FAMILY COMMUNICATION IN THE TIME OF COVID
MOM! I can’t find my bedroom shoes!
Dad? Can you help me with my science homework!
Juan! Get off the computer! It’s my turn!!! MOM!
When can I go back outside!? I wanna go back to school!!!
Daddy! Darond ate all the cereal again and I’m hungry!
Kids! Shut up! Stop it! I’m sick of this!
I can’t pay all these bills! Ya’ll need to turn off these lights!
The COVID pandemic has drastically changed the lives of individuals, families, communities, the world for many years to come – if not forever. We have all waded through the often-murky waters of how this happened, how do we recover, how have we changed, will normal ever return? As I write this piece, over 400, 000 U.S. Americans have succumbed to the COVID virus; this number includes my youngest brother’s recent bride – just this week. So, with a heavy heart but a candle of hope, I want to share one of the most important factors of the “new normal” for all of us.
We can no longer ignore, side-step, refuse to engage with those in our own homes. My sister-in-law was an RN; however, she did not catch the virus in the hospital. She was hyper-hygienic and understood the gravity of the pandemic. She kept herself, her husband, her 90-year-old dad safe – but we believe while shopping for the family, she came in contact with someone who did not share her same concern for others or was asymptomatic. I tell her story because I know there were words she wanted to say that were left unsaid. She did not, could not say goodbye and my brother never saw her again when she entered the hospital emergency room. It hit fast and hard leaving WORDS, FEELINGS LEFT UNSAID.
For many years, the Communication Internet Age has kept us informed, engaged, inquisitive AND physically isolated! We have spent years texting, poking, tweeting, instagramming, deleting. Some have even deleted family members out of their lives because of the social media practice of disinhibition – too much sharing and self-disclosure. For too many, these practices were normalized and became a part of daily entertainment. Who dissed who? Who divorced who? Who cheated on who? We became a culture of voyeurs – other people’s lives were much more interesting and sordid than our own, so we checked out, blocked, and ignored the primary individuals of our lives – family. Then COVID hit and the ones so easy to pass by silently on the way to the next tweet, ignore while scrolling, avoid eye contact because of absence – these people reappeared and were no longer secondary players in our daily quest for insolation and hyper-individualism. So now, we are face-to-face and grappling with the fact that many can no longer texts: “I won’t be home”, “going to my friend’s house”, “working late”, “going shopping”…
What do you say when you have not said much of anything for so long - the small talk is no longer enough? You start to understand that talking is not communicating and listening is not hearing? Here are a few pointers to establish a communication climate in your homes that may provide the only silver-lining to this pandemic devastation – finding “US” again!
FAMILY COMMUNICATION TIPS:
Start with a simple “good morning”, “good night” or just “Hi!” “Thank you”. They may be shocked, and you embarrassed but do it anyway! Let go of the self-consciousness.
If you feel COVID safe, give a periodic hug or at least a shoulder pat just passing through.
SMILE! One of the only gestures that has no value unless you give it away! Sometimes, that’s all you need to say – I SEE YOU!
Suggest a game of cards, scramble or…ANY game where face-to-face communication is involved. This can include gaming with household partners.
Limit your phone/computer use making those around a top priority of your attention, love, concern. Convene family check-ins.
LISTEN! Ask prompt questions. Instead of saying the usual “how are you” ask the question “what are you up to?” WAIT FOR IT!
Instead of leaving the table or kitchen or living room in a state of “mommy” repair, hang around and pick up together. This includes sharing other chores that show you care.
Parents and older siblings should honestly share fears, concerns, questions without fear of reprisal OR disinterest.
Parents should not overburden children with increasing family concerns unless dire, but venting should be kept between grown folks and older, responsible siblings.
LAUGH! LAUGH! LAUGH! Find ways to have fun and create joy-filled experiences in the home – making a tent, cooking, watching family friendly films, family house party!!! Dance, Karaoke!
WORD UP! Avoid, avoid, avoid language that tears down and creates anger and fear, but rather use WORDS/EMOTIONS that speak to the possibilities of tomorrows hopes and dreams! WE WILL MAKE IT THROUGH!
Say I LOVE YOU! Tomorrow is not promised, but you know that, right?
In closing, I needed one more day, just one more. You have yours – TODAY!
SWVOICE Board Member, Freelance Writer, and Human Communication Specialist