- It is okay to be in crisis mode now. It is okay to cry regularly and to not be a perfect parent. It is okay to hate homeschooling and feel bitter about your situation right now. Tweet This
- A strong family identity can help move us from crisis to crucible. Tweet This
- Research suggests that making meaning out of hardship transforms not only the situation, but our ability to deal with and grow from it. Tweet This
I wonder if my experiences are like yours. Every day is another loss. This week, a close family member, a nurse, was diagnosed with COVID-19. School was officially cancelled for the rest of the year. Summer vacations were postponed. High school soccer season was cancelled—with my freshman son only getting to play a single game. Summer camps and activities that provide much needed physical, emotional, social, and spiritual growth were all cancelled. I’m suddenly homeschooling five children and trying to do my job from home, as my husband goes to work in a business considered “essential” by the government. To top it all off, my three-year old snapped my laptop in two, effectively shattering much of my ability to try to do my job effectively. And the week is not over yet.
I am in crisis. Our family is in crisis. So is my country. And so is the entire world. We are all in this together. Crisis mode is stressful, anxiety-provoking, and so sad. I recognize that I’m lucky here—I still have a job, I am not sick, and we have food on the table and toilet paper in the cupboard. And yet, we are still in crisis mode.
How do we move forward? How do we facilitate growth and unity rather than stagnation and discord? How can we ultimately turn a crisis rife with anxiety, loss, and uncertainty into a crucible—a container used for extremely hot chemical reactions that is “melt proof”?
Metaphorically, we also go through crucibles, trials that change the nature of the material inside us and represent the hardest parts of our lives. Crucibles have the capacity to shape our character and development in profound ways if we allow them to, fostering an interior evolution impossible to achieve under ordinary circumstances. Although most of us would not choose to live through a crucible—it typically involves intense struggle or hardship—it need not shut us down as a crisis does, but instead can allow for significant growth.
We are still right in the middle of this crisis, replete with so much that is unknown and so much pain. But eventually, I hope as individuals, families, countries, and a worldwide community that we can turn this crisis into a crucible.
What might that look like? Ultimately, a crisis might turn into a crucible through the meaning and context we give it. However, it is important to first understand our personal coping patterns within a crisis that help us move forward. This is best illustrated by the three-part family adjustment and adaptation response model.
First, we all have demands. These are daily stressors, strains, hassles that may or may not involve a global pandemic. Next, we all have capabilities. These are our emotional, social, financial, psychological resources and coping behaviors that we use to deal with our demands. How well demands and capabilities are balanced determine how well we adjust individually. We tend to fall into crisis mode when the demands outweigh the capabilities (which is why many of us feel the way we do right now!).
Although most of us would not choose to live through a crucible—which typically involves intense struggle or hardship—it need not shut us down as a crisis does, but instead can allow for significant growth.
Below are four ways to make meaning out of this particular crisis.
- View it as situational. We know this crisis will end at some point. We will not have to shelter in place forever. We maintain hope in science, that a treatment will be developed, and that life will go back to the way it was mostly before. We will eat out again, our children will go back to school, and we will maybe get to shop at the grocery store without wearing a mask.
- Explore how this crisis can help build family identity. Research suggests that a strong family identity can help move us from crisis to crucible. Many nights, I have bemoaned having to run my many children to various activities, sad that I don’t get much one-on-one time with them. We are having to bond together as a family like we never have before. We are unified together in our grief and loss. A few years ago, our family went through a series of unfortunate events that shook us to the core. My husband printed this out for each of our children and it has become our family motto: “Shelter each other from the storm, bring joy where there is sadness, and warmth where there is none. That’s what families do.” I think about this almost every day as the storms are particularly fierce right now.
- Realize that this crisis can help you grow as an individual. I have thought about this last one deeply in terms of my relationships with other people. What kind of a person do I want to be at the end of this crisis and what am I doing to turn into that person? Do I want to be the person that snatches toilet paper from the hands of another in a grocery store? Or do I want to be the type of person who shares this beloved resource with a neighbor (like my friend did for me)? How am I using this crisis to reach out more to my family even though I can’t see them in person? How am I taking care of my elderly relatives who are confined in their rooms in retirement homes? How can I use my gifts to reach out, to love louder and larger than I did before? This meaning making helps develops resilience and coping strategies to draw upon in the next crisis as well.
- Be patient with yourself. It is okay to be in crisis mode now. It is okay to cry regularly and to not be a perfect parent. It is okay to hate homeschooling and feel bitter about your situation right now. It is okay to feel afraid and to scream into your pillow late at night. However, in the rare calm moments, I hope we can think about how we personally turn this crisis into a crucible for us all.
As we make meaning during difficult times, we each go through our own personal crucible and become intensely refined by the stress we experience. Doing so will unify us as families, nations, and a worldwide community in ways we never believed possible.
Dr. Sarah M. Coyne is a professor of human development in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University. Her research interests involve media, video game addiction, aggression, gender, and child development. Dr. Coyne has over 100 publications on these and other topics. She regularly speaks to families and teenagers about using media in positive ways.