I think it’s safe to say that the past few months have been hard. The lost jobs, the closed businesses, the school disruptions, the tight quarters, the social inequities, the long hours, the fear, the inability to travel, the illness, and — worst of all, obviously — the deaths. There isn’t a single person who hasn’t been impacted by COVID-19 in one way or another.
Yet, as with all things, nothing is black and white. While I won’t call them “silver linings,” there have been some positive stories that have been cropping up during these trying times. Moments of hope. A shared sense of humanity. The collective belief that we are in this together.
One of the most heartwarming trends I’ve noticed is a coming together of families. Be it between partners — your little bubble of two — working parents with toddlers, or millennial children who have moved back home, quarantine life has given many people an opportunity to spend more quality time with their loved ones.
Here are three unexpected benefits that have developed as a result:
A Stronger Relationship
My husband and I will celebrate our four-year wedding anniversary, and twelve-year dating-versary, this September. In all the years we’ve been together, we haven’t actually spent that much time just the two of us. We did long distance for the first four years of our relationship, I used to travel almost weekly for work, he commuted every day to an office, we spent a lot of time with family and friends, we pursued our own hobbies. In an effort to remember to spend quality time together, we had a standing date night on the calendar for the first Saturday of the month.
Now, every night is date night!
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows over here. Living in 400 square feet is a bit small for two people 24/7. But on the whole, we are grateful to have so much quality time together, more time than we’ve ever had before. We’re cooking together, eating most of our meals together, watching TV shows together, listening to podcasts together, playing Bananagrams together, running together, and brewing kombucha together. Heck, we even work side-by-side now, so it feels like we’re working together, too. It’s a lot of together time, sometimes too much together time, but as a 2014 study in the Journal of Marriage & Family suggests, individuals experience greater happiness and meaning, and less stress, while spending time with their spouse rather than apart. That’s certainly been the case for us.
The 19th Summer
In his newsletter “Friday Forward,” Robert Glazer, founder and CEO of global performance marketing agency, Acceleration Partners, and the co-founder and Chairman of BrandCycle, talked about how, despite the difficult circumstances, it’s been nice to spend time with his kids who have moved back home because of COVID-19. He calls it the 19th summer, a bonus summer parents normally don’t get with their kids because they’re usually off at college or busy with jobs, internships, and hanging out with friends.
I’ve heard of a lot of empty-nesters feeling similarly — grateful for the extra time with their college-age or adult children. Time they wouldn’t ordinarily have spent together as a family after the kids left home. In a strange way, the lockdown has allowed families to get reacquainted with each other as adults and form new, closer relationships.
I’ll be the first to admit that I am hardest on those I love. With COVID-19 putting me on edge more than usual, I have been quick to jump down my parents’ throats. It took some space and self-reflection before I was able to cultivate compassion for them, compassion for their fears, their attempts to connect, their ways of dealing with all of the COVID-19 stress that are different than mine.
Here’s the thing. We’re all struggling. We’re all stressed. None of us are at our best right now. This is important to keep in mind, especially if you are living under the same roof as someone else. Learning to surrender control, give people the benefit of the doubt, and prioritize what matters is key to getting through the pandemic with grace.
As one wise teenager, Mary Pellicio from Massachusetts, shared in a recent New York Times article:
I think that the reason why my family is doing so well is that we know so much is out of our control. It’s safe to say my family and I are control freaks but in situations like this we just take as many precautionary measures as we can. We take everything one day at a time and are grateful that we get to spend time together. We all agree on the important issues at hand, although we may have petty arguments about small things. But those don’t really matter and we come to realize that quickly.
It’s a difficult time for all of us. But if you only dwell on what’s not going well, it will take a serious toll on your mental health. Instead, without denying your stress and hardship, it can be helpful to also notice what is going well in your life. For example, how can you appreciate the extra time you get to spend with your partner, your parents, or your children?
Even if you aren’t able to be physically together, see what a difference it makes to be fully present the next time you speak with a loved one on the phone or over Zoom. It’s not every day that we have so few obligations that we can give each other our undivided attention.
I’ll be honest, there’s a part of me that will be sad when things open back up and my husband and I return to our schedule-filled lives. I hope we won’t get so busy again that we need a calendar invite to remind us to spend time together.