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How to keep your family together during the coronavirus crisis

By Kathleen O?Hara

As a psychotherapist helping families cope during the coronavirus, several themes have emerged which may help you deal with this unprecedented time. The first overarching theme is how family dynamics are amplified during lockdowns. Disruption of freedoms complicate already existing family issues.

For example, marital relationships that were strained pre-lockdown can become volatile and arguments reach dangerous levels. Dynamics between siblings or generations can become more stressful and underlying problems exposed. Substance abuse or any other addiction can worsen and make life more difficult for the family. In other words, what was barely working under controlled circumstances can break down under these new and stressful conditions.

My advice is to be very aware of the volatility of the situation and be careful about communications. Things said now can exacerbate an already complex situation and create tension during a time when we need calm. Marital arguments can be damaging, especially for the children—and considering no one can go anywhere and the courts are closed, it’s best to put differences aside until afterwards.

If the issue is addiction which cannot be managed, there is private treatment available which can be arranged.

In all cases, try to focus on the positive, face the issues objectively and commit to resolve them once this is over. If you are already working with an adviser, now is an excellent time to focus on issues that can be resolved.

Another theme for families is grief and loss. Particularly when we can’t travel to be with a family member in the ICU with coronavirus. We can feel out of control and unable to provide human touch to comfort each other. And when a family member dies, there are often no closing rituals, and family members must face their loss in isolation. These are particularly difficult situations, and yet, we are not fully alone. With the technology we do have, we can at least be present to one another and give our support as best we can.

Worry and fear are strong emotions during this time. What’s the world going to be like when it ends and how will our families and our business survive?

The pressure and anxiety of keeping the business operating and the responsibility of taking care of employees is a major worry. This is no easy task when the bottom line is severely impacted and no one knows how or when this crisis will end. The heart of family business is the real commitment to keeping employees safe and compensated. Sometimes, even with the best intentions, hard choices must be made and the results of this can weigh heavily on family principles. It’s important to keep in mind that families who have been in operation over generations understand this. They have seen world wars come and go and know that despite what must be done, they will endure, salvage what they can and begin again. This faith in the ability to go through a crisis is fundamental to the strength of a family business.

This brings me to the final observation that preserving good mental health is fundamental to ourselves, our families and our businesses. Good mental health is the ability to go through a challenge and come out the other end intact, battered perhaps, but not destroyed. This means facing our fears of loss and realising that even if we lose, we can build again. It means that relationships with our loved ones and those we have responsibilities to are our priority and we must preserve them as best we can.

We can approach one another with a mind clear from negative, self-centered thoughts and see ourselves as human beings with all our flaws. We are all going through this and together we will survive.

Put aside unhealthy thoughts of fear and renew your values of tolerance, understanding and above all compassion for yourself and others. And realise that acceptance is the key to peace. And during this time, it is important to know what you can change and what you cannot—I believe this is called wisdom!

And remember too, our families are resilient, there are strengths to be discovered. We can use this opportunity to grow closer, forge even stronger bonds. We can tell the stories of our family heroes, those that led and overcame challenges in generations before and we will do it again.

And lastly, find beauty in these strange and dark times—laugh even when things aren’t funny, love even when people get on your nerves and remember the future will come and life will go on, it always does.

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