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10 Tips for Families Navigating COVID-19 Together at Home

I often write on the topic of keeping relationships strong when your job keeps you apart. One point I discuss is that often the coming back together when the traveler returns home can be the most stressful time in those relationships as people adjust to living together again. Because of COVID-19, in the coming days many people may find themselves together at home for days or weeks. Below you will find strategies for navigating this new level of togetherness.

  1. Routines

 What makes the “re-entry” period challenging for road warrior couples is that people have their own routines while apart. You’re going to find the same challenges as you work from home and in many parts of the country, kids are home from school. Kids respond well to structure and if at all possible, try to recreate their school day. For example, lunch at 11:30 and snack at 2pm, a recess break to run around your yard or indoor activities like yoga or dancing. The app Down Dog is free through April 1st and you can personalize routines for anyone from beginners to lifelong yogis.

  1. Give up control

We are heading into unprecedented times and no one can predict how long our normal ways of living will be disrupted. Have a Plan B and even a Plan C.  Most schools have never done distance learning for an extended period of time and so expect hiccups and frustrations for teachers and students. If something goes awry, find a documentary that is age appropriate. For older teens, the animated videos Oversimplified are found on YouTube and take a look at various wars over the centuries. Scholastic is offering free access to programing from Pre-K through grades 9+. Link here and other options here. Live in the moment taking it hour by hour and don’t be too hard on yourself if things get a little chaotic.

  1. Who’s right?

For some parents, this may be the most time families have spent together during the week outside of vacations or holidays and with the social distancing advisory, outings are not advised. How can you work, supervise learning, and maintain sanity? It will be a challenge. You may find that you have differing opinions on bedtime, homework, division of labor and the like. A family meeting ASAP is one place to start. Create a tentative schedule, chores for kids to keep them busy, meal planning and the like and be prepared to revise as you go.

  1. Squirrel

If you’ve never worked from home besides when you’ve had a sick child, you’ll quickly realize how many projects there are to do around the house. Using breaks to tackle them is fine as long as you set a timer and return to work. Changing a load of laundry is a great way to force yourself to get up, walk around, and cross an item off your to do list.

  1. Office space

Ideally you and your partner can find different parts of the house to set up your remote offices, but if not, you may spend 8 hours a day or more across from each other. One tip? Noise-cancelling headphones. If you have frequent conference calls, your partner may grow annoyed listening to them. At the least, it will make it be hard to concentrate.  Could you use this time to step away and check on your kids, grab a snack, or text or call a friend?

  1. Books

You may not be able to get to the library, but many allow access to eBooks and many other types of online resources via their website. Start a social media conversation about favorites or create on online book club.

  1. Reduce Worry

Kids and adults are understandably worried about what is next. Anxiety can tax your immune system so finding ways to reduce it is important. A great list is here for ways to talk to your kids. When I work with clients, I’ll ask them what the “what if’s” are that they are worried about. I have them list them and then we talk about the odds of them really happening and ways to mitigate if possible. An important second step? Start listing all of the positive “what if’s” that could happen and how to foster those. A few that come to mind now are more quality time with family; finally playing those games you bought and haven’t opened; time to tackle projects you never get to on the weekends; naps; organizing items for donation; and connecting virtually with people you haven’t spoken to in awhile.

  1. Connection

Working from home will mean a change in human connection. Can you “eat lunch” over Skype with a co-worker or catch up via text during a 10-minute break when you’d normal walk down to your friend’s office?

  1. Employment

The job market will take a hit. How much or for how long is something no one knows. Can you use the coming days and weeks to update your resume and LinkedIn profile or draft a cover letter? This is a great thing to do regardless of how secure you feel your position is as you will have front of mind your accomplishments as you head into your next performance review and it keeps you nimble in the event an exciting opportunity arises down the road.

  1. It’s OK to ask for help

Many therapists are available for a session via a phone call or video conferencing if you need to talk, but don’t want to or can’t venture out.

Finding a Therapist

Life can be stressful and having a safe, non-judgmental place to explore worries, fears, and relationships is so important. Finding a therapist that is a good fit is important as well. I started seeing clients in 2002 and have had the opportunity to work with a wide range of clients over the years. In my private practice I currently see individuals and couples and I have a few unique specialties: overwhelmed women, perfectionism, burnout, and super commuters or road warriors and/or their spouses.

Individuals may choose to focus on how perfectionism or overwhelm are impacting their lives, self-esteem, relationships, career dissatisfaction, or motherhood. Decreasing fear of failure is a useful goal in these scenarios as is exploring how any of these issues might relate to feelings of anxiety and depression. For the partner of a road warrior, I can help navigate the unique challenges and stressors of this type of relationship. Topics of exploration in couples therapy sessions might include parenting strategies, dual career challenges, the impact of a road warrior regularly leaving and returning, and resentment.

I also offer coaching sessions for clients on a variety of topics including but not limited to: deciding whether to embark on a super commute or accept a job that involves frequent travel; strategies for maintaining a strong relationship despite being apart; career change/job search; strategies for marketing a book; and how to use writing to increase your visibility in the world.

In addition, I speak on a regular basis on a variety of topics including burnout, mental health awareness, perfectionism, and road warrior wellness. You can find links to articles I’ve written or contributed to on these topics along the right side of this page.

Feel free to reach out and schedule a free 15-minute phone call to discuss your goals.

Summer Vacation: How to have fun together when you aren’t used to being together

June is fast approaching and for road warriors with children, that likely means school’s out for summer! While we can all get excited about packing away pencils and notebooks, it also signals a different kind of packing that sounds great on the surface but may cause dread: the family vacation. What I mean is, that week-long trip is the ultimate “re-entry” experience. In my book Super Commuter Couples: Staying Together When A Job Keeps You Apart, I discuss my finding that conflict between these couples happens most often when they are reunited. Routines may have changed while apart, one or both partners may be exhausted, the road warrior may find unplugging to be a challenge, and now you add family travel in the mix and it can be more tears than smiles, but it doesn’t have to be.

  • Discuss. Have a conversation with the whole family about what type of vacation makes sense for your situation right now. A backpack camping adventure in Yosemite might look good on paper, but will all of the research and packing fall to the stay at home spouse? Does your family even like to camp? Plan something that’s right for all of you instead of a “Clark Griswold” vacation, aka well-intentioned, but poorly executed bonding time.
  • Pace yourself. The urge may be “ready, set, go” with an action-packed itinerary but again, is that what you all need? Instead, can you sprinkle in one or two down days where there are options to relax poolside and read or give the road warrior some time to connect with the kids while their spouse has some alone time to get a massage, take a yoga class, or even better, take a nap. A change in the typical parenting dynamic can translate into some quality time and lasting memories for everyone.
  • Stay home. Well, don’t really stay home but instead of a big trip involving flights or long car rides, stay closer to home and take advantage of what your city or state has to offer. This can be especially nice for the road warrior who can feel like a stranger in their own town. This “staycation” could also include a theme night of cooking together and watching a movie related to your meal, camping in the backyard, or simply catching up with neighbors or friends at a more leisurely pace. And don’t forget, a date night!

For road warrior or super commuter families, quality time connecting is important. What has your favorite “summer vacation” been and why?

Loving a Musician

Loving a MusicianI was invited by Brian Zirngible, a licensed therapist who loves working with clients in the performing arts, to write a guest blog offering strategies for maintaining a relationship when one works in the entertainment industry.  Touring, shooting on location, or recording in the studio can all limit time with loved ones.  Read here the secrets for making love last.

Long Distance Relationships – Managing the Holidays

Long Distance Relationships: Managing the HolidaysThe holiday season can be a time of stress and overwhelm for some couples.

For couples who are in long distance relationships, it can be even more so. You might wonder why that is. Wouldn’t they be excited to spend more time together? The answer is complicated, but having strategies for managing the holidays will ensure a more enjoyable time. Here are 5 ways to shift your mood this holiday season from “Oh no!” to “Ho Ho Ho!”

1. Manage expectations by planning a realistic holiday schedule

Late December through New Year’s Eve finds many people taking vacation days to spend with family and friends. If you have been separated for long periods of time or typically only see each other on the weekends, you both may have a long list of what you’d like to do during that time off. For people who super commute or travel often for business, their ideal vacation might be lounging around the house watching movies or getting together with friends they rarely have time to see. For the spouse who is home managing kids and household responsibilities, they may want to escape to a spa or need help with projects that have been put off most of the year. And here in lies the problem. Each has their own ideas about how that vacation time should be spent and so tip number one is to manage expectations. Making assumptions is an easy way to get into conflict so I recommend taking 30 minutes in early December to plan out the family calendar until the end of the year. Each person, and the kids too, can make a list of how they would like to spend that time. Then, see how it fits together. Does one week have you out every night and no time to relax? Did you plan a date night or two? How many obligations are ones you feel like you “should” do vs. really wanting to? Can you say no to a few of those this year?

2. Cook a meal together

A great way to connect, have fun, and learn is to cook together as a family. I suggest choosing at least one night during your holiday to plan, shop, and make a meal together. If one person tends to do the majority of the cooking on a regular basis, assign them something easy. If you have children, this is a great opportunity to teach them life skills such as healthy meal planning, how to grocery shop (what to look for in produce, price comparison), math skills (fractions via measuring cups, addition or multiplication for meal servings), chemistry (baking soda makes batter rise when mixed with certain ingredients like milk), team work, and the pride of making a delicious meal. You could pick a theme for the meal, Italian or Chinese dishes, or tie it to a movie you might watch after dinner. French food followed by Ratatouille, for example. While eating, you can take turns asking each other questions from Table Topic cards. These cards pose interesting questions and come in a variety of themes including Family, Couples, and What Would You Do. However you decide to come together, a night of reconnecting ideally will produce lots of fun memories and maybe even start a yearly tradition.

3. Give and get great gifts the low-stress way

Leisure time is at a premium for most people, but especially so for super commuters and their families. Giftster.com and its app allow you to create private groups accessible from computers or smart phones where each person can post their wish list and even include links to where to buy the items. You can also use the site to organize a Secret Santa group and avoid duplicate gift giving. How does this help? First off, you save time! No need to drive from store to store or browse website-to-website trying to guess what your loved ones would like. No standing in line, no battling for parking spaces, no standing in even longer return lines when you get the same sweater from 3 people! And since many planes, trains, and buses are now equipped with Wi-Fi, commuters can point, click, and gift in route.

Another challenge of gift giving when your time at home is limited is keeping it all a surprise. Once you’ve purchased the gifts, how do you make sure no one is peeking? Keep those presents a secret by shipping gifts to your neighbor’s house or use an Amazon locker. Available in some US cities, your package is sent to a secure location and will stay there for up to 3 days until you can pick it up. A nice feature, especially when news reports about “porch pirates” are becoming more frequent.

4. Plan vacation time for the New Year

Reconnecting with loved ones in meaningful ways is an extremely important part of maintaining all types of long distance relationships and can go a long way in helping cope with a super commute. I had the privilege of being interviewed for an article about couples who commute and contributed to 5 tips on coping with a marathon commute to work. Here are the main points and you can read the details of each at http://www.today.com/money/5-tips-coping-your-marathon-commute-work-t40851

  • Get regular exercise and rest
  • Eat healthy
  • Make time for mental downtime
  • Stay connected with friends and family
  • Reconnect with loved ones after extended commutes

5. Logistics and scheduling

Logistics and scheduling can be tricky when you are frequently apart.  It may sound silly, but I recommend that you set aside some time over the holidays to plan more time together. Using an online scheduling program that you all have access to, or if you like to do things the old fashioned way, print out all 12 months of the new year, and together look at each month, entering events you know are happening. Don’t forget school vacations, any weddings or reunions, tournaments, visits from relatives, and those holidays that some people have off and others don’t. Planning ahead in this way also gives you plenty of lead-time to try and get the best deal possible on airfare and hotels. Most importantly, making a conscious effort to designate time together at the start of the year helps insure you WILL have that quality time together. Life, especially with children, gets busy quickly and weekends fill up fast.

In the U.S., long-distance marriages increased by 23% between 2000 and 2005, according to census figures analyzed by the Center for the Study of Long Distance relationships. In 2005, roughly 3.6 million married people in the U.S. lived apart for reasons other than marital discord, the center estimates.WebMD.com

No matter what holidays you and your loved ones celebrate, ideally those days are filled with laughter and memory making. Use the holiday season to strengthen your love and connection.  Managing expectations, incorporating strategies for lowering holiday stress, and planning time together are three ways to help make that happen.  Physical separation doesn’t have to mean emotional distance for super commuter couples or couples in long distance relationships.

If you’d like even more tips and advice and want to learn how other couples around the world are having successful long distance relationships and managing super commuter lifestyles, you can read their stories (and mine) in my book Super Commuter Couples: Staying Together When A Job Keeps You Apart.  You can find it here at Amazon or at your favorite bookseller.  Available in both paperback and ebook formats. Happy Holidays!

Therapist, speaker, coach, consultant, and author of Super Commuter Couples

Therapist, speaker, coach, consultant, and author of Super Commuter Couples

Questions? Contact me at info (at) meganbearce.com

Super Commuter Couples: Staying Together When A Job Keeps You Apart can be purchased from your favorite bookseller or for autographed copies, directly from me. A great on-boarding resource, please contact me for bulk order pricing.