During the coronavirus “shelter-in-place” time, my wife and I have been with our younger son’s family in La Mesa, CA, outside San Diego. (We live in Cortland, NY.) The virus restrictions extended our visit from one month to two. It’s a full house, with all seven of their kids home, the older three back from their closed colleges and doing their classes online.
Last night at dinner, I shared an email I had received from a journalist asking, “What are some things families can do together during this self-isolation period—as a family or even just with one other person?”
We brainstormed and came up a baker’s dozen:
1. Do “positives.” This is a fun, quick way to count your blessings. It can be done with a kid, spouse, or any other adult; we do it at bedtime. Take turns saying anything positive from the day that you’re grateful for. It can be something you got done, a way you helped someone, a kind thing someone did for you…maybe just a blue sky and sunshine. This can become a family ritual that endures beyond the virus.
2. Pray together, if you pray. We’re Catholic, so we’ve been saying a family Rosary each night after dinner, for an end to the virus and for everyone suffering from it.
3. Stay informed. Follow news coverage of the pandemic—in small doses, enough to foster awareness of safety measures and empathy for what people around the nation and world are going through, but not so much as to be overwhelming. For all of us, but especially for children, it's important to be aware of what good people are doing about the world's problems, so include news about all the ways “quiet heroes”—doctors, nurses, grocery clerks, etc.—are working to help the rest of us, as well as positive reports from places where things are getting better.
4. Enrich family conversation. Sources of questions that are good conversation starters, especially at mealtimes (with everyone invited to respond), include Harvard’s The Family Dinner Project, CHAT PACK (from TheQuestionGuys.com), and How to Raise Kind Kids. Sample questions:
- “What are two things you like about being a member of our family?”
- “What are two things other people can do to make you happy?”
- “What are two things you can do to make other people happy?”
- “What is something you wish we did more often as a family?”
- “What was one of the best things about today and one of the hardest things?”
- "What’s something that happened today that you didn’t expect?”
- “What helps you make a decision when you aren’t sure what to do?”
- “Why do some kids do drugs?”
- “What is something you wish everybody knew?”
- “What is an experience you’ve never told the family about?”
- “If there’s one thing you would have done differently in your life if you could, what would it be?”
- “If you wrote a letter to the President or someone else about one thing we could do to make our country better, what would you say?”
5. Watch a family movie and discuss it. We recently watched the 2002 sci-fi/drama “Signs” starring Mel Gibson (hostile aliens invade the Earth; the story centers on the threat to a farm family whose widowed father, a former Episcopal priest, has lost his faith because of a recent freak accident that killed his wife). We discussed it at our Saturday pancake breakfast the next day: “What was your favorite part?” “A character you liked?” “A line from the movie that sticks with you?” “Anything you thought was a flaw?” “What did you take away from the movie?” Good movies, like good books, are better when you talk about them.
6. Be a good neighbor. Be conscious of elderly persons or others in the neighborhood who might need help or just be lonesome. Our 46-year-old son takes an early morning half-hour walk, carrying his 11-month-old daughter in one arm. He told of stopping this week to talk with an elderly neighbor standing alone on his porch who seemed grateful for an opportunity just to have a conversation with someone.
7. Do a family project you haven’t had time to get to. One family we know is painting half the rooms in their house. The kids in our family pitched in on getting a garden ready for spring planting.
8. Spend more time outdoors. Take walks. Play together—maybe something you haven’t done in a while. The parents and kids here have been playing badminton in the backyard.
9. Contribute to a charity that helps the less fortunate. The poor have been hit hardest by the pandemic and will suffer the most going forward. Across the country, donations to food banks are way down at the very time that demand for assistance is soaring. In recent decades, global efforts have reduced by half the number of people living in “extreme poverty” (surviving on less than $2 a day), but projections are that this progress will be nearly wiped out by the coronavirus.
10. Learn more about your family history. Interview grandparents about your family’s history, and record it or write it down. We did a bit of that last night. The grandchildren learned some things they never knew about our family, such as how some of our early 20th-century ancestors lived in the heart of New York City. If your stories aren’t shared and captured, they’ll be lost forever. This time together is a chance to start, if you haven’t already, a family history project that you can continue in the future. Someday it will be treasured.
11. Take and share family photos. Post them or email them to family and friends you think might enjoy them. Most days, I’ve been taking and sending out pictures of Mira Elizabeth, the family’s delightful 11-month-old and our youngest grandchild. People say she brightens their day.
12. Read more. Check out thoughtful commentaries on what this crisis has revealed about problems with our health care system, national politics, and the staggering challenges the country will face on the road to economic recovery. Read a book aloud to your kids or grandkids. Do more spiritual reading. Share what you've found valuable.
13. Browse a good website about people making a positive difference in the world. A personal favorite: the Giraffe Heroes Project (www.giraffe.org, #StickYourNeckOut), which tells the uplifting stories of 1,500 everyday heroes of all ages who have been recognized for “sticking out their necks” to help others. Their compassion and courage can inspire all of us to ask, how can we be “giraffes” in our own neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, and community?