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How To Navigate Awkward Covid-19 Conversations

Why are our parents still going out for dinner?

Felicity Robinson & Anna Saunders

Adapting to the changes brought by coronavirus is tough, especially if you’re negotiating childcare arrangements with your partner or trying to encourage your baby-boomer parents to Just Stay Home.

But it is possible to have difficult conversations without ending up in an argument (or so we’ve been told). Here’s how, according to the experts.

You and your partner are now both working from home. But the childcare is falling mostly on you

“This is going to be an extremely common situation if childcare centres and schools shut down,” says Prue Gilbert, CEO of work and parenting platform The Grace Papers. Even if schools stay open, the looming school holidays could see this conversation playing out in homes around the country.

Gilbert advises against going straight into negotiation mode with your partner. “The way I would look at it is by imagining how you want your family to look back on this [social isolation] period?”

“You can put a couple of different lenses on it. You can say, ‘Oh my god, how are we going to survive this hell? Or you can take a different view and say, you know, we were overtired, over-worked and our kids were over-scheduled. Now’s an opportunity to reimagine things.”

Gilbert advises looking at sharing child care by working in shifts or spreading your work across a seven-day period. “You could look at taking annual leave or purchasing leave,” she adds, and also points out that without your daily commute, you may well find you have additional time to reinvest in your kids.

In situations where your partner suggests his work should take precedence because he is the higher income earner (as is the case in 75 per cent of Australian couples), Gilbert advises that in a recession it’s wise to safeguard both careers. “Equally, you may need to remind him of the importance [of your career] from an identity perspective.”

Your baby boomer parents are still going out all the time, which is freaking you out

Firstly, you need to acknowledge this simple fact, says Dr Anne Swinbourne, senior lecturer in psychology at James Cook University: “You are their child and will never know anything.”

Instead, you’ll need to employ all the low cunning you learned as a teenager to persuade your parents to change their behaviour. “You have to find the balance between making them fearful enough to act, but not so much that you push them over the edge and they refuse to listen to what you say.”


Look at sharing child care or spreading your work across seven days, rather than five

Swinbourne advises that you think about what your parents value – or what they fear losing – and use this knowledge to shape their behaviour. “As they get older, people cling to their independence, so in this situation their insistence on going to the shops, for example, is driven by the fear of losing that independence,” she says. “One way of dealing with this might be to educate them in online shopping and emphasise the self-reliance that brings.”

Similarly, if your parents are worried about losing contact with grandchildren, you can talk to them about the phone calls you used to make as a child to your own grandparents. “Say, ‘We didn’t visit them that often but you always used to let me chat on the phone, which made me feel close to them.”

Above all, be patient. “I have three degrees in psychology and it has taken a month to get this into my mother’s head,” Dr Swinbourne adds wryly.

Your pregnant friend is planning a baby shower

“The last thing we need to do is panic pregnant women,” says Professor Hannah Dahlen. “Anxiety while you’re pregnant can actually have an impact on the baby. So we have to damp down the rhetoric.”

Dahlen, who is a Professor of Midwifery at Western Sydney University, says that pregnant women should be physically distancing themselves from others. However, she says that pregnant women are actually in the lower risk group.

The last thing we need to do is panic pregnant women

“The Spanish Flu was dreadful for women, and the SARS epidemic saw 33% needing to be ventilated while pregnant. But – and this needs to be bolded and underlined – we are not seeing that at all with Covid-19.”

Experts believe that the body’s natural response to pregnancy – where the immune system is lowered so the foetus isn’t rejected by the body – may have a protective effect. “This particular virus seems to be more severe in people who have an immune system that’s really, really amped up… for example, if you’re someone with co-morbidities like diabetes or high-blood pressure, and your immune system is working double-time to protect you. What they’re finding is that for those people, this virus is almost using this [response] as an accomplice.”

In addition, she adds that women, generally, have lower rates of infection for Covid-19 than men, while those at highest risk are 50+.

So, baby shower? Or no baby shower?

“Why not have a virtual baby shower?” she suggests, before adding, “I would be more concerned about the [friend’s] mother or grandmother attending the baby shower.”

My husband or brother is still commuting to work even though he can easily work from home

In some ways, men and baby boomers are similar, says Dr Swinbourne, who is an expert in behavioural psychology. “They have both ruled the world at one stage, and now it’s ruling them.”

Remote working can be difficult for some men, for whom going out to work in an office is a key aspect of their identity and social life. “Ask yourself, is this reluctance to work from home actually an issue around their perceived role in their relationship, for example? Are they worried about a lack of structure? Do they need their own physical space in which to work?”

A desk or workspace at home might be helpful, then, along with establishing set hours in which to work. “They might need to adjust their expectations about what can be achieved when working from home,” Dr Swinbourne adds.

Finally, we need to accept that we’re all doing our best in a difficult situation. “All change is hard, and we are experiencing fast change in uncertain times. I think a lot of people are over-estimating how easy it will be to adjust.”


BY Felicity Robinson & Anna Saunders

Felicity and Anna are the co-founders of PRIMER

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