Social distancing or social exclusiveness:
How forced changes of COVID-19 can improve your family
by Dr. Dave Currie
Our current health crisis has called for social distancing. We are to stay away from others… 6 feet away! We are to self-isolate and we are told the stricter the better. Already, these forced changes, because of COVID-19, are having a big impact on the nuclear family – both good and bad. Ask me, I’m a marriage and family counsellor. I’ve seen both already.
It has impacted us too. We had to shut down our 10-day holiday in Greece and then still had to spend fourteen days of self-quarantine as a result of being out of the country. Weddings of people close to us have been downsized or postponed. Sadly, memorials of dear friends have been delayed indefinitely. On a minor note, I have lost the rest of my hockey season, ball tournaments have been cancelled and summer vacations and trips deferred. Our story is minor. You have your own story of viral impact.
These external stresses can reveal internal flaws. We know that extra pressure on a dam in a time of flooding reveals and amplifies the size of the cracks in its wall. The same is true for the family. You soon learn under the stress of social distancing and isolation – being together a lot – where your relational difficulties are. It’s clear that the weaker the relational infrastructure, the shakier your family will be in times of crisis.
The opposite mindset of social distancing is “social exclusiveness” – that is being with those that you have no choice but to be with – namely your family. This is your tribe – your exclusive circle. Therein lies one of your greatest opportunities. This COVID-19 threat and its resulting implications can either make or break your marriage and family unit. It is my hope that you will develop “Crisis Intimacy” – that your commitment to work through the tough times together will actually create a new and stronger bond between you and your circle. Like that dam, it’s clear that the stronger the relational infrastructure, the more durable your family will be in times of crisis. My intent is to help you keep sanity in your home and grow stronger as a family unit.
Let’s agree on some of the main concerns we are facing with the virus and its concurrent restrictions. Human Isolation is counter-intuitive to healthy individuals. Distancing from others is painful because we are social creatures. Mankind was made to interact, to talk, to connect and to touch. Just watch any kids at a play park. They make new friends easily and often.
Viral ignorance is common. Trying to understand this infectious disease and how it is spread is a challenge. Who do we believe? What is the truth? What source should we trust? How is the virus spread? We tend to move with hesitation. What is safe to touch? Who is safe? What is a safe distance? How paranoid should I be? How skeptical should I be of others? Should I even worry about contracting the virus from my extended family?
Health fears too can be limitless. There are so many unknowns. Who do I trust? Am I foolish not to be worrying more? How sick does a person get? How many will die from the virus? Do I have the virus? Will I die if I get it? Will it touch those I love? These fears cause rash and selfish reactions in some and sacrificial, gracious actions in others.
Financial losses could increase. Will I lose my job? Will I get it back? How long will I be out of work? Will I survive a cut in income? Will my business go under? Will prices go up? Will there be food shortages? Can we make ends meet? Will subsidies really be there and will they be enough? How long can we make it as a family? What happens if the economy tanks? How will these changes affect my investments?
Freedoms lost are taxing. No one likes being told what they can or can’t do? We value making our own independent choices. Not so now. What happened to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’? Governments are now controlling our movement worldwide. They are shutting down borders, businesses, government services, sporting events, church meetings, airports, theatres, restaurants, weddings and gatherings and movement of almost every kind.
Future uncertainty gnaws at you. What we are facing is unprecedented! We are operating in completely unknown territory with a lock-down virus that is shutting down life as we know it. What is going to happen? When will it all end? How will this end? Will we ever get back to normal? How concerned should I be about the future of my family?
The media outlets love to tell us the worst! That makes good press! News feeds tend to sensationalize the undesirable possibilities about COVID-19. So, the average person endures a pervasive marination of all things virus – we get negatively tenderized with greater fear through public conversation, radio, TV, Internet news feeds, social media and beyond. What’s complicated is that we don’t know what we should believe and what is bunk!!! There is so much coming at us! If we’re not careful, we can become seriously phobic about having to know the latest stories, tragedies and statistics. A constant bombardment of dark news can preoccupy our minds. And with the phobia of knowing, comes an increase of anxious thinking. What’s the key? Balance. Select wise sources of input on the virus. After that, feast on truth not trauma! Spend far less time on the tales of Facebook and more time in the truths in the FaithBook! I am not a person given to worry or anxiety but I admit, I have had to change my media diet limiting how much I take in that is virus-centered. It can be overwhelming!
Whether a person embraces a faith journey or hasn’t contemplated it much before, I think that in these crazy, uncertain times, having a good, open discussion about God and faith would be wise for anybody right now. We are all looking for answers. Here’s the faith outlook that anchors me – God is in control, not some virus! God didn’t go for coffee, come back and say, “Oh my goodness, — what on earth happened down there while I was gone?” No, He is fully aware of this health crisis. And we have to be fully aware of our need to trust Him in the middle of it. Isn’t it true that our faith is tested in the crucible of reality? And today’s reality is COVID-19. Your faith is being tested now. I have also found that my greatest times of spiritual growth are in and through my times of greatest stress. It’s like the refiner’s fire. Surrender your life and family to God to bring out a better you – the pure gold you. Trust God through it all. As a person of faith, God doesn’t promise a life without trials. We don’t somehow get ‘bubble-wrapped’ by him making us untouchable from the bumps in life. Nope. God has promised He would be with us through the bumps! We need to rest in Him. Keep that perspective.
You may have heard from people who have survived a health scare and because of their crisis, they began to look at life differently. Their values got re-aligned. What was truly important regains its rightful place. We live in a world of unlimited distractions that so easily can take priority in our lives: playing sports, coaching sports, watching sports. We chase after concerts, celebrities, comedians – entertainment of every variety! There are the parties, meals out, travel and leisure activities. Are you too centered on activities, events and things that are not your true values? This is your chance to get your priorities back in line. What does God say? What would He want for you and yours? Start now at home. This is your opportunity for enhancing and embracing social exclusiveness! Who you include in your inner circle, as advised by health authorities, is up to you. But do get your priorities straight. You can put your marriage and family back as number one. Be sure that your immediate family, your spouse and children get the best you – your best effort – and the resulting greatest growth in relational connection through the now-mandatory social distancing. It’s your chance to focus on those who are closest to you. Don’t miss it.
We don’t have any idea how long this season of limited movement and restricted contact will last. Whether short or long, the key is to be intentional. You have time. It looks like lots of it with few or no outside distractions, so start some new routines that give ample, focused time to conect with your inner circle.
Increase family time. Consider more family game times, sit down regularly for meals together and choose to have chunks of connection time without any devices. Add movie nights with popcorn being careful to not rely too much on digital distractions. Read stories. Colour, paint or play hide and seek. Work with what your children enjoy. Settle in with them. Put your phone away and be present. Find ways to get away from the masses through family hikes. Seek the fresh air. Children love to run, splash, skip, throw things, piggy back and picnic. Do things together.
Target life development. You may not be an expert on home schooling, but you are an expert on life and what’s important. While you would be wise to work with local educational guidelines, focusing on reading and math. Beyond that, get out of the house to learn. Do science in the wild. Collect plants. Observe types of birds, insects and animals. Catch a frog. Colour and draw what you see. Sing together in the car. Create a list of the top five songs your family enjoys bellowing out. Help your children develop by experiencing a lot of new and different things.
Value couple time. Use your extra moments to go deeper in your marital friendship. Granted, parents may get exhausted by a growing list of new duties and all the extra cooped-up time but finding a way to carve out ‘us’ time is significant. Try to each write ten questions you’d like to discuss together and put them in an envelope. Pull one out every day or so and share your thoughts on it. If your children are older, get away just the two of you.
Tackle home projects. Don’t save it to do on a rainy day. You have time now. Talk with your spouse. Create your list. Discuss who is doing what. It might even be a family project. But finally, get to those improvements that you haven’t had time for. And I am going to say it – clean the garage. I know. Now, I am accountable to do it!
Extend your care. Discuss and do one act of kindness for others as a family each week. Donalyn and I have already done Happy Isolation Cookies for our neighbours. We have made phones calls to encourage and to check on people. Consider praying with people over the phone. Facetime to show your love. Keep getting together with friends with Zoom or Skype. Leave encouraging and faith-building notes. Text support and interest. Ask God to lead you to those who might need you.
Enhance spiritual growth. Don’t skip church. Engage online. Spend more time alone in God’s word. I would push you that you can be on social media each day equal to the time you read your Bible or other devotional material. Remember: More Faithbook and less Facebook! Pray together each day as a family and as a couple. Why not? You have less excuses now than ever. Why not even pick a verse for each month and work to memorize it as a family!
This all sounds good but humanly, there will be days when you will feel overwhelmed. Living 24-7 in tight spaces – being your children’s new best friends, playmates, teachers and coaches sounds good at first. Even for a week or so, we think we can likely survive. but – what if this thing grinds on for months, not weeks? That’s without talking about how many will have to be working from home! This gets complicated quickly. Sometimes, you will want to walk out! OK. Sometimes it might be good to walk out…at least for a break before an explosion or a needed break after an explosion. Choose to stay positive. Be patient with one another. Apologize much quicker because you are going to need each other more than ever through this viral season. Talk through issues responsibly. Give each other down time and alone time. Take a chill pill as needed. Calm down. Respect one another. Encourage one another. Hug those in your circle. And above all, pray for grace to make it through one day at a time.
Let’s get through this together. Care for one another, especially those who you are socially exclusive with. Maximize your time to love your inner circle. Be sure to remember: God is in control, not some virus.