The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has spread globally and affected millions of people all over the world. Many families are placed under great pressure due to everyone having to stay home in compliance with social distancing measures. Your family might be people whom you love the most but living in close proximity 24-7 can be an extremely stressful experience, especially while going through unprecedented difficulties at work and school, as well as the mental strain the arises from social isolation and the fear of the virus.
Working and schooling from home has generated additional conflicts when it comes to division of household, caregiving, and childcare duties amongst married couples. Many felt they had to fend for themselves with very little support during extended periods of lockdown. Women especially, were hardest hit by this, as they tend to take on more tasks and responsibilities at home than their husbands, and very frequently they may be the first to sacrifice their careers for the sake of the family. Disputes tend to result in these areas leading to more arguments and is disagreements are exacerbated because there are few avenues for each family member to decompress.
Under such trying times, it is no wonder that problems of family violence and abuse tend to rise, and mental health problems are aggravated or begin to take root. Particularly in Singapore, many citizens live in smaller public housing apartments and this has produced more challenges in navigating the lockdown period because there is less breathing space for each family member.
According to the Singapore Police Force, there had been a 22% increase in family violence reports during the circuit breaker period in 2020 compared to the monthly average in the period before the circuit breaker. Correspondingly, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) in Singapore reported a 14% increase in enquiries pertaining to domestic violence and conflicts, while the Family Violence and Specialist Centres and PAVE Integrated Services for Individual and Family Protection saw a 37% increase within the first two weeks of the circuit breaker in 2020.
This finding is consistent with the increased demand for couples counselling services. According to the Singapore Counselling Centre, they had observed a 20% increase in the demand for couples counselling session in the latter half of 2020 compared to the previous year.
The effects of marital problems on parenting are apparent as parents also often transfer their stress to their children by using excessively harsh parenting methods. Children are particularly affected when there are more marital problems or abuse happening in the family. Negative emotions, such as fear and anxiety, cause a myriad of problems depending on the age of the children:
- Younger children in preschool may start to regress and exhibit some behaviours that are less appropriate for their developmental age such as bedwetting or thumb-sucking. They may also start crying more or throw tantrums in an attempt to self-soothe or seek assurance from their parents.
- School-aged children who can comprehend the situation may blame themselves for the family violence and this hurts their self-esteem. Their grades at school may decline as the stress compromises their ability to concentrate in school. They may even lose friends by being less social in school and get into more trouble often. Some may report psychosomatic symptoms such as headaches and stomach-aches.
- Teenagers may start fighting with the family members or become delinquent. They will have a higher tendency of taking risks such as having unprotected sex, using alcohol and drugs, and start getting into trouble with the law.
The long-term effects on the children also include potential for more health problems in adulthood such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. They may also be more prone to mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. In addition, the tendency to be involved in abusive families when they grow up will also be higher as the family trauma tends to repeat itself down the generation. Thus, it is vital to provide your children with a healthy family environment so they can begin their life from a good starting ground.
Conflicts need not be viewed in a negative way. If family disharmony is handled well, it can help to further strengthen family relationships. Constructive conflict management and stress management skills are crucial for families to cope with the upheaval that the coronavirus brought to our lives.
The first step is to identify negative feelings and thoughts and be vigilant in watching out for signs of stress among your family members. Your thoughts govern how you act and feel thus, reframing unconstructive negative thinking errors such as catastrophic thoughts can help to ease the stress you experience. Communicate daily with your kids and nip those unhelpful thought patterns in the bud.
Family bonding time is especially valuable, even if you find that you are already spending a lot of time cooped up at home. Doing things all of you enjoy at home as a family such as having indoor game nights or attend a virtual workout session together is extremely beneficial for kids to provide them with much-needed exercise and fun which releases feel-good endorphins to help both parents and children cope with stress.
It is also important to allocate time for weekly family meetings to calmly talk about the problems each of you are facing and brainstorm for solutions as a family. The win-win approach requires each member to communicate issues in objective and descriptive terms and to strive for mutually acceptable solutions for all. Evaluate the outcome of the implemented solutions and agree on its effectiveness.
Lastly, talk about your feelings without blaming anyone. Throw in some jokes or humour which are great stress releasors and can diffuse tense situations. Self-care is vital. Stay connected to your friends and family virtually to keep things in perspective and teach your kids to do so with their classmates and family.
It is not possible to avoid disagreements just by changing our partners or family because conflicts are naturally inherent in relationships. Re-evaluate your expectations because everyone is having a hard time, and know that it is unrealistic to expect your partner and children to meet all your needs all the time.
The pandemic may be a great crisis for many but like the Chinese word (危机) for it, it represents both an opportunity and danger. Why not use it to your advantage and make your family strong enough to weather future storms that lie ahead!
Article contributed by Edmund & Jenny, Dating Moments