FILLING THE SIX-FOOT-SPACE:
THE SOCIAL TIES THAT KEEP US CONNECTED
Quarantine has quickly promoted parents to principals of stay-at-home academies across the country, and appointed them to the additional full-time roles of teachers, guidance counselors (and not to mention, janitors). We’ve had to adapt to a different routine with a host of new responsibilities, all on top of the day jobs we held prior. It’s no easy feat.
Even something as natural as connecting with others has become a challenge, given the measurable distance we now consciously put between ourselves. Being unable to casually meet up with friends, family, or coworkers puts a strain on parents and children alike. This extensive stay-at-home period has an inherently isolating effect, compounded by the confusion surrounding the term “social distancing.” The real goal in this pandemic is physical distancing, which is now the preferred term of the World Health Organization. Humans are social creatures by nature, and while physically distancing from others is critical in preventing the spread of infection, socially distancing ourselves adds an additional layer of psychological challenges to an already difficult situation.
Rather than drift apart, we can instead use this time as an opportunity to strengthen social bonds. When friends and neighbors can develop a collective, mutual support system, it offers footholds to help all of us traverse this unprecedented situation. Friendship has been said to double joys and cut griefs in half, and in a time such as this, that type of connection is needed in abundance. Through this shared experience we can foster more close-knit connections in our communities, our families, and ourselves, which we can carry with us as we move through and past this pandemic.
Adopting a New Mindset
While we can’t access the physical spaces that allow us to socially connect, there is still opportunity to nurture familial bonds, friendships, and introspection. Remember, frame of mind is everything. Looking at this situation from a new perspective is helpful in overcoming the mundanity of life at home. This is supported by cognitive behavioral theory, which suggests that how we think about our situation directly impacts how we feel about it, and what we do in response.
The key to shaking the feeling of restlessness is engaging in more creative ways of connecting. Even though “social distancing” has widely been used to encourage the CDC guidelines that prevent the spread of disease, the term fails to acknowledge other factors critical to overcoming this pandemic. In times of grief and celebration alike, social connections serve as a positive reinforcer in the human experience. To socially distance would forfeit those connections. In the age of physical distancing, it is important to remember that maintaining social connections creates a united front in the face of a global pandemic, so that no one is left to endure it alone.
See Your Environment in a New Way
Working from home and online schooling has granted us the extra family time we’ve so often wished for, even if the circumstances have many of us regretting that wish. Let’s be honest— maybe there is such a thing as too much quality time. And “lockdown” isn’t exactly a synonym for “family fun.” But a stay-cation, or an endless party? That’s something to get excited about! A term that’s a little less brooding can make the kids feel more comfortable with the situation, and offer you some much needed relief (even if it means stretching the truth a little!)
Since we can’t visit our go-to places around town, it can be helpful to create new spaces for your kids to explore right inside your own home. By setting up a tent indoors, or building a blanket fort, the living room can be transformed into a getaway destination that’s the ideal spot for studying, playing games, or family sleepovers. As the weather gets warmer, the braver and more adventurous may even branch out to the backyard for a night under the stars.
You might also consider dusting off those board games that have been sitting on the shelf, and reinstate the family game night that the kids used to think was “too boring.” Or you could make your own fun with a round of makeshift party games, like charades, to bring everyone closer together.
Go Beyond Your Own Front Door
Even though we can’t gather in public spaces, it’s important to still get outside for a change in scenery and some fresh air. Going for a family bike ride or walk around your local park is a great way to continue to connect with family outside of the home. The world looks different when you don’t travel through it by car, and it lets you take time to explore areas of town that you might not notice otherwise.
We’re accustomed to usually keep to ourselves, but if you see others while you’re out and about, take it as an opportunity to be neighborly. To promote a more positive social atmosphere, it’s important to reach out and connect with others when you can. Something as simple as a nod of acknowledgement to others you pass while on your walk, or a wave to your friend across the street, helps reach past the physical distance by creating a social connection. A little kindness has a big effect on positive mindset, so don’t be afraid to say “hello” and flash a friendly smile, either (even if no one will see it though your mask).
On walks with your children, you could even head over to their friend’s houses to say hello, as long as you maintain an appropriate physical distance. But with everyone staying at home, many children have found themselves in quarantine for their birthdays this season. While phone calls are a great way to keep in touch for the occasion, organizing a drive-by or walk-by birthday party is a fun alternative, and a safe way to celebrate in person with friends and family.
But for the days when the weather keeps you indoors, you can still bring the outside world to you. It’s as simple as ordering take out from your favorite restaurant. Contactless delivery is a great way to support local businesses, and take a night off from cooking to relax with family.
Bridge the Gaps With Technology
While it’s not the same as an in-person gathering, you can still connect with friends and family both near and far by setting up time to chat using Zoom, FaceTime, or a similar video calling app. It’s more personable than just sending a text, and being able to reconnect face-to-face helps us all feel a little closer, in spite of the physical distance.
Video chatting is a great way for your kids to maintain their social life, too. Taking the time to set up a coloring playdate over Zoom, or watch a movie with their friends through Netflix Party, helps make fun memories while still safe at home. Virtual book clubs are growing in popularity as well, which is something you and your children can participate in together while also having the opportunity to engage with a group of people.
Reconnect With Yourself
As a parent having assumed the extra responsibilities that quarantine has assigned, you may feel stretched a little thin trying to support friends and family, perform at your job, and keep the household running smoothly. But it’s important to take a step back now and again to focus on what you need, too.
When you can, work time into your schedule for activities you enjoy doing. If you’re missing your regular workout routine at the gym, find an opportunity to go for an independent jog. Be sure to plan out time in your day to indulge in your hobbies, read the latest articles from blogs you follow, or catch up on your favorite TV shows. And for all your hard work, treat yourself often with pick-me-ups, like listening to an album you love, buying your favorite snack, squeezing in a quick midday nap, or taking a well-deserved bubble bath to wind down at night. While it may not seem like there are enough hours in the day to manage a self-care regimen, there will likely be opportunities when you can sneak away for just 10-15 minutes to indulge in some ‘me’ time. The kids will survive without you! And those few moments will make a big difference.
If you’re really feeling worn down by the quarantine lifestyle, take advantage of the social support system offered by friends and family to vent about what’s been on your mind. And in situations when the weight of the world just feels too overwhelming, don’t be afraid to reach out for professional help to get back on your feet. As difficult as the current situation is, we need to give ourselves the same care and attention that we give to others. Taking care of yourself is the best way to make the day-to-day feel a little bit easier.