How families survived the pandemic, despite the toll it took on their school, work and family life. Here’s some creative ways people learned to adjust to the changes needed.
As a therapist who worked with families during the Pandemic, there are several observations and antidotes that I observed. Couples with families had to quickly develop a new working model while taking care of their children. Those that implemented strategies to help make the transition from being in offices/kids in school to being sheltered in place, had success in helping things to go more smoothly.
First what comes to mind is the book “Who moved my Cheese” by Spencer Johnson, a parable about how to adapt to sudden change and adopt new attitudes/behaviors to cope with changes while observing how certain characters/persons will respond. The question then became, “which character am I” as change is an essential part of growth for people and organizations and a necessary component to adjusting to the restrictions imposed on all.
The 1st most notable change for many was going from an in person office environment to a virtual working space. Many people were accustomed to traveling to their place of employment and knowing the company’s expectations of them. This was suddenly halted and being replaced with adopting new work hours around their home life, while adjusting to a workable office space. It was considerably challenging; especially when there was little time to plan for this change.
A couple accustomed to working in different company environments, were now having to share a workspace, find privacy for meetings, meet work deadlines, and avoid being distracted by the demands of being home with children. Accommodations were quickly made to navigate these changes; as many people faced the isolation they felt from being away from their co-workers, the lack of camaraderie they were experiencing, and a feeling of losing their workspace. For some people, their work place was considered their second home and people felt distressed having to adjust to these changes so quickly.
The 2nd change was the new format they needed to adopt to interact with their co-workers. For many people, names like ZOOM and Microsoft Teams were unfamiliar, but they quickly became an essential communication tool to facilitate staying connected to team members and being able to attend important work meetings. However, jumping from one meeting to the next, caused workers eye strain and computer fatigue as it required focusing on the computer screen for lengthy periods of time. Couples experienced challenges of having overlapping meetings and needed the office space simultaneously, and in some cases arguing as to whose job and meeting were more important; although this usually related to who was going to watch the children during these high demand work hours. Some parents found themselves agreeing to longer screen times just so their children would be occupied while they worked. The streaming channels were in great demand!
In the early days of the Pandemic, when childcare centers closed and attending school became nonexistent, parents were thrust into juggling work, home, and teaching children. For some parents, time was a big issue as they were expected to continue working and meeting deadlines, while keeping children occupied and focused on school. Some children fared well within the virtual arena, but many fell behind due to lack of instruction, the inability to adjust to that learning platform, and in some cases the absence of good quality computers and internet service. This has resulted in an increase in summer school enrollments and children trying to play catchup to meet grading standards.
Fortunately, those parents and children who were accustomed to homeschooling fared much better because they already had a routine, learning materials in place, and were able to see their classmates in a virtual environment.
The 3rd change was suddenly the lines got blurred between a person’s professional and personal life. What was once considered sacrosanct, keeping your personal life and professional life separate, was now dissolved and children and pets were regularly heard during online meetings. After all, young children were not able to understand why Mommy and Daddy were attending a meeting at home and would knock on the door with frequent interruptions. Everyone had to learn to adjust to the “New Normal” as interruptions and demands of the household became a part of the work environment and co-workers and business associates learned to expect that of each other.
Some parents came up with some creative ways to operate in this “New Normal” environment. It was not uncommon to see, DO NOT DISTURB, ZOOM MEETING IN PROGRESS signs hanging from the office door handle and many calls would include a child or family member “popping in” and a parent turning the camera and sounds buttons off to take care of them. What would always garner a laugh from the participants was the dog barking and door bell ringing as everyone could relate to the challenge.
However, for households with children, oftentimes there was friction as the adults and children were not accustomed to being sheltered at home and not being allowed to go into public. They missed their friends and extended family. The solution that many families found was to take to the outdoors and bond at the local walking trail with bicycles and pets in tow. It was one of the few places people were allowed to go and it helped alleviate a lot of the tension in the household, while giving families the opportunity to improve their overall wellbeing, mental health disposition and improve family relations.
The 4th and most significant change observed is that companies learned they could continue to operate without their employees working on site. Their operational expenses decreased as the energy costs went down, workers were now paying the bill for electrical usage at their homes and internet service was standard in most households. Additionally, paper costs diminished as employees were printing from their home printers and security was no longer needed to monitor who was entering the buildings. Best of all, the demand for gas decreased and employees were able to attend meetings in more casual clothing. During this time, many companies closed their offices and the research indicates that they do not intend to bring workers back into an office environment but have figured out ways to operate their business with employees now permanently working from home. Customer service has diminished as people have had to experience longer than usual wait times, but most people have learned to except the changes that the Pandemic has imposed on everyone’s lives.
Overall, most would agree they are happy to be out and about again as the schools are fully opening in the fall and restaurant and shoppes are now operating at least 80% capacity. Workers are gradually being brought back and afterschool sports will resume. The companies that benefited most during this lengthy shutdown were the food service delivery companies like Uber Eats and Amazon became a standard for ordering goods and services, quickly delivered to your door step. Certainly the stimulus payments received to help offset the cost of living expenses helped families greatly and eased some of the economic burdens people were facing.
It can be said the “New Normal” has taught people the value of relationships, the need for unity and harmony in families and marriages, the ability to withstand very difficult times and the importance of being grateful for what we all have.
Written by Cathy Pinnock
Cathy is a Registered Marriage and Family Therapist at Simply Brave. She is motivated to help people find the answers they are looking for to enjoy happiness, find hope and regain personal strength. To learn more about Cathy, or to book a session with her, visit our website at: simplybrave.com