Your home is your castle? Well, how do you like it now that you have to stay there maybe 24/7?

The challenges we are facing during the pandemic are intriguing. I commented to a friend yesterday, that I was distressed to hear so many stories about people who are struggling to spend time at home with their families. I’ve long know a lot of ‘career’ people who enjoyed the imbalance they had created in life by abandoning a real sharing of obligations and leaving a heavy load (often children, domestic tasks) to a partner or others (including schools and teachers). Now, some of that is coming to buck; no place to run, no place to hide.

My wife and I took a decision decades ago to put family life high relative to work and kept some strict rules, such as leaving work by a certain time to be able to get home and prepare and eat dinner with our children.. But, it went beyond just family; we are people of faith and we tried to respect that by how we used our time. For instance, we have NEVER worked during Holy Week; no problem in the UK or Caribbean, where Good Friday through Easter Monday are holidays, but not soin the USA where Christians celebrate Easter Sunday but not publicly the other days around it. Admitted, my wife’s current work involves a lot of travel, she tries to be home for a weekend in the worst of circumstances. We also never were in the habit of bringing work home; the line had to be drawn. But, many others loved to keep them blurred and never really focused on who was not getting their attention, especially if their incomes were high enough to pay off some of the problems, eg with elite private schools or domestic help or fancy trips.

I think the importance we put on family life is having a positive pay-off now. Spending 3 weeks in my mother-in-laws house over many Christmases means that now she is into her 2nd month with us is not an unusual or unbearable situation.

A good friend, who works as a clinical psychologist, was on local TV yesterday morning talking about (couples) communication issues. It’s apparent that many close relationships are being strained. But, some of the points she made that resonated were:

  1. Some men are good communicators; so are some women. Some women are good at communicating certain things, but so too are some men.
  1. Listening to children (and others) is more than just hearing but paying attention to what is really being said. (I like giving our teen pride of place at dinner to share news about her day; she has a voice but empowering her clearly, I think, helps her see that it’s not a bag a words.)
  • When we have to negotiate time and space often, it puts a strain on many things, including our self-perception and our sense of entitlement. Many households have a head, and it’s not about some generalized notion of gender roles, but can also be shared, depending on tasks (which sometimes follow gender lines) which ought to reflect talents and abilities. Navigating those household roles when everyone’s in the picture, rather than flitting in and out as usual, can become tense. Everyone’s previous rights have to be renegotiated.
  • Concretely, my wife has taken possession of the upstairs landing as her office space; she had a desk there but now it’s a fully operational space, with many devices and screens and headphones, and her business is now our business.
  • Our daughter is now in virtual school, and she cleared her room to make for a better working space with a large space on her floor that now doubles as a studio when she decides to do some painting. My wife cranked up WiFi access to make her and our daughter’s Internet access more robust. I’ve carved out space in the kitchen, and latterly moved to a place on the patio. We can all do our ‘work’ without much interruption by each other.
  • My in-laws are floating around from chairs to tables to sofas mainly finding ways to relax and stay in touch with their Bahamian families. Their daily Devotionals are not trivial elements in their lives, but core to how they see life needs to be lived.
  • Our live-in housekeeper rules the kitchen but is also part of our family. That last part is something that Caribbean people will not find strange, but others may think odd; we have used domestic help in our lives at many levels for decades, and the benefits of that have been clear to us and we marvel how in many ‘advanced’ countries people haven’t used their incomes to lighten their domestic loads in this way.
  • Lines are blurred now in what we call work-life balance.
  • Lots of norms are being reset, eg how to work remotely and does it matter what you wear ‘at work’ or if you stay in bed while on a virtual session, and how to read visual cues in a digital setting. Can we sustain friendships without close contact? How hard will life be without Internet access or a home with space? Can people stay home for extended periods if income isn’t assured and food security is an issue?
  • Social distancing is one of the biggest challenges most are facing. However, because we are staying home a lot it’s not something that challenges us too much except for dinner. We have space and can stay 6 feet/2 metres apart most of the time. We have made sure that the protocol is respected by anyone who comes to the house. Friends who’ve come to collect mangoes I offered have picked them up from the front gate post. A young elite swimmer who’s been coming to use our pool passes by the outside of the house, and he and his mother stay as far from the house as they can while he’s in the water. We chat at a distance. It’s part of the new normal. We accept it and respect it.

    We’re getting used to travelling around with our masks and sanitizers, and assume that will be part of life for some time to come, if not forever. Being on good terms with those whom we say we love and care for is vital at any time, but more so now, as what seems like an unending saga goes on for another day, and on, without clear end. That uncertainty really takes a toll on many and having at least a few people close by who can understand and discuss and allay the fears that come with that may prove to be the biggest challenge yet, in the long run.