Being Present for Yourself, Your Family and Your Friends
This paper describes some thoughts which we have had regarding the experience of being restricted to life in your home with the exception of essential shopping for food and medicine, travel for essential services only and an hour of daily exercise. Various countries have various changing restrictions, but these are the baseline restriction
We are describing some possible ways for people in different roles to use this time at home: single people living alone, couples, parents with young children, parents with adolescents and older people. We assume that young people probably have found their way through the various social media and friendship groups, but will find interesting thoughts from the variety of ideas we mentioned in our May 1, 2020 Instagram Live discussion.
Being alone & Being Present for Yourself
Perhaps most important in the experience of living alone is creating some structure for your life during this extended period of time. No one likes to be told what to do, so you might want to consider these as simple ideas to consider in terms of being useful or not useful to keeping yourself in good physical, emotional, intellectual and social shape.
A psychologist called Maslow spoke about a group of factors:
These are factors which could be considered, not simply in order of importance when living alone during this time. For example, taking care of basic physical needs is perhaps most essential to be sturdy enough to combat possible infection of any sort, including the corona virus. That would mean creating a routine of daily living that leaves one feeling good physically.
For example, that would include
Meeting your body’s needs:
- creating regular mealtimes that include getting the basic nutrients necessary for a healthy necessary for a healthy body: fruit/vegetables/protein/calcium/iron/carbohydrates
- creating a routine for sleep and being awake that includes 6 - 8 hours of sleep
- exercising at least 3 x per week regardless of whether or not one likes to. It can be in the form of walking, bicycling, jogging or the using one of the many apps available for online exercise: Just Dance, Pilates with Hanna, Walk at Home with Leslie, Ballet with Tiler Peck (NYC ballet), Joe Wicks for the whole family, UK tango movement ballet, yoga and tango exercises are just some of those available.
Meeting your need to feel connected to yourself and with others to feel safe
When one is young one often simply forget about needing to have to hand emergency numbers of doctors/ambulance/two close friend or family members upon whom one can call if unwell either physically or psychologically. Children need to know where to find this information in the house too!
Finding a way of linking with oneself and family and close friends
Isolation can be bad for the soul and the body unless one is staying well connected with one’s own feelings and with some important others. Sometimes it can be useful to even rethink one’s friendships at this time and think:
- Who is really important to me and helpful to my life?
- What frequency of contact by phone, messaging, video-linking on a one-to-one basis would be good for me personally? Are there a few friends that with whom I want to arrange regular ‘meetings’?
- Would it be helpful to have a regular time each week to talk to my family members?
Isolation and a sense of loneliness can come from not really being able to be in touch with one’s emotions, to hear them, to be present with them and to think about them. If you “don’t think about it” when in distress you will have a self enclosed in a cell, like a crying baby locked in a bedroom. There are many ways of locating this self that may be buried through the routines of life and now is the moment when you can find a little more time to notice this self and bring to life new and hidden aspects of oneself.
Julia Cameron (2007) in An Artist’s Way suggests ways of simply writing by hand 5 pages each morning to express the thoughts on one’s mind that arrive spontaneously.
The American Indians and South Americans have little rituals for ‘catching dreams’ and catching thoughts that enable one to be conscious of more feelings that are buried by the routine of life and rational thought. Having a method of awakening and immediately recording one’s dreams before they fly away can provide a way of getting to know and integrating hidden aspects of oneself and thus provide the possibility of being a more creative, energetic person in relationships and at work. The American Indians called a little ring with feathers the ‘dream catcher’ to let go of bad dreams and capture good dreams. Of course, it is probably useful to understand the love, hate, anger, joy, sense of persecution and all the feelings that are present in one’s dreams. On a simple level, one can look at the dream in terms of the core feeling expressed in the dream, just as one looks at a film and understands the core emotions. Then one can ask, ‘What does each character tell me about myself?’ and ‘What do the relationships between the characters tell me about my own relationships with myself and important others?’.
What is often said during this time is, “I should be doing this! I am not doing that! I am being lazy!” and so forth. Within all of these statements is a very critical voice that simply exhausts one. It is being a bully and needs to be fought off like a nasty bully. It is helpful rather to understand what is taking away one’s energy, making one feel ‘lazy’, making one feel so pressured to be an overly ambitious achiever. We want to be able to empathise with what we are feeling at the moment and simply process what is going on inside and what is really important for us at this moment.Love for the self is the first place to start and living as one would like to will follow. Bullying oneself to do things perfectly or to do too many things simply results in feeling battered down by the bullying self.. and one feels low and often lacking in energy and depressed.
Accept being who you can be, supporting your strengths, bearing the pain of having your weaknesses.
Of course, we can endlessly watch and talk about the news and read about the Corona Virus and the different ways it is being handled. It is important to be informed, but it is also important to create a limited space for all this news that besieges us and our conversations with others.
It is important to also have a space to discuss that which brings life into our souls. For some it is simply appreciating the skies, clouds and nature and what was going through one’s mind as Jean-Jacques Rousseau did at the end of his life as he walked and meditated on his life. At times walking is not possible, one can go on virtual train rides in different parts of the world. Various different rides can be accessed from: https://kidsactivitiesblog.com/139013/virtual-train-rides/.
One playful way of enjoying the sky on a night-time would be to imagine animals or shapes from the clouds. Even better would be to play this game together with your friends or family. Good news for cloud appreciators, there is actually a society for you, which can be checked at: https://cloudappreciationsociety.org
There are also ways of looking for good films and working out a time to simultaneously share the film with a few in their houses and then have a group discussion regarding the film.
Other possibilities are sharing books through a book discussion or watching a streamed play, opera or musical performance.
Then there are those of us who welcome this opportunity to sit down and write each day: memoirs, short stories, poems, the professional paper we never got down to writing. This is probably the most time apart from holidays that we shall ever have until we retire and then we may be too old to say that which we wish to communicate via writing or composing or drawing or playing an instrument.
Of course, others may wish to juxtapose these activities with social activities things like on-line bridge, charades, drawing games, sharing a film together and discussing, sending poems, art work or photos to one another regularly, sending a Youtube link to one’s favorite song or podcast..
Thoughts about living together as a couple
Esther Perel, couple therapist speaks in the New Yorker, May 5, 2020
“I think that, really, what is essential at this moment, especially when we have just one person to give us what an entire city should be providing, is that we create boundaries, routines, and rituals. There needs to be, as best as possible, a separation between daytime and evening, week time and weekend, working time and idle time, family time and individual time, moments that are task oriented and moments where we stop for a bit. When we’re going to eat, are we going to reset the table or just push our work stuff away a little bit so that we have room to put a plate down? I think that, more than ever, the routine that creates a structure, that brings a certain sense of order in a world that feels so chaotic and so unsure, is crucial. The ritual is what separates the ordinary and the mundane from something that becomes more elevated, more separated, more sacred. All of these three things are essential.”
Staying connected with one’s work colleagues in another way:
One hospital team in which Jeanne was used to meet every Monday morning with a cup of coffee and a discussion for one hour in which members of the eight-person team would take turns bringing an interesting topic that they had researched or thought about. It wasn’t particularly related to work, the coffee meeting was designed to be interesting people apart from our professional roles in relation to one another.
DeBono’s book, Six Thinking Hats describes an especially fun activity which was remembered by the team for years.
The white hat will show you how to see things from an objective neutraland unbiased point of view. The black hat represented the logical-negative side and shows you why certain things might go wrong, not work, or not happen the way you thought
The green hat demands originality, creativity, crossing boundaries, and making the impossible possible.
The red hat is passionate, emotional and feels life from the heart.
While the black hat gives you the logical-negative focus that is useful for being more realistic in your daily life, the yellow hat will show you how to apply a logical-positive focus.
The color blue is all-encompassing. It is always there and it controls everything. It also transmits calm, balance and self-control.
You can use the technique of the six thinking hats with yourself as well. It can be used to work through different thinking styles in order to evaluate the problems and facts from all possible perspectives. The answers you’ll come to at the end won’t just be more accurate, they also can be much more creative and original.
- This space of time allows one to think..
- Just how do I want to develop in these next five years?
- What is important to me?
- What do I need to do now that will foster my being who I want to be in
- relation to myself,
- my family,
- significant others,
- my work?
- Now, more than ever it is important to consider with whom it is important to be connected and with whom is it important to disconnect for we are not good for each other. Likewise, it is important to consider:
- with what aspects of myself is it important to move forward in life and
- what aspects of myself need taming and not allowed to disrupt the goodness of my life?
- Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning highlights the bad sides of humanity and fosters a search for that which is most important and good in one’s life.
From the New Yorker/Masha Gessen (May 5, 2020)
“One can be lonely and not isolated, or isolated and not lonely. A person who is isolated cannot act with others, but still can act—still can create and send those creations out into the world. Loneliness is the inability to act altogether, either with others or alone. Arendt links loneliness to the states of uprootedness and superfluousness: having no place in the world, nothing to give to the world. This, in turn, is linked to the loss of what she calls “common sense”—the shared reality that allows us to know ourselves, to know where we end and the world begins, and how we are connected to others.”
Most importantly, this is a time to form better relationships with ourselves and the children and here are some ways in which we can use Dan Hughes’ (2006) PACE model (Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy) as we engage with young children in the family. PACE is a way of thinking, feeling, communicating and behaving that aims to make the child feel safe. It is based upon how parents connect with their very young infants. As with young toddlers, with safety the child can begin to explore. This is a way to help a child look at himself and let others start to see him or get closer emotionally. He can start to trust.
Being Present for Your Babies & Toddlers
As a parent of an infant or a toddler, you may be thinking that your baby or toddler will not be affected by the current concerns about the pandemic. We know, on the other hand, that babies and toddlers are well equipped in picking up how their parents or caregivers are feeling and the anxiety that is felt by a parent during this pandemic could have an impact on them. Being aware of this and observing your own emotions and actions while you are around them could be a useful first-step in supporting your baby or toddler during this time. Being more anxious as adults may make us more distracted which may lead to being less attentive towards them. Being aware of this and trying to find your own space for calming your anxieties, and continuing your relationship and closeness to them through showing your affection will be important in this period.
We know that younger children feel safer when the world is familiar and predictable to them. Keeping things as normal as possible and maintaining their usual routines and rituals will be of extreme importance for this period.
An important way of being present for your baby or toddler is just to watch them play. Similar to older children, younger children also show how they are feeling through play. Spending half an hour a day just watching them and observing how they are feeling about their play or observing what they are doing while they are playing and trying to make sense of it (e.g., are they putting things together, breaking things apart, dropping things etc) can be useful for you to understand your baby or toddler and what is going on in their emotional world better. Playing with them without interfering and just observing them is a great way to show you care about them, you want them and you are there for them in your intimate relationship.
Being Present for Your Children
If you are a parent or carer to a child, you might be struggling to being the answer to your child in this extremely new period which we adults also do not have many answers.
As Dr. Gordon Neufeld puts it in his talk Parenting Through the Pandemic (April 2020), the answer is not in doing or knowing, but just in being. Being their relational home at times of crises does not occur through something you do, it actually comes from who you are to them. This is a period that we cannot guarantee our children safety, but we can make them feel safe and they need to feel safe for their emotional health and well-being. Paying close attention to your child’s worries and being receptive whenever they decide to express them or talk about them is important. Concerns about the health of elderly grandparents or of anyone they love are understandable in this period and reassuring them about the practical steps are being taken to keep people healthy (hand-washing, having a good sleep, eating well and nutritious etc.) will be helpful.
We know that children feel safe
(1) when they are with a trusted parent
(2) when they are playing.
Often what we see in children’s play is what they are really thinking or feeling. Through an attentive, curious and not interfering accompany of a parent, children would not only have a playground to express and work on their emotions, but also could bond with their parents on a deeper level. As a parent you might be concerned about the fact that you are not being creative enough and or not providing your child new games, but this is actually a time for all of us to go back to our basics and just to focus on our relationships and on our togetherness. New and creative solutions are only enablers for us to feel more connected on a deeper level.
Speaking of being more connected, it is also important that children continue having their relationships with their grandparents or other family members and friends that they are not able to see in this pandemic period. As for grandparents, instead of asking children how they are or what they are doing, shared pleasurable activities could be arranged through online channels, so that even though we cannot be physically together in the same place, it could be possible to meet one another in shared distant activities. A routine of a grandparent reading a story to the child, or having a fun riddle a day can be examples of pleasurable interactions in distance for this coronavirus period.
- Here are some activity suggestions to do with your children:
- Kids movement activities: GoNoodle, Just Dance
- Music Suggestions (in Turkish): Şubadap Çocuk, Banu Kanıbelli, İmre Hadi
- Meditation apps: Headspace, Smilingmind, Stop, Breathe & Think, Calm
- Brain Exercises: Lumosity
- Marco polo- An app to send short videos back and forth. Primary school age children read to their grandparents on these
- If you can get the same board games such as Monopoly, UNO, Cluedo, Chess, Dominoes, you can play board games on Zoom with other families.
- Scavenger Hunts: You ask children to find something round, something a particular color, something that is helpful in cleaning, etc.
- One grandmother wrote this regarding how she relates via Zoom with her grandchildren:
- My reading ‘book club’ with my grandchildren (aged 3 and 4) is held at 5.30 pm on days that suit my daughter-in-law and son, and obviously me. There’s a special book I like to read to them, which I gave to each of them when they were born, called Guess How Much I love you (by Sam McBratney). I too have a copy, so that’s one we read and turn pages together. But we don’t always read that book and I read some books which I still have from when my children were little.
- I deliberately don’t have ‘book club’ every day, as it needs to remain special between us, and not ‘hum-drum’, having something to look forward to is very important at these times. The little lads also will just ask their mum and dad sometimes if they can FaceTime with me, just normally a couple of minutes here and there, but obviously another delight.
- Here are some book suggestions to read with your children/grandchildren:
- In my Heart: A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek
A good book for talking about emotions with your young children under 7
- On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman - Doğduğun Gece in Turkish
- On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna - Hiç Bir Şey Yapmama Günü in Turkish
- Me and My Fear by Francesca Sanna – Arkadaşım Korku in Turkish
- Noa, Kirpi ve Sarı by Sepin İnceer
A nice story about the power of observing and being mindful of our emotions
- The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
- Hug Me by Simona Ciraolo – Sarılalım mı? in Turkish
- In my Heart: A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek
Being Present for Your Adolescents
Teenage years are a period that young people move from having close bonds to their parents to being more connected and in touch with their peers. It is an important and necessary step towards developing an autonomous self and establishing independence and individuation. It is important for parents and carers to let and encourage their adolescents to build and maintain these good and trustworthy relationships with their peers. Also, not to forget, in Covid-19 times, all of these interactions and communications are moved entirely to online channels of communication. Thus, it can be enormously important that young people are given this chance to communicate, play and/or chat with their peers from online tools – since this is the only option of continuing their communication and relationships with their peers during the pandemic.
Parents of adolescents often complain about the fact that they no longer appear as the number one priority in their children’s lives, as they feel they are being replaced with their peers. However, adolescents and young people often feel the need to connect with their parents and more importantly they seek for understanding and accepting adults, who are able to listen to them and approach their issues in a non-judgemental manner.
Though talking to adolescents may sometimes be hard, parents and carers will discover that communicating with them can be easier and smoother, not when they are directly asking questions to them, but when they are actually sharing pleasurable and daily moments together. Cooking together, walking the dog together or having a movie night together could be examples to some of these shared activities.
Cooking together can be seen as an opportunity to give your adolescent a possibility of choosing (for example, deciding on what to cook) and letting him or her being in charge could make him/her feel competent and give him or her a break from an adult-ruled world.
Jeanne’s Recipe: Scampi with Pasta
- Add these ingredients and cook scampi for 2 to 4 minutes:
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ cup dry white wine or broth
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
- ⅛ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 ¾ pounds large or extra-large shrimp, shelled
- ⅓ cup chopped parsley
- Freshly squeezed juice of half a lemon
- Cooked pasta or crusty bread
Nil’s Recipe: Creamy Salmon with Rosemary Potatoes
- 1 piece of Salmon per person
- 4 cloves of garlic
- Fresh Rosemary
- Ground Pepper
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Peel the potatoes and cut them into smaller pieces. Marinate the potatoes with olive oil, 2 cloves of minced garlic, salt, chili flakes, finely chopped 2 strings of rosemary and 2 additional strings of unchopped rosemary. Let this mix marinate. Put the oven to 200 degrees Celcius and after it is heated, place the potatoe mix in the oven (make sure potatoes are not piled up on each other). Let this cook for 15 minutes and then turn the potatoes around and let them cook for another 10 to 15 minute
- Meanwhile, heat the pan with 2 table spoons of olive oil. Add the salmon. Let them cook. When it is about to be ready, on a separate casserole heat the cream and add 2 cloves of minced garlic and ground pepper and let this heat. When the salmon is cooked, pour the cream sauce on the salmon.
Similarly, walking the dog together could also be an opportunity to talk about things. If you are a parent of an adolescent, you probably have already experienced that adolescents don’t like to be asked direct questions. Instead of asking them questions, you can share a story of your own life or just can simply talk about nature, flowers or clouds or other mutual topics or interests while having the walk.
Having a movie night together could also enable conversation between the parent and the young person. Talking about the character in the film and doing all the talk about the character and not directly about the adolescent’s own self can create a safe talking zone for the young person.
Although your adolescent might communicate to you ‘Leave me alone’, he or she might still be in need of a one-to-one time with a parent. Staying in the room all alone will leave the child with the feeling of being neglected. Thus, arranging these regular meet ups or sharing activities together in a daily routine can help both the parent and the young person to find something meaningful in their relationship.
Another question that could be asked is how your adolescent can be useful in your house, so that s/he feels competent and also regards himself or herself as an important member of the family. Sometimes, helping a parent conducting a part of his/her work from home may help the young person feel wanted and needed by the parents. The priority should always be their significance and their value and their sense of being invited and wanted in your life.
MUSIC to relax (all available on Youtube or Spotify)
For the Older Ones: Jeanne’s music to relax while you work:
- Hans Zimmerman’s Time
- Piano playing by Hana Irani
- Olafur Arnalds
- Claudio Arrau’s Chopin Nocturnes
- Keith Jarrett
- Miles Davis
- Enrico Einaudi
- Bill Evans: It Must Be Spring
- Leonard Cohen
- Astor Piazzolla: Adios Nonino
- Music by VictorHugo Fumagalli : OST "La Cicatrice" from A Love Story (BAFTA WINNER short animation)
For the Younger Ones: Nil’s music to relax while you work:
- Khruangbin: Two Fish and an Elephant
- Portico Quartet: Prickly Pear
- Rhye: Malibu Nights, Green Eyes
- Sigur Ros: Hoppipolla
- Pasquale Catalano: Cuore Di Sabbia
- Yann Tiersen: Porz Goret
- Nils Frahm: Ambre
- Joep Beving: Midwayer
- Max Richter: On the Nature of Daylight
- Maxence Cyrin: Where is My Mind
- The Piano Guys: Beethoven’s 5 Secrets, The Cello Song
- Muse: Exogenesis Symphony Pt. 3
- The Cinematic Orchestra: Arrival of the Birds
- Teoman: Sessiz Eller – Enstrumental
- Chilly Gonzales, Jarvis Cocker: The Tearjerker Returns
- Coldplay: Up & Up (official music video with wonderful scenes)
Some Final Thoughts
- Victor Frankl wrote Man’s Search for Meaning in which he describes very harsh times in which he tried to understand what enabled one to struggle in extremely difficult times. He talked about how it was important to appreciate ‘the little things’:
- the flower blooming
- a tree filled with a tweeting bird
- a view of the sunset, the changing formation of the clouds
Such experiences can be accompanied by reading some poetry by Mary Oliver such as:
- Every day I see or I hear something that more or less
- kills me with delight, that leaves me like a needle
- in the haystack of light. It is what I was born for – to look, to listen,
- to lose myself inside this soft world – to instruct myself over and over
- in joy, and acclamation. Nor am I talking about the exceptional,
- the fearful, the dreadful, the very extravagant – but of the ordinary, the common, the very drab,
- the daily presentations. Oh, good scholar, I say to myself, how can you help
- but grow wise with such teachings as these – the untrimmable light
- of the world, the ocean’s shine, the prayers that are made out of grass?
Frankl goes on to describe how on holding force in life is to hold onto some loved one in one’s mind regardless of whether that person be alive and present in your life, absent, or dead. An attachment to a loved one internally and externally if possible creates a force to help one to live. This thought is echoed by a YouTube talk regarding anxiety which you can reach at:https://www.youtube.com/embed/HNnXutm7p4g
One other simple yet powerful book which we have recently discovered is, Azime’nin Yumağı, which reminds the readers that, we, humans are all somehow connected - just like the nature itself.
We close now with a hopeful reflection for the future by giving you a children’s story which you can locate at:
About the Authors
Jeanne Magagna is a child, adult and family psychotherapist from London, UK. She is the author of Being Present for Your Nursery Age Child and Bebeği Anlamak books, alongside with other books.
Nil Ertürk is a child and adolescent psychologist from Istanbul, Turkey