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Words: Emily Shaw

Lockdown – although vital to our survival – is having catastrophic effects on many South Africans. Pay cuts, family tension, isolation and loneliness for some and anxiety for all, it’s an unprecedented time in our lives.

That said, seeking the positive in this period and remaining optimistic is paramount to the stability of our mental health and the happiness of those around us. It’s possible to use this time to our advantage – and not just to make endless, fantastical lists involving daily yoga and meditation. Three weeks (and possibly more) is a great opportunity in which to make marginal changes to the way we approach our lives – for the better.

Rewiring connection

When last did you ask your friends what they truly want from life, at their age now? Do you know what your partner’s favourite colour is? Or their favourite memory of childhood? Quarantine will be a catalyst for friction in many couples and families, but it can also be a time of real connection – a bonding time to rediscover the people most important to us.

If a normal week in the past year was a whirlwind of school pick-ups and last-minute deadlines only to finish zoning out in front of a movie, you can now make space for an evening where you reach out to your partner.

A relaxed and fun way to get the ball rolling – especially after a week or two in the same home – is to ask each other the most seemingly mundane questions in a casual quiz format: what sport have you always wanted to play? What was your first pet? What is the first pop/rock/punk song you can remember?

While on the surface a throwaway, these prompts allow us to become nostalgic and often organically turn into new avenues of conversation in which both partners show real interest in each other – and not just what needs to be done around the house.

You can connect to your teens, too, in the same way by getting them to ask you questions, as well as to tell them stories about their grandparents, their aunts and uncles, their godparents and cousins. A photo album helps tremendously for impromptu anecdotes and if you’re lucky enough, a skype call to the individual in the story would turn it from memory into magic.

Lines in the sand

In a busy week of work, exercise, child-rearing, homemaking, gardening, and a stack of other activities, it’s quite easy to simply “do the job yourself”. Time at home allows all family members to be able to witness – first-hand – the mammoth task it is to run a well-ordered family.

Boundary-setting is a difficult process, but a particularly important one which not only alleviates pressure on the primary homemaker, but teaches responsibility, accountability and often skill to more junior, or more absent family members. The smallest things, from choosing what to make for dinner to trickier undertakings like cooking it and all the way to demarcating “me time”, are valuable teachable moments for parents of children and teens.

While homeschooling and keeping up with studies is important for routine and retention, many other life lessons which most parents bemoan they weren’t taught, are just as vital. Take this time to show your kids how to change a tyre, how a tax return works, what a grocery shop costs, and how to stretch a meal.

Have fun with this “life curriculum” and ask your kids what they would like to learn. In doing so you will be sharing the load and creating respect and empathy – and hopefully upon our return to the real world, a more peaceful, less busy lifestyle.

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