Family Resilience and Wellbeing Update
The goal of our Family Resilience and Wellbeing study is to identify the different ways families remain resilient in the face of inevitable life challenges. This year has presented many challenges! The COVID-19 pandemic is placing ongoing demands on families, and so we wanted to share some findings regarding the ways families sustain wellbeing during these challenging times.
Families in Lockdown
In April, during the Level 4 COVID-19 lockdown, we invited families to complete an online questionnaire to assess how the lockdown was affecting NZ families.
365 parents completed the questionnaire (78% of the families invited). Most of these families (84%) were living with more than one child at home.
Nearly a third of parents reported a loss in income and/or paid work revealing the economic pressure COVID-19 lockdowns are putting on NZ families. Yet, when asked to describe what was most challenging, the majority of parents mentioned balancing work while managing childcare and schooling was the most difficult aspect of lockdown.
Many families also expressed many positive experiences, including having the opportunity to connect with and spend quality time together as a family, such as having meals together as a family, going on walks, and doing fun activities or projects together.
Parents Health and Wellbeing
Families faced stressful challenges across a range of domains (health, employment, financial, parenting, etc.) that had an important effect on parent’s health and wellbeing.
Parents who experienced more stress across different domains showed greater decreases in health and well-being during lockdown, especially if parents were trying to hide their negative emotions or kept thinking about problems over and over.
Parents who faced more stress also experienced more conflict and had difficulty supporting one another.
Maintaining Healthy Relationships
Many couples were able to reduce these negative effects of stress on health and wellbeing.
Couples who did not view the challenges of the lockdown as a problem with their relationship, and were able to provide emotional and practical support to one another, were better able to sustain satisfaction and well-being.
Couples that were most able to buffer the detrimental effects of stress faced challenges together.
Commit to being a team. Working through stress and conflict as a team can put challenges in context, helping you see the demands of the pandemic as a hurdle you can overcome together in ways that can strengthen your relationship.
Communicate. Understanding each other’s perspective provides the basis for knowing what support is needed and how to resolve problems. Constructively expressing your needs, even when that is uncomfortable, is more beneficial than stifling dissatisfaction or withdrawing.
Cool off. Anxiety or anger often interferes with our ability to listen or express ourselves in a constructive way. Cooling off and regrouping to more calmly discuss the issue can really help.
Reciprocate support. Expressing your concerns provides the opportunity for your partner to provide the support you need. Listening to your parents’ concerns helps you to respond to what your partner needs in return.
Reach out. Remembering that you are both stressed helps to put problems in perspective. Reaching out to your family and friends for support can help restore the resources you need to resolve problems together.
Stress and Parenting
Stress also reduces people’s capacity to manage the challenges of parenting. Parents who experienced greater stress and lower well-being found it more difficult to be responsive to their children during the lockdown.
This finding is consistent with other studies from around the world. The pandemic and lockdowns have made parenting very challenging!
But, couples who worked together as cooperative co-parents buffered the effects of distress on parenting.
The negative effects of stress on parenting were reduced when partners provided each other more emotional and practical support, and when both parents banded together to work together as a parenting team.
Parenting together protected families and well-being.
Share expectations. Working together involves agreeing on shared rules and expectations. Try to get on the same page about how you want the family to operate, and then try to share the responsibility of keeping this routine. Consider what worked best during the last lockdown.
Appreciate each other. Try to be realistic about each other’s parenting—no one is a perfect parent. Try to support and appreciate each other’s parenting efforts and be understanding when it doesn’t go well. Build up each other’s confidence because feeling like you are a capable parent is especially important in remaining responsive to your children during challenging times.
Show a united front. Work together so that routines and expectations are consistently communicated to your children. Showing children that you are a united front helps children feel secure and enhances the well-being of the whole family.
Read this article from the Royal Society Te Apārangi to learn about our research conducted during the April 2020 COVID-19 lockdown in New Zealand.
Read this article from the Greater Good Science Centre at UC Berkeley to find out what helps couples get through the pandemic.
Read Dr Jessica Maxwell's tips for staying sexually satisfied in long-term relationships in the latest issue of In Mind magazine.