yours. Perhaps it is Mum and Dad and a son of 9 and a daughter of 7, perhaps it is Mum and one son of 14 and another of 11 etc. etc… Perhaps consider your own set up. Each of these people influence the day to day running of the show. Each of these people can introduce positives and each can introduce negatives.
Instead of thinking about the adults and the children you could think in terms of the people, each of whom has something to contribute if given the opportunity. After all, each member is affected by all of the others, and that is true of all ages.
To help improve the communication all round, set a family meeting. This needs to be in the diary or up on the fridge, somewhere where you know everyone will know about the details. Invite each member to think about what they might like to say in the meeting, even the very young ones – invite each one to bring one thing they would like to talk about – make up an agenda.
Plan for some refreshments – take it in turns to choose the drink and the snack (this is an easy way to start to involve everybody). Make sure you all sit together, preferably all around the table and with absolute quiet – no computers, televisions, phones etc. to distract the attention.
If one character is likely to talk more than anybody else, perhaps use a toy or an object to signify the ‘turn to talk’ and only allow individuals to talk when holding the object – this will help the quiet ones to get a word in! The young ones will be delighted to be involved and the older ones may be surprised at the contributions of even the smallest.
At the end of the meeting, make a note of decisions made and stick that up on the fridge so that everybody can remind themselves of what was decided. Try not to cast decisions in stone – things change and there is no reason why the subject cannot be raised again at a future meeting. I say future meeting because this works best with a regular diarised meeting.
You may find that each member of the household starts to recognise their own contributions, both positive and negative and, at the same time start to take responsibility for the effect they have.
Good luck and enjoy the greater peace and the snacks’.