The defensive responses to the COVID-19 pandemic not only take a toll on individuals they also put families under additional strain. This is intensified where families, sometimes including members of several generations, may be thrown together or separated in ways they had neither expected nor desired. The loss of a sense of control or choice in such matters may undermine stability. Any tensions in the various relationships within a family are likely to be exposed and exacerbated under conditions which provide few if any avenues for escape or relief. Family members who must keep apart from a group may feel lonely and resort to unhealthy ways of coping. The situation poses particular problems for households where there are family members with a pregnancy, pre-existing health vulnerabilities and sadly, bereavement is a distinct possibility.
During a COVID-19 lockdown, parents with school-age children will face the challenge of integrating home schooling into family life, which may prove difficult if working from home at the same time. Families will need to find imaginative ways of keeping children appropriately stimulated mentally and exercised physically. It is best to place some limit on use of digital devices and instead explore a variety of interests and activities. Older children, cooped up at a time when they are beginning to separate their identity from that of their parents may find that their moods and reactions increase in intensity.
It is essential for people who may not have lived closely together for years to recognise that life under COVID-19 restrictions will not always be plain sailing. They will need a shared understanding of how living arrangements are going to work best for all. Everyone being prepared to give and take will go a long way to making the process easier; as will responsibly adopting a patient, considerate and respectful attitude to each other. Historic resentments will need to be kept in check, any “heat” turned down. Individuals must forego attempts to control or forcefully impose their preferences on others. In this context, the risks of domestic violence, particularly where there is a history, will rise and will inevitably increase with the consumption of alcohol and/or other drugs. Potential victims must have a route to safety pre-planned. Alcohol consumption should be minimised in any case to avoid inflaming or depressing feelings.
Establishing some sort of daily routine within the household while avoiding too much rigidity to that structure will foster healthy functioning and serve to prevent drift and even chaos. If circumstances allow and without becoming too regimented, it helps to allocate time and space for different purposes such as work, learning, play, recreation, eating, exercise and sleep. Individuals should be able to spend some time on their own should they wish and if feasible. Setting aside time for check-ins once in a while is recommended to enable individuals to share what is going on with them and for the family to improve its understanding of and support for each other.In the heavy atmosphere surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic it is easy to focus on the obvious range of negative impacts but there are distinct positives to be found also. It will pay to identify and build on them. Families will spend time together they might not otherwise have found, acquire new perspectives, perhaps coming to know and appreciate each other as never before. An individual and collective resilience may well result.