By Alicia Hoyte, MSc
Parenting in a pandemic has left us feeling vulnerable, uncertain, and anxious about the long-term impact on our children and ourselves. The pandemic, when superimposed on other stressors, contributes to uncertainty of our times.
We may feel powerless against the forces impacting our families. The constant readjustment to ‘new normals’ is stress-inducing, even if we have successfully juggled work and family life.
Stress is our bodies’ response to change so that even positive changes are still stressful. Parents worry about whether they and their children will “turn out okay” in the midst of all the upheaval.
Every crisis presents both challenge and opportunity, and this pandemic challenges the family to reclaim its critical role as the primary unit of human formation. Within its ordinary practices of daily life are the tools and weapons needed to safeguard the mental health of its members, teach and build character, and deepen one’s capacity for coping with challenges.
The Archdiocesan Family Life Commission promotes the Liturgy of the Domestic Church Life as a model of spirituality, which facilitates a more meaningful experience of God in everyday life, and the experience of one’s faith as the source of warmth in the family home.
The three liturgical rites of the domestic Church—Relationships, Rituals and Reaching Out—are everyday practices which, if done intentionally as well as prayerfully, have significant ameliorative benefits for ourselves and our children, in addition to building up the domestic Church.
and Reaching Out
Relationships form the basis for a secure parent-child attachment, which is a key protective factor for healthy child development. When children experience the parent/carer as a secure base from which they can launch, they have the confidence, internal calm, and resilience to engage with their surroundings and to develop their own healthy relationships with others.
Insecure or ambivalent attachment can be a risk factor for development of emotional and behavioural problems in the future. More than ever, in these times of uncertainty, our children need that sense of security from us.
Try this—during this coming week, observe how much time your family needs to spend together to feel connected, and in what activity. Maybe it’s a movie night, preparing Sunday lunch together, taking a drive or quiet time before bed. Then, purposely schedule in time for that activity during the week. Lock it into the family’s weekly schedule first and schedule everything else around it. Put energy and intention into making this time/activity special.
Relationships require time and effort. The act of giving of ourselves to each other builds intimacy, secures connection, and is the basis of the other two practices.
Rituals are the repeated patterns of behaviour that communicate our values and augment our identity as a family unit. This is more than just prayers and chores. The four key rituals of Work, Play, Talk and Pray all build connection, promote joy and create resilience in our children.
Regularly repeated practices such as family prayer, family meetings, ‘wasting’ time together, doing chores together, create predictability, a sense of identity, and reinforces family culture. This is where traditions and shared memories can identify and characterise our families for generations to come.
Consider inviting your household to complete some chores together, instead of merely giving instructions for it to be done. Try folding laundry, washing dishes, or cleaning the car with your child/teen in a companionable way. These are golden opportunities to talk, laugh and listen, especially with teenagers. Rituals can also impart a positive attitude towards housework/family life by its link to memories of fun/positive times with a parent, which augers well for their future.
Reaching Out, the third practice, refers to helping those more in need than ourselves, e.g., giving hampers, making donations, listening to someone, or sharing with a homeless person.
Engaging in this ministry of kindness teaches children, without a single lecture, to value service and responsible stewardship. Such meaningful action also shifts attention from our own suffering, widens our perspective, and reduces the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
Consider involving your family in helping another family in need, and model doing so with a cheerful heart. This communicates the value of loving service.
Over the years, the simple advice that love is spelt ‘time’ has often been ignored. Money is spent instead of time in trying to repair the brokenness in our families that could have been avoided.
The pandemic provides a golden opportunity to strengthen family life through simple domestic practices that can inoculate us against mental, spiritual, and emotional dysfunction.
The ‘3 Rs of Catholic Family Life’ are practices that work to foster mental health and wellbeing and improve our families’ ability to navigate an uncertain future. What families need to succeed in these tumultuous, complex, and ambiguous times lie within their grasp.
Alicia Hoyte has been in private practice for 17 years and is an active lifetime member of the People of Praise Prayer Community.
This monthly column is from the Trinidad and Tobago Association of Psychologists (TTAP). Email: email@example.com