On the evening of Sunday 15th of March a cheer rang out through my school as the President announced the schools would close under the declared state of disaster in South Africa.

The cheers were somewhat premature as the volume of excited voices drowned out the information that it was only effective in a few days’ time and would involve shortening the June/July holiday. The excitement, while understandable in the young, is also going to prove premature for a host of other reasons.

TAKING THE COVID-19 TEST

In the aftermath of the Presidential address it became clear that as someone who had recently returned to South Africa from the UK (out of the fire and into the frying pan), I had to go for testing followed by self-isolation. The next morning, having finally confirmed on the NICD hotline (you are number 85 in the queue) that a test was required, I headed off to the nearest test centre.

“This is going to be a little uncomfortable”, are the only words I remember from that morning. I don’t want to go into details, so I will just say I’ve never had anything inserted so far up my nostril. I found the whole experience anxiety provoking. Dealing with people in masks, while entirely necessary, feels like being on dystopian movie set. My blood pressure, taken at the time, soared. White coat hypertension apparently.

After what felt like a lot longer than two days, I got the call to say I was all clear.

Relief.

While all this was going on it turns out my colleagues were sending the departed students a barrage of work large enough to stop a small army in its tracks. Certainly, enough to curb the premature excitement of the recipients.

CORONAVIRUS LOCKDOWN

Like the pupils’ celebrations, my sense of relief has faded, as a combination of reality, news channels and social media have created a growing sense of collective anxiety. Just as the pupil’s excitement, my sense of relief was perhaps, premature. This was confirmed by the more recent Presidential address instructing us all to stay in our homes for a three-week period.

Anxiety well and truly back.

I am sure that you too have had your moments of fear and worry. Your children also. While we grapple with these emotions, we simultaneously have to navigate how we and our families manage during these unprecedented times. The problem with fear is that it is a potent and instinctive driver. Not a good climate for constrained family life at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic lockdown.

FAMILY SURVIVAL

For some guidance on the way forward I chatted with psychologist Rob Pluke around this topic. “If fear underpins all we do as families then I really doubt we’ll be able to avoid internal selfishness, irritation and carping” says Rob.

So how do we avoid getting sucked into fear in the choices we make and the way we relate to each other? Here are our pointers on the way forward.

Emphasize the why

As families we must find a compelling ‘why’ to what we are doing. If everyone has clarity on the importance of what we are being asked to do, it can help re-orientate us in difficult moments. This can include the reasons for your own family rules and routines. In these conversations try to include in your ‘why’ others in your community. We are not only taking actions for ourselves but for the good of others.

Count the cost

The next three weeksphil are going to present a challenge for most families. Living in proximity for days with my kin was not part of my holiday plan (and I am told, in no uncertain terms, that neither was it theirs).

“This national emergency demands cooperation, collaboration and common action. More than that, it requires solidarity, understanding and compassion.” President Cyril Ramaphosa.

It is going to be important to examine what this time asks of you and your family. Include your children in discussions about what it is going to take from each family member. Not only in terms of safety but also in relation to creativity, appreciation and care. Forget toilet paper, we are going to need to stockpile some of those Biblical staples like kindness and forgiveness.

As the letter to the Philippians says, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Hold on to love

Finally remember, as Jesus said, perfect love casts out all fear. As the responsible adults in your home the shift from fear to love does not need to be difficult, but it will require some leadership in terms of redirecting and re-framing conversations and the actions that follow. Paul reminds us that if we don’t have love, then we have nothing.

If we are clear about why we are doing what we are doing, aware of what it is going to take and manage to hold onto love, then our family times could even be fun, meaningful and memorable.

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