Living in the wake of a pandemic has meant living with unrecognised loss—the loss of things we used to take for granted, such as meeting friends in large groups, playing football, having a class reunion or travelling. Christmas celebrations were curbed, the New Year was subdued and now Lunar New Year will follow suit due to safe management guidelines. Quiet, intimate gatherings are the order of the day. Lunar New Year routines will change—angpaos have gone digital to limit contact surfaces; snacks portioned out and tightly sealed; sofas and coffee tables sanitised once visitors leave.
Children are increasingly meeting their friends and playing games virtually instead of hanging out or playing sports together. How do we limit their screen time since this is their new way of interacting? Would we rather they not have this channel of communication at all?
Because we were stuck at home, my family’s attempt to spend time together led my dad to teach us how to play mahjong. Why not? After all, we have enough kids at home. Aunty protested that we were teaching our kids how to gamble, but the time that we spent around the small square table led to some great chats and bonding with our kids.
Being together for extended periods of time due to home-based learning and working from home has brought my family closer, but this was not the case for everyone. During the pandemic, many parents experienced increasing concerns while social supports eroded. Worries over finances, social isolation, as well as emotional upheaval added to the woes of school and childcare centre closures. Balancing work responsibilities with supervising children’s education caused great disruption and a disproportionate level of stress for families. As a result, there has been an increase in cases of domestic violence since the pandemic began.
The pandemic has left five million dead and counting, but many emotional injuries have gone unnoticed and concealed. Fear of the virus has changed the way we live our lives. Nonetheless, just as the airplane safety guideline tells us to don our own oxygen mask before helping a child, we need to prioritise our own mental health as parents so that we can respond calmly to our children and model how they can manage change, uncertainty and stress. I believe that teaching these core social emotional skills, like self-awareness, empathy, optimism and resilience are just as important as encouraging them to become expert swimmers or gifted mathematicians.
But where do we even begin? Not all homes and families are safe havens of love and acceptance. We can take time to extend kindness by offering emotional support, for example, listening to others whether over the phone or FaceTime, or volunteer as a family to deliver groceries to a neighbour or clothes to a migrant worker. We can show our children how to extend compassion to others as we navigate this challenge together. Let us leave judgement behind as we focus on connection and moving forward together as a human family.
Given the magnitude of this pandemic, we need to acknowledge the challenges we have faced and the exhaustion experienced, and give families permission to grieve the loss of normalcy. But let us not give the pandemic the last word. God is the Word—the Word that became flesh, the Word that is wisdom and the Word that will help us overcome. All that God is came to us in that One Powerful Word we call Jesus. He has gifted us with the capacity for resilience in and through the family and Church. The rich Biblical tradition of prayer and lament-making point the way forward—we can grieve and live with the loss while looking with hope to the One who triumphed over the grave.
Alison Lai is a counsellor at Barker Road Methodist Church.