In this era of self-quarantining and working from home, there’s likely been an uptick in how much time you’ve spent with your family. And while we’ve all wished for more time with our spouse and children, that notion of “too much of a good thing” is taking hold. Quarantine has the ability to exacerbate existing tensions, and create new ones. Indeed, recent studies have projected that after just three months in quarantine, there was an estimated 20% rise in intimate partner violence, as well as increase in family violence and arguments. Even if your family’s situation is not at an extreme, it’s not unlikely you’ve been feeling emotionally strained in the household.
The coronavirus (Covid-19) has forced us all to adapt to a new reality, but the problem is that not all people adapt the same way. You may have decided that this is a great opportunity to engage in more family bonding activities, while your spouse would prefer everyone indulge in more independent time (maybe so that they can finally have a chance to binge that new Netflix series). Even if you were on the same page before the pandemic, this new way of life has forced parents to respond to a host of new challenges, such as what is and isn’t safe to do, how much screen time is acceptable, and how to keep tempers in check when you’re spending day in and day out with your family. While these issues may feel difficult to manage, research suggests that these obstacles may feel less insurmountable when you face them as a team.
A fascinating study on social support highlights the relationship between how we perceive an obstacle, and the support that we have when facing it. The study found that individuals tasked with climbing a hill on their own predicted it would be a greater challenge than individuals who planned to climb with a friend. When the task was shared by partners, the hill was reportedly perceived as less steep than it was by individuals who anticipated climbing alone. This interpersonal phenomenon was more apparent in partners who had a stronger relationship. The closer the team, the more surmountable the obstacle seemed. It feels much easier to overcome a challenge when you have a supportive partner by your side. And whether you’re faced with climbing a mountain or working out a schedule for after school pickup, a healthy relationship built on trust and communication is critical in overcoming life’s hurdles.
CONSISTENCY IS KEY
In stressful and unpredictable times such as these, parents need to present a unified front to effectively manage the unique challenges that may arise. Maintaining a teamwork based approach is an important part of a strong, successful relationship, and moreover, it creates a healthy home for children as well. When partners feel supported in their decisions for their children and family, it fosters a greater sense of trust between them. This support offers a sense of empowerment, making parents feel more capable and confident in making decisions for themselves, their family, and their children.
When partners support each other, it makes particularly difficult decisions (like telling your child “no”) feel more manageable. Making these decisions together, not independently, is not only helpful to you, but your children as well. Consistency in decisions between both parents helps provide structure to children’s home environment, and it can help to encourage more appropriate behavior. If one parent says bedtime is at 9pm, while the other allows the child to stay up until 10:30pm, it can create conflict between parents, leaving the child confused and caught in the crossfire of an argument. However, if both parents can mutually agree on a set bedtime and discuss with each other what particular situations would allow for a bending of this rule, it sets clear guidelines for your child. Chances are, they’ll be less inclined to argue about the decision when they know neither parent will offer more leniency.
A successful partnership can be strengthened through tag-team parenting, where you both work together to achieve the same goals. But what does that look like? A strong foundation is built when you make a conscious effort to master your own mindset, emotions, and communication skills to more effectively work together. If you need some strategies to get started:
- Be practical, realistic, and communicative with the goals and expectations that you have for yourself and each other. Just as the current situation is ever-evolving, you may need to be flexible in adjusting these goals as the situation changes. Although the breakdown of who-does-what may have been set before the pandemic, this may have changed (and may still be changing). One of the best things you can do is focus on communication. Make sure you’re on the same page, with shared goals and objectives. This may involve increased check-ins with your partner regarding household responsibilities, setting limits for your children (When is bedtime? How much TV is okay?) or just generally about how the other is feeling. Talk frequently, and plan ahead. Consider future scenarios and how you can handle them as a team.
- Stick up for each other. Back each other up in decision making to maintain a consistent front for the kids and promote stability in the home. Talk with your partner to make sure you’re on the same page; if one of you tells the children that it’s time for bed, can you count on your partner to back you up? As the research shows, getting through these everyday challenges will feel easier if you know your partner has your back. Plus, when we feel supported by our partner, it puts us in a more optimistic, confident, and healthy state of mind.
- Take some time to reflect on the past. This can be especially helpful if you feel as though you and your partner have strayed apart in recent months since the onset of the pandemic. What challenges did you face together before? How did you overcome them? It can be easy to settle into “crisis mode” where you handle each issue as it comes without thinking it through or checking in about your partner’s perspective. Reflect on strategies that you’ve used in the past when things got tough, and check in to see if you’re still using those now. If you were a team before, you can find a way to be a team again.
- Make time for each other. No doubt about it, parenting is hard. This is particularly true now when many parents are playing the role of parent, babysitter, teacher, and employee all at once. With such a huge list of daily demands, you may have noticed that you haven’t had much one-on-one time with your partner lately. If this is the case, take some time to reflect on the good stuff. Are there activities or experiences you used to share together that have fallen by the wayside? Do what you can to engage in those activities again. Several websites have lists of creative, quarantine-friendly activities and fun date night ideas for busy parents.
Practicing tag-team parenting can ease the strain in your relationship and in your household. Just as airlines instruct you to put on your own oxygen mask before placing one on your child, it’s important to take some time to focus on yourself and your relationship with your partner to avoid feeling burned out. And when you support each other, that never-ending list of chores and challenges may seem less overwhelming when you know you’re not tackling it alone. It’s not only of benefit to you, but to your children as well. When they see you working with your partner it offers stability and confidence in the home environment, which is incredibly valuable in the world today.