June 23, 2024
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June 23, 2024
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How Can We Revive Our Pre-COVID Family Dynamic?

Dear Dr. Chani,

It has been quite a challenging year for my family. Even though it seems like the world has adapted to COVID-19 and become more optimistic with the arrival of new vaccines, my family has not moved on. The effects of quarantining and home-schooling have worn down my family dynamic to the point that I fear it is beyond repair.

My husband and I have four children ranging in age from 5 to 16 years old. We both usually work in office jobs. Due to COVID-19, we have been perpetually working from home for the past 10 months. Our children have been in and out of school. When our children are home during the day, it makes it very difficult for my husband and me to focus on our work. There are constant disruptions. We don’t want our children to feel that they are not our priority, so we try to respond when they need our help or want our attention. But it seems like it’s never enough.

My husband and I are worried about losing our jobs because we struggle to keep up with the deadlines while working from home. We eventually get worn down by the stress of being pulled in two directions and we lose patience with our children. It’s a losing battle. We feel like failures at work and failures as parents.

We have also noticed that the relationships between our teenage children have gotten worse. We live in a modest three-bedroom home and our children share their bedrooms. Our teenage children are always fighting. They get into screaming matches over who gets to use the room to talk on the phone or when to turn off the light at night. Their relationships are strained to the point that they are barely civil to each other when we eat family meals together.

Everyone is under a lot of stress because our routines have been disrupted. It’s impossible to describe how tense the atmosphere in our family is right now. What can we do to repair our family and restore our sanity?



Dear Nina,

Your family has been through quite a whirlwind this year. The ongoing struggles to be productive and get along when you are all home together most of the time have worn your family down. Right now you are feeling so emotionally exhausted that you are wondering if your family will ever get past this experience.

It is understandable that the pandemic’s disruption to your status quo has deeply affected your family. As human beings, we thrive when we feel a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives.

Often, man’s pursuit of meaning is actualized by a specific schedule, significant responsibilities and required behaviors. When we feel like our life has a specific goal and direction, it makes it easier to get up in the morning, navigate the day and go to sleep at night. When many of those disappear, are altered or are not consistent, one can feel that life has lost some of its clear meaning. When a sense of meaning fades, one can become angry, short-tempered, irritable and hopeless. These feelings are a natural outgrowth of one losing or grappling with a sense of meaning. This is part of what your family is going through.

Coronavirus has caused many of the ways you and your family have felt meaning in your life to disappear or fade. The results are impatience, stressed relationships, and a sense of despair.

Another part of the stress your family is experiencing can be related to helplessness. When we’re in a situation that we are powerless to change, we often react by feeling hopeless, trapped and incapacitated. As a result, we begin to feel down, uptight and stressed. This has been the coronavirus experience. First, it exposed our inability to combat it, and then our lack of power to control significant areas of our lives such as our schedules, routines, finances and personal space. Therefore, it makes sense that you’ve seen a negative impact on your family’s moods, interactions and relationships.

Given this background, there are several things that you can do. to help your family recover. Firstly, help your family communicate about the difficulties of this experience. Carve aside time each day to touch base with each member of your family and ask about what he or she is going through. Listen, validate and empathize with their worries, concerns and frustrations. Discuss your observations about your family dynamic and work together to explore ways to improve it.

When it comes to your own worries about your jobs, speak to your employers to share your commitment, efforts and struggles. Ask them what they think about your performance. You might be pleasantly surprised. They might be impressed with your resilience and determination. Discuss what you can do to meet your employers’ expectations going forward so that you have clear goals.

There is no doubt that each of your family members is suffering in ways they have not yet expressed. As you encourage them to communicate and empathize with each other about their stresses and worries, they will have the ability to cope better with their stresses and frustrations, and their interactions will improve.

Another strategy you can take is to help each person in your family find meaningful goals that are within their control. Since it may be difficult to stick to your regular schedules and routines, identify new goals that you can consistently pursue each day. A new goal might be developing a hobby, following an inspiring podcast, studying a topic in-depth, redecorating part of your home, or volunteering. Setting a clear and achievable goal is like charging your internal emotional battery. Pursuing a goal helps to give you a sense of control and it establishes new meaning, purpose and direction.

Finally, let the change in your family dynamic start with changing yourself. It sounds like you are holding yourself to a standard that you set before the wave of COVID-19 washed over you. You know that it is impossible to maintain the status quo but it still feels like you are failing when you are unable to do so.

It sounds like you are suffering from coronavirus guilt. It is very common for parents to feel that they are disappointing their children. They feel that they are letting them down and not being the parents they should be. In fact, most parents are doing an excellent job, considering all the things they have to balance.

If parents would be kinder to themselves in their own minds, they would have more patience with their children, which the children would feel. Furthermore, they would be in a more positive mindset, which trickles down to the whole family. Internalize and model the attitude of being kind to yourself. Acknowledge and celebrate your successes, even small ones—like making a healthy meal. Encourage your family members to be kinder to themselves and celebrate their achievements. Being kinder to yourself and encouraging others to do the same will lift your family’s mood and improve your dynamic.

Although coronavirus has made this year a hard one, with a combination of communicating your challenges and getting validation from others, discovering a renewed sense of meaning, and internalizing positive attitudes about yourselves, your family can pull through the extraordinary difficulties of this year and reflect on how they grew from this experience.

Wishing you much success,


Dr. Chani Maybruch is a social psychologist and relationship coach, specializing in teaching emotional connection and communication skills for over two decades. She coaches individuals and couples, teaches courses on how to become a master of relationships, and provides free relationship resources at chanimaybruch.com. Learn a step-by-step method to improve your ability to emotionally connect with her new online course: The RELATE Technique™—Seven Steps to Emotionally Connect Through Conversation. Reach out to her at [email protected].

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