Maintaining Positive Family Dynamics in a Post-Pandemic World—the Work Starts Now

Hands of family members cupping a paper cutout of a family

Julie Griffin Smith, MFTBy Julie Griffin-Smith,

Marriage and Family Therapist

July 21, 2021

Maintaining Positive Family Dynamics in a Post-Pandemic World—the Work Starts Now

It’s March 12, 2020, Mark is in the garage setting up what would become his makeshift law office, our little ones are running around the living room squeezing in a last bit of play before dinner, and I’m looking over a family plan thinking about an upcoming session. Just as I call the kids to the kitchen, Mark walks in from the garage, eyes looking down at his phone reading a text—his Army National Guard unit is being activated to help with COVID-19 response operations and they needed him to come in right away. And thus, our family’s pandemic experience begins.

Within two weeks, everyone’s kids were home from school, offices were closed, and uncertainty emanated. After nineteen years as a military family, which included year-long deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, we considered ourselves pretty resilient. But this felt different. Because this was different. Of our two oldest, Charlotte was only seven and Preston only six, yet they faced near total isolation from their peers after being suddenly ripped out of a life filled with school activities, swim lessons, dance, karate, and playdates. And Dad was now gone most of the time. It was heartbreaking for us to witness their anguish; as parents, we want to be everything for our kids, but we simply can’t fill the shoes of a six-year-old’s best friend. Also demoralizing for our wellbeing was the closure of preschools; having our youngest children (Josephine (3) and Everly (2)) at home with no respite brought my counseling practice to a grinding halt.

Early research on the effects of the pandemic show we’re not alone in our parental stress. Over 44% of parents with children under 18 years old living at home “reported worse mental health as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic compared with 35.6% of respondents without children.” Examining the Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Family Mental Health. Initial research also indicates that parents “reported more frequent negative as well as positive interactions with their children due to the pandemic.” Examining the Impacts (italics added).

This is where parents can make a difference by establishing systems that promote frequent positive interactions with their children, such as:

  1. setting a family schedule;
  2. identifying household tasks that include your children to serve as bonding activities; and
  3. consciously pivoting in a more positive direction by encouraging everyone to say how they feel about a situation, validate that feeling, and troubleshooting as a family about how to improve together.

So, as life begins a return to “normal,” what’s next for parents? A year of lost socialization and isolation will increase the likelihood of children experiencing increased stress in a post-pandemic world. Be cognizant that increased stress manifests itself in children by an increase of undesirable behaviors (tantrums, defiance, increased aggression, visible anxiety), often first noticed in the form of uncontrolled energy, lethargy, and/or emotional dysregulation. Talk to your kids daily about their feelings on returning to school, interacting with their peers, and about Mom and Dad (or Mom(s) / Dad(s) / Grandparents) not being immediately nearby all the time. For parents, the “more frequent positive interactions” with our children may be one of the few positive aspects of the pandemic. As busy professionals with demanding careers, we’ve likely gotten to spend more time with our kids than any generation of working parents before us. Don’t let those daily walks, shared music times, or meals together slip away as we return to the bustle of life—create defined family schedules that incorporate the positive interactions you’ve established with your kids over the past year.

As parents wanting to ensure our families thrive in a post-pandemic world, the work starts now. It won’t always be easy, but it will always be worth it.

About the Author

Julie Griffin Smith, MFT

Julie Griffin-Smith has been working in the field of behavioral health for 20 years.

Julie’s specialty is in-home Family Counseling—with the goal of helping families regain hope that they can function better, find fulfillment, and be happier together.

As an LMFT specializing in family dynamics and childhood behavior issues, she founded Brick Road Counseling, recognizing the need for services provided in the home, to the family as a whole. As opposed to addressing issues solely on an individual basis, Brick Road Counseling’s focus on family therapy acknowledges that problems rarely occur in isolation; every member of the family plays a role because everyone in the family matters.

Outside of her counseling, Julie enjoys life with her partner/husband of 20 years Mark, four children (Charlotte (8), Preston (7), Josephine (4), Everly (3)), and Boston Terrier pup, Penny.

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