The pandemic may have kept us six feet apart from our friends and extended family, but it did keep us as close to our immediate family as we’ve ever been. As restrictions start to loosen as parents (either one or both) head back to work, this can lead to changing marital and family dynamics, anxiety and more. We spoke to Dori Gatter, a psychotherapist and relationship expert whose advice has been featured in outlets like The Wall Street Journal, Men’s Health and Cosmopolitan.
Loosening restrictions means more kids are going back to school or camp, parents are heading back to the office. What emotions are changes like these likely to bring up?
This can bring up anxiety and feeling like there is a lack of control, as parents. With our kids at home, we’ve had control over where they’re going, who they are seeing, etc. Once kids are back out in the world we have to relinquish some of that control.
What are you hearing from parents, about this transition?
For many parents, this may mean more time for themselves and with other adults, and a chance for kids to become more independent in the world. But while it’s great for parents and kids to be out in the world, it can feel like an end to this nice cocooned feeling that families have had. Bonding has happened and relationships have been strengthened, and we may miss this. We have to make an effort to create that family time and space to bond, whereas before it would come naturally.
That’s a great tip. We’ve heard from some moms who work from home or are stay at home moms, and they’re not looking forward to their partners going back to the office. For many families, having both parents home has been a blessing.
Yes—and these changing dynamics can be challenging for relationships. The first thing couples need to do is talk about an agreement and discuss how things will work. What happens is we as parents make up a story in our heads about how things are going to go, and how we want them to go. If we communicate them, it’s usually as a complaint or a demand, instead of a need. When our person doesn’t live up to our expectations that creates discord in the relationship. But if you sit down and work out an agreement that can really help.
For instance, if neither of you has time to cook dinner, you can talk about solutions, whether that means hiring a babysitter who preps food, ordering a meal delivery service or doing meal prep on Sunday and freezing things. There’s a million ideas for every aspect of life, but you have to find ones that work for both people. Once you have that agreement you can put it on paper—and go to the actual binder and talk about it. You can always mutually amend the agreement. That’s the only way to have a successful relationship – otherwise you’ll always be trying to convince the other person you’re right, which never works.