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Opinions of Thursday, 30 April 2020

Columnist: Rev. Fr. David Selasie Agah, SVD

Family life in time of a pandemic (coronavirus): The benefits and the challenges {Part 1}

Rev. Fr. David Selasie Agah, SVD Rev. Fr. David Selasie Agah, SVD

Our world has been confronted with many challenges, such as economic hardships, famine, and wars, among many others. However, in recent time, Coronavirus or better known as COVID-19 has threatened the existence of humanity on the surface of the earth than never before.

This disease has brought almost every human activity to a halt in the world; be it business and economics, church and religious activities, academic works just to name a few.

As a result of this turn of the world event, people from all walks of life are advised to stay at home to prevent the spread of this viral disease. This is technically known as ‘Lock Down’; to wit, restricted movement of people and social distancing.

One very important aspect of human life that has drawn the attention of many people as result of this pandemic leading to a ‘Lock Down’ is family life.

The question that many people ask today is how will this situation impact on family life? It is a forgone conclusion that a lot has changed in the context of the family over the years and a lot keeps changing in the present and a lot may change in the future for better or for worse depending on how the family situation is managed in this period of a pandemic.

We may admit that in as much as has been appreciated with regard to family life, much has also been taken for granted over the years. Family life is the cradle for human existence, social relationship, human development and sustenance.

Hence, its importance cannot be over emphasised without the succinct scheme for its sustenance and continuity for the future. In this precarious time, I set out to look at the theme; the family life in time of a pandemic (coronavirus): the benefits and the challenges.

For lack of space and time, this short essay will give a gist of what constitutes a family? And then dive into the benefits and the challenges available to the family in time of a pandemic (Coronavirus). This will be followed by a conclusion on the theme.

What is a Family?

By way of a narrow definition, a family is made up of a husband and wife with or without children. However, in a broader perspective, a family is an organization or establishment that goes a long way to include functioning such as sharing of roles and aims, identity, ability to provide some physical and emotional needs for those who make up the organization (Yarhouse & Sells, 2008, p. 26).

Thus, the family does not just exist as a group of people with different objectives and mission, rather it exists as a unit with a common goal, unity and cohesion. As a unit therefore, it involves various elements such as structure and subsystems. All these aspects function together to create consistency, interconnection and stability in the family.

However, we must admit that cohesion and stability do not come easily. It involves many challenges that bring changes which may or may not be easily accepted leading to conflicts among members (Nichols 2013, pp. 67-68).

One particular moment that all the dynamics of the family come to play, is this time of a pandemic when the family stays together under lock down, where movement is restricted. In this unexpected or unforeseen condition, what could be some benefits that the family can derive from the situation and what challenges are there for the family to confront?

The Family in Time of a Pandemic (Coronavirus): The Benefits

It is said that the ‘family that learn to stay together live together’. This statement means a lot, especially in moment like this when coronavirus has kept many people at home.

To start with, it is interesting to note that the current turn of event in the world will strengthen family bonding. One very important reason for spending time together is about bonding.

In this current situation, the presence of parents (couples) with or without children at home create the opportunity for the family to carry out different activities together such watching movies together, gardening, participating in indoor games and praying together.

This aspect of family life helps to make members feel secure, united and closer emotionally to each other, thereby creating the dynamics such as cohesion that is needed to forge ahead in terms of growth and development (Walsh 2003, pp. 10-11).

The time also serves as an opportunity for strengthening interpersonal relationship in the family. Family members get to know each other better at the behavioural and emotional level. In the sense that activities and works outside home which have taken this essential aspect away, is no more there as usual. Many parents (couples) spend greater part of their time at work, they hardly have time to know each other. In this way there are many things that even parents (couples) do not know about one another.

The current situation therefore set the ambience for family members to get closer to each other, to know and appreciate the effort of one another. In addition, many parents (couples) try to play it safe by using work to cover up for certain responsibilities or problems. In such time of a pandemic, one cannot but confront issues that have been covered and try to find solution to those problems.

Besides, this period also gives children the opportunity to discover their parents better. In the sense that there is ample time for the children to engage their parents in interaction (physically and emotionally) while parents at the same time get to know their own children better with regards to the values they have acquire from homes and those that they are bringing in from the outside world (schools); and how those values have influenced and keep influencing the behaviour pattern of the children.

This dynamics give the family the opportunity to know how those values can bring about resistance owing to the fact that, they may become new and foreign to the family and how it should be managed to bring the acceptable changes in the family leading to growth and development as well as effective and positive communication in order to lessen violence and conflicts in family life.

Thus, one other benefit that the family can derive from the situation of this pandemic is the benefit of good and effective communication. The current condition in the world will afford the family the opportunity to grow healthy, because of effective and deep communication which creates a conducive environment for members to share their experiences with one another, express their feelings openly and work towards achieving their collective goal as a unit.

It affords parents to understand the language of their children better.
Effective communication also gives members ample time and desire to receive constructive feedback and concrete criticisms that bring about development and growth not without resistance, owing to different personality that form the family.

It will also help members to understand each other better. Besides, the means of communication will have an influence on the subsystem of the family on how to abandon and renounce certain old and rigid way of functioning to embracing a more flexible and enhance means further going forward.

For instance, how parents are able to drop the mentality of sole controllers of family actions and inactions (master -servant relationship) to learning new ways of reasoning with their children whom they have not had closer relationship with for a long time.

This gives each member the needed advantage to understand the basic mode of communication in the family, be it semiotic or verbal depending on the situation that pans out in family life (Wynne, 1984, pp. 305-307, Nichols. 2013, p. 55).

Furthermore, one aspect that will benefit family life in this moment of crisis is the value of love. As a result of spending quality time together, the family at this time may select activities that may promote love and togetherness, especially among parents as more important than all other things. Parents will be able to integrate their love for each other and in doing so they extend it to their children. This improves the level of happiness, harmony and positive growth in the family.

The expression of love can take many forms, such as nurturance and altruism, whereby parents demonstrate actions that make children feel that they are loved and appreciated in the family. For example, it could take a form of complimenting the little effort of children these days at home. It makes them feel good and affords them the opportunity to learn how to appreciate and accentuate the positive side of other people in their social relationship. In the same vein, parents themselves can complement the efforts of each other while spending quality time together. This goes a way further to promote healthy living.

Besides, during this time of a pandemic, the expression of love helps to strengthen the bond among family members. It creates a certain connectedness among family members. It also shows how everyone is appreciated and valued as a unique individual. Thus, no one is left alone to his fate.

Moreover, the current situation also affords children the opportunity to learn certain values and traditions from their parents’ own culture(s) that will help them to build self- confidence. Owing to inactivity in family life in this area for a long time in the past, many parents could not create time to teach their children certain family values and traditions pertaining to their own culture(s).
Thus, children mostly rely on what they are taught in the academic setting to shape their future life.

However, with the current turn of events, where parents find themselves at home with their children, many parents will get to know that individualism has taken the place of communal life in the family. Helping children to know about family values and traditions, will go a long way to build self -confidence and promote sensitivity among family members as they learn to be positive and optimistic in life situations.

Acquiring values also help to inculcate in children the value of sharing and self -discipline. Values and traditions also help to strengthen the religious beliefs in the family.