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Conflict Resolution
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No Longer Empty Nesters? Navigating Family Dynamics During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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It started with my 27 year old son and his wife. Forced by the coronavirus to work remotely from their home, they needed a change of scenery. Soon enough they showed up at our house in Newbury, Vermont, with their two dogs. Just for a couple of weeks, they assured us. A day later my 24 year old daughter, her significant other and their cat moved in “just for a while.”

My wife and I had grown accustomed to our tranquil, empty-nester household. Now we had to re-adjust to a full house, replete with adult children and their pets.  We also had to refine and sharpen our familial dispute resolution skills as we found that living with four other adults presents a host of challenges. These include:

  • Internet Use:  Six adults working remotely in a rural area means bargaining over who gets to use the internet and when. While six people can usually work on email at the same time, our home internet service means there can be only one Zoom meeting at any given time. Our mornings now begin with a group discussion of our remote meeting schedules and if there is overlap, who should take priority. For example, should my 5pm Zoom cocktail hour take precedence over my daughter’s work-related meeting?
  • Cleanup/Cooking Duty: Although there are allegedly 6 adults in our house now, when it comes to cooking and cleaning our kids quickly revert to their childhood selves. Dishes pile up in the sink, clothes are  strewn throughout the house, and we hear the long lost refrain of “When will dinner be ready?” When they were kids, we could send them to their room or take away television for a night. Now we have to address conflicts over cooking and cleaning in a non-punitive and non-defensive way.
  • Personality/Lifestyle Conflicts: It’s nearly impossible for six adults to live together in a relatively small space. Not only do we have different, and sometimes conflicting,  personalities but we have all become accustomed to our daily rituals and comforts. Those have all been disrupted and we need  to make accommodations. For example, my son likes to get some work done in the peace and quiet of the early morning. I wake up early too, but I like to break the 8 hours of sleep silence by talking nonstop. Similarly, I was on a Zoom meeting with a friend and I could hear his adult daughter in the background directing him to lower his voice so she could concentrate on work she was doing.

So far in my household, we have all assumed the role of mediator in dealing with the various conflicts that arise from an unexpected full house. At some point, hopefully soon, the pandemic will end and we will all resume our normal lives. I think we will come out of this better equipped to deal with and resolve conflicts at in all areas of our lives.