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Holding onto the rituals we’ve learned to love as we shelter in place

By Laura Shear

Published June 5, 2020
Last updated October 25, 2020

For many of us, the past few months represent more concentrated time sequestered inside—either solo or with companions—than any other time in our lives. Keenly aware of our incredible good fortune to be able to stay at home when so many cannot, we can’t help but note the ways the experience has shifted our day-to-day, even as we count our blessings.

As surreal as this experience is, by all accounts we’re adapting. New, more leisurely rituals take the place of rushed routines. Baking sourdough bread, playing board games, watching old movies.

An undisputed aspect of sheltering in place—for those of us able to do so—is more free time than many of us have had in years, maybe ever. Practically overnight we replaced commuting, errands, and carpools with leisurely meals, deeper conversations, and family game nights. A surfeit of time has led to more connection with those we love. And while it doesn’t take a genius to connect these dots, people I spoke with convey a sense of amazement at the benefits spending more time together has on their relationships. As if they would have made the time for these connections years before, if they had only known just how powerful it would be.

[The] people I spoke with convey a sense of amazement at the benefits spending more time together has on their relationships. As if they would have made the time for these connections years before, if they had only known just how powerful it would be.

Shifting relationship dynamics

Take the parent-child relationship. The extra, unstructured time at home with children has opened up new avenues of connection, particularly for parents and teens. A chance to co-exist without the grind of intense schoolwork and activities offers an unusual opportunity to strengthen bonds. Notes one mom, “Instead of feeling like I'm constantly pushing on whether or not their homework is done, they have showered and taken care of basic hygiene, they are ready to go when needed… we now have more time, and less homework, so we are having more conversations that are less transactional and we're participating more in each other's day-to-day lives.”

Other tricky relationships to navigate—those that span two generations or more—appear to be flourishing under the influence of more attention. With hours of unscheduled time available every day, grandparents and grandchildren are connecting more than ever before. Armed with (and growing savvier about) new technology, grandparents are reading bedtime stories via FaceTime, helping with distance learning and attending virtual birthday parties.

[Related read: Could an ancient practice return humanity to the workplace?]

For those sheltering alone, “companionship” during coronavirus comes from connecting regularly with others via video, phone, and email or messaging apps. A common refrain is that many conversations are with friends and relatives with whom they had fallen out of touch. As one solo shelterer observed, “Because we have more time now, we are apt to connect with people with whom we aren't in regular contact. I called my cousin in New York last week; I haven't talked with her in over a year, and we spent 45 minutes catching up.”

Members of extended families gather for milestone events that might have gone unmarked if we weren't living through this strange time when personal connection feels so important. Our collective expertise in Zoom video meetings has opened up opportunities we never thought of before: coffee hour with college roommates, brunch with far away relatives, and regular cocktail hours with just about everybody else.

If life under lockdown has yielded special moments of connection, it’s also delivered a crash course in emotional literacy. Partners, siblings, and roommates are learning new ways to relate given the usual antidote to conflict—time away—isn’t available.

If life under lockdown has yielded special moments of connection, it’s also delivered a crash course in emotional literacy. Partners, siblings, and roommates are learning new ways to relate given the usual antidote to conflict—time away—isn’t available.

Describing life at home for her party of five, a friend noted the ups and downs: “There has been a real learning curve to appreciate how each of us is holding up individually daily—and sometimes even within the course of a day—and how we all accommodate everyone's feelings.”

For two housemates in Dublin—an ER nurse and a software product solutions manager—sheltering in place has meant figuring out how to support each other emotionally as they cope with uncertainty and stress. “You both have your down days but you realize you have to put on your happy face for the other person.”

[Related read: We can cultivate empathy anywhere, even from our living rooms]

New rituals to ground our days

For one newly-married couple, working (and doing everything else) from home has changed their morning routine for the better. Pre-lockdown, they’d scramble, separately, to get to the gym and then work. These days, they spend time together before work begins. “The pace is so much slower. We sit and drink our coffee together outside. We used to get up and go. Now there’s literally nowhere to go.”

For many of us, exercise routines have changed, in the wake of shuttered gyms and yoga studios. Fitness classes have moved online, and this has conferred some benefits. With a few favorite YouTube classes in the queue, we can exercise on our own time, alone or with family members. In the words of one convert to online yoga classes: “I always meant to try them, but this forced my hand."

Now, with shelter-in-place restrictions easing for many of us, we wonder what life will look like over the next few months. Which of the daily rituals that have added comfort and connection at a scary point in time will we keep? A few? None? All?

Now, with shelter-in-place restrictions easing for many of us, we wonder what life will look like over the next few months. Which of the daily rituals that have added comfort and connection at a scary point in time will we keep? A few? None? All?

Take those yoga practitioners, for starters. You might think they can’t wait to get back to their local studios, yet several people I spoke with told me they’ll choose convenience over community, post-pandemic, and carry on with live-stream classes from the comfort of their living room. And, I suspect some of the personal video “meetings” that we’re using now to bridge the distance and dispel the boredom will stick. After all, a glass of wine with friends when no one has to pick up the house or change out of sweats will have even more appeal when our frantic schedules resume.

Stuck at home, free from many distractions and with time to spare, we recalibrated to some of our most basic needs, adopting rituals for staying connected, staying healthy, and staying sane. The life hacks we’ve adopted came in response to extreme circumstances and social distancing—but moving forward, we may decide to hold on to a few of them, grateful for the ways they allow us to carve out time and preserve connection, even once we’re allowed to venture out.