The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted how we work, trade with others, study in schools, relate to our families and worship God. And because important areas of our lives have been affected, we should all the more think of ways to mitigate its ill effects. I would like to mention two effects on families and suggest three coping strategies.
One outcome is the added strain on frayed family relationships. The need to limit community transmission means spending more time at home, often competing with family members for the same resources like private space, FaceTime on online devices, as well as time for work, each other and self. When these interactions rub each other the wrong way, we see increased conflict and in bad situations, incidences of domestic violence.
This pandemic has also highlighted how unequal our society has become. The income and resource gaps may have gone unnoticed for some time but now that the pandemic has brought on a major economic crisis, the plight of those in the lowest percentiles cannot be ignored. For now, with massive government support both indirectly and directly available to poorer families, their economic neediness may not yet be fully felt. But as weeks turn to months and possibly to years, many families will be in for a prolonged hard time.
How can families adapt in such a chronic and unrelenting crisis? Three strategies may help families cope better.
The first is that families that are better able to synergise, cope better. To have synergy is to be able to draw together and support one another. It is tantamount to the pioneers of the Wild West who circled their wagons to provide 360-degree protection against enemy attack. They drew strength in numbers and pooled together their resources. Families can achieve greater synergy if they have reasonably good relationships with one another. So, it makes sense to maintain healthy relationships with family and friends.
In the absence of being able to draw strength from each other or when supportive relationships are few and far between, the second coping strategy is interfacing, where the family in need draws upon resources further afield. These could be both formal and informal helping resources, for example, the Social Service agencies and church communities, neighbours and the extended family. For this strategy to be effective, needy families must know of the existence of these resources. Moreover, they must be ready to call upon the resources, rather than choosing to suffer in silence because they feel ashamed or embarrassed.
Finally, the third helpful strategy is compromise. When the dust from the pandemic settles, families may have to recalibrate their hopes, dreams and plans. Some may review decisions for an overseas education or home upgrading. Still others may cut back on discretionary daily purchases, like eating at home more often or shopping in discount stores. Making compromises can happen only when we are prepared to face the future squarely.
As believers, we may apply the strategy of compromise with a difference. Rather than viewing the future as bleak, we can ask God for new lenses, or His vision or perspective on our circumstances. Writing to the people of Israel in exile, the prophet Jeremiah reminded them that their Lord knew His plans for them. Instead of viewing their captivity as their downfall as a nation, they were assured that God’s plan was for their welfare and to give them hope and a future (Jer 29:11-13). We may not yet see the end of this pandemic but with our eyes on God, we already know how it will end.
Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award, received in 2011, and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.