A pandemic can ruin us or make us stronger as individuals and as a family unit. We get to choose.
Yesterday, for instance, I spent an hour with the toddler. She filled the time by dropping playing cards onto the ground and then demanding that I pick them up. Any other activity I suggested was met with scorn. Fifty-Two Card Pick Up was literally all she was willing to play. Typically, after such an exciting time, I would look at the clock and conveniently realize that I need to get to work for a meeting. After all, Daddy needs his space.
But I am trying to soak up all the joy I can in this bonus time with family. I don’t begrudge it, and truly I’m grateful. I hope all of you, too, are sincerely enjoying it. There’s nothing wrong, though, with maintaining a little alone time — it makes us all stronger as a unit. Solitude is now much harder to attain, however, which is both a blessing and a challenge. We’re in the midst of a massive stress test. It’s like free, super-intensive marriage counseling that no one wanted or asked for.
Take, for instance, the news out of China that the quarantine caused a spike in divorce because couples are spending too much time together. My friend David Zahl over at Mockingbird has another example of a strange phenomenon connected with Hurricane Hugo. In 1989, Hugo devastated a number of counties in South Carolina. The Journal of Family Psychology notes that a larger than expected number of couples in the devastated counties divorced the following year.
That’s not the whole story, though.
In the wake of Hugo, more people married and there was an increase in births – which makes me excited for the fabled and highly anticipated, quarantine-caused baby boom about nine months from now. The point seems to be that a pandemic throws our lives into turmoil, placing us in new and different relationships with our loved ones. This will either ruin us or make us stronger — it’s up to us which path we take.
I’ll use my own failure as an example. Being home all day with children who constantly demand attention annoyed me at first. I’ve become accustomed to a contemplative, quiet environment in my office where I focus on reading and writing. Last week was the exact opposite. I tried to write at home while the toddler threw plastic blocks at my computer screen and the five-year-old begged me to take her outside. I was bothered, but then I considered my annoyance. I asked some hard questions. Why would I have expected life to go on as usual? And why in the world would I have reacted so negatively to my children asking for attention? So I changed. I’ve decided that I have before me a great opportunity.
I’m noticing many other families seizing that opportunity, too. Suddenly freed from being over-scheduled, they’re in the front yard talking, taking walks, playing in the park. This is the most vibrant our neighborhood has ever been, and it all starts with families making the most of their time together. It makes me wonder if we really ought to think about how nice this is before we rush back to life as usual. We’re being forced into more leisure time together, and it’s really, really pleasant.
Time at home doesn’t need to be stressful and it certainly shouldn’t destroy us. It’s all about our attitude. So here’s my advice, which is as much for me as anyone: don’t moan about no sports on television. Go outside and play a sport. Throw the ball around the yard if you have one, take a walk, get out that old croquet set. Inside, it’s all about board games. My five-year-old considers games her love language. There’s a lot of laughter around our games. While kids aren’t in school, it’s a great chance to learn new skills — cook together, show them how to do laundry, let them help with home projects. With no rush to be anywhere in the mornings, start the day with a good breakfast. No more hurried bowls of cereal. Bacon and eggs for everyone. Talk over breakfast. Have a short time of family prayer right before or after.
I’ve been seeing a lot of pictures this past week of young couples. The pictures are all similar. A man and a woman holding hands. He’s wearing a suit and she’s wearing a white dress. They’re walking away from a church altar and a priest. They’ve just been married. The only other people in sight may be a few immediate family — parents or siblings. On the faces of these couples, writ large for all to see, is pure joy. Everything and everyone they need is right there in that picture. It’s the same with us.
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