United like the 5 fingers of the hand?
I have 3 teenagers home and the current confinement period is rich in reflections on what is happening to us as a family, below are some of these insights. We both work from home with my wife during this period and the children follow online courses from their schools.
A time like no other? when you think about it, it is a very unusual period where work, school, leisure, socialising are all happening in the same place, our home, when normally these activities are done elsewhere and not in the presence of every family member. It reminds me of 2 periods in our family life where we had to be like the 5 fingers of the hand. First was during our time in New Zealand when we had the 3 children and the oldest one was under 4. It was a time when we didn’t have family or close friends near-by and we lived the 5 of us following our own rhythm, travelling in camper van, somehow isolated from the rest of the world. The second time was when my wife became critically ill 7 years ago and it ensued a very difficult period of 3 years where we had to support each other and be here for everyone else, it was a time of great solidarity, love, frustration and anxiety due to the many limitations and restrictions in our lives due to the illness of my wife. This time the children are teenagers, we are all healthy for now and it seems a bit unreal but we somehow reconnect to the magic of previous times where we felt like the 5 fingers of the hand. So for us, this time is an opportunity to stop living parallel lives, re-start being together, in a way catching-up and rediscovering who we are, leaving our assumptions of each other aside and talking, really talking again as to what animate us and makes us afraid. We have now long talks again being at the family table or during activities that we no longer we doing as a family.
A standstill…All the “normal” obligations have vanished and work at least for me is receding in the background. They are few decisions to make and they are mostly easy: what to shop, what to clean, when to do some sport, what to cook… It reminds me to that period in the first few weeks of parenthood, when my universe became very tiny and time slowed down tremendously, following the rhythm of the needs of our new born children. It is also a time when each morning starts with the optimistic idea of being productive, but ends with a dash in the late afternoon when the realisation comes that an other day has gone by in a daze and not much has happened.
Is more time a gift or a curse? More time can be both, on one hand it is a huge opportunity to experience life differently, slowing down, taking stock and pausing. For my wife it means more piano, for me more meditation and reading, for my daughter more drawing and I am afraid it is for now more gaming for my 2 boys and it is not easy to control. It is also a period where we are confronted to ourselves, our values, our habits, ours ways of escaping what we do not like. For me it is the realisation that I have reactively being driven by a need to achieve and this period is confrontational for me, to not judge my life and myself by how much I have accomplished during the day but by how much I have been present, aware and available to others.
Push or Pull…All our actions are the result of two types of factors, either we “push” by acting on our environment or we “are pulled” by our environment and forced to adapt. The “push” is related to intrinsic motivation and the “pull” to extrinsic motivation. Now that to a large extent the things that we have to do and which comes from outside of us are mainly gone, it is a test in ourselves as to how much “push” or intrinsic motivation we have in ourselves. : "The pull, the things that have to, that which comes from the outside has largely disappeared." Like in our previous family life, finding a new normal in the abnormal, relying on our intrinsic motivation to make the best of what the current situation is what will make us resilient and better navigate the present times.
Anxiety and impatience…this crisis is a reminder of how little control we really have and this is a truly humbling experience. Anxiety is the perception that there is a loss of control with regards to our lives and it is clear that in the current situation, with the strict reduction in personal freedom and what we have taken for granted for so long, it feels that we are not in control of how and when we will regain some normality. My children resent very much not feeling in control, especially at a time when they are becoming much more independent so to cater for this need for control we have developed as a family rituals that can help us getting into a routine and give some structure to the day. As a family we have decided to wake up at the same time as before, share daily house chores like cleaning and cooking, go out for walks, attend virtual gym training, and connect using video with the rest of our family, especially the grand-parents who are much needing interaction times with their children and grand-children. We also have play-time together again, cards or board games, things which had kind of disappeared from our lives.
But anxiety is also very much about trying to imagine the future and the questions of my children are about : “what about school? What about end exams”? “When will I see my friends?”. I have my own questions and no answers for the time being. What I know however is that anxiety does not live in the here and now and to open the door of the present moment, it simply takes to focus on the breath. I have also shared with the children a simple question which helped me very much during the illness of my wife. When a negative thoughts would come, it was always related to some fear of losing her in the future, I forced to ask myself: “Can I do something about it now?”. If I concluded I could, then I would do what could be done and I would feel better. If I concluded I could not, I would thank the thought for the reminder and let it go. It would come back a few minutes later, or an hour or a day, and I would ask the same question again. If nothing was to be done now, then I would let it go and breathe it out. Overtime, my anxiety reduced strongly independently of how the situation was evolving. So the question is back on use and my children are experimenting with it to find out for themselves if it makes a difference or not in their life.
“The future is no longer what it used to be…” - Yogi Berra…
If this is true in normal time, it is even more true in this exceptional time. So trying to assess what is next will only raise anxiety and push me to catastrophising. The children want to know what will happen with our summer holiday, me with my upcoming systemic coaching training and the list goes on, but instead of planning weeks and months ahead, I am planning day by day as this is what I can mainly control.
Being in the midst of it means that it is too early to assess and see how we will be shaped by this experience and who we will become as a result. But based on what I have witnessed before in our family life, I know that we have a lot of resilience, that there is support between all of us and that if we prepare for the worst, we always expect the best. Hope and optimism is a choice and this is the choice we are making at the moment, learning to be patient and keeping an eye in the midst of all the disruption to whom we are becoming.
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