SHERYL SARKOEZY, the researcher and writer for GSC, is married to STEVE. Here are her reflections on working and living together in COVID ‘lockdown’. Steve has contributed to the reflections, as well as the experience!
Like most couples we spend much of our week apart. Work is work, and marriage is part of ‘home’. As we plan for “retirement” we know that sharing each other’s company all day will be one of the significant adjustments. The terrible joke is: “Retired husband becomes wife’s full-time job!”
For three decades Steve and I have had many different work patterns: times when we both went out to work; years I was at home with our girls; we’ve both been students; both been made redundant. With our girls both flown from the nest, we’ve started to think about what life will look like when it’s time to ‘retire’.
“Let’s rebuild the family home”, we said. During the rebuild, we figured we could spend the year in a lovely (much smaller) apartment. We sorted all our “stuff”, gave some away, put the rest into storage and moved in — no books, music, or board games. It’s been liberating, and a great opportunity to work out what we really need in a home! Far less than we once thought, it turns out.
But now, COVID-19. Becoming each other’s company all day, every day is suddenly … here. Not ‘retirement’, but a new way of living with the strange pressures and complications. Like folk all around the world, we are now required to ‘stay indoors’ unless we have a legitimate reason to be out and about.
We scrambled to a workspace. I’d love to say that we did our research and thought carefully about how to work in a crowded house during the coronavirus crisis. Instead, like most people who can still work, we bunkered down quickly. We could both work at the dining table for a few weeks, right?
Steve was wise. He insisted we plunder his office. That Sunday afternoon we must have looked like burglars, loading the car, parked on York Street, with his desk chair and computer gear. I lasted two days with my laptop and the hard dining chair before I followed his example.
We rescued a trestle table from storage and moved ‘the office’ into the second bedroom.
What a difference that made! It turns out the research is right. If you’re planning to work from home you should try to get good furniture (or at least a trestle table!), set up a workstation away from the leisure areas of your home, and make sure you’ve got decent internet access. With thanks to our trusting and flexible employers, we ticked all those boxes. Recent research from McCrindle says that most Australians who are now working from home have embraced the ‘new normal’, believing that their productivity hasn’t suffered, and this will be the way of the future. Mind you. almost half believe working from home with other people will be a challenge.
How about us? Half-way through the second week we’re still working it out! We’re not ‘everycouple’. Your home may be smaller than ours, or larger. You may be younger than us, or older. You might both be working, or you might not. Your offspring may still live with you, or in another part of town. You might even be home-schooling! Your challenges will be unique, but maybe some of our experience will resonate with you. Here are a few things we’ve learned (or re-learned) so far.
- Keep relationship priorities right. (Deut 6:5; Eph 5:22-28; Col 3:18-21; Heb 10:25)
God – Each other – Children – Church. In that order. Pray together. Keep up with your Bible reading, together. Log in to virtual-church on Sundays. Look out for each other’s needs and stay close to one another (let the reader understand). We’ve been able to rearrange our working week so we have a common midweek day with the ‘office’ door closed. That’s a blessing! We keep in touch with our kids by having regular Skype or Facetime chats. We have a family Messenger group (in which we can be a bit silly when we need to), and we share music on Spotify. We keep in touch with friends and extended family. This weekend we’re having a Zoom party with our oldest friends, who live on the other side of the world. Suddenly, we’ve realised this is so easy to do. We stay connected online to our church community group and other Christian friends.
- Walk to the beat of the same drum. (Prov 6:6-11) As much as you can, stick to the rhythms of your pre-COVID-19 working days. Get up at the same time. Don’t sleep in, thinking you can make up the lost hours after dinner or on the weekend. Go for a walk – together! – at least once a day, the earlier the better because fewer people are out. Eat a good breakfast, and a proper lunch, but not at your ‘desk’. Finish work on time and ‘go home’. We’ve always eaten our evening meal together, and that’s a habit to cherish.
- Sign the ‘Official Secrets Act’. (Prov 12:23; 17:19; 21:23) You’ll hear things about your spouse’s job that you really don’t need to know. Respect confidentiality. Forget what you hear. Move to another room when the other person is in a particularly sensitive online meeting. Try to schedule meetings for times that don’t clash. We’re still learning about the habits and telephone voices of work-Steve and work-Sheryl. They are strange people, but I think we’ll miss them when this is over, as will other couples who have suddenly discovered the other person they are married to.
- Help each other be disciplined. (Rom 13:7; Col 3:23-25) We each owe our employer a full day’s work for a full day’s pay, and that’s now a shared responsibility. Keep each other on track and distract each other as little as possible. Singing with headphones on may, however, be permitted at low volume. That said …
- Lower expectations of yourselves and others. (Psalm 55:22; Matt 11:28-30; Col 3:12-14) This new way of living has given us all culture shock which always reduces productivity. Have reasonable expectations of your capacity to work, and your changed competencies. In short, we should cut ourselves, and others, some slack. Forgive one another and trust the Lord to sustain us.
- ‘Escape’ to your ‘old’ world. Missionaries manage culture shock by holding on to some familiar things as they become familiar with their new world. We can learn from their experience. It’s a good idea to read a favourite book, re-watch all 201 episodes of The Office, or to sit all Saturday afternoon stitching a quilt. It’s even OK (occasionally) to sing loudly with your headphones on. ‘Pyjama days’, by the way, are underrated.
- Look for ways to serve others. (Gal 6:2, 9-10; 1 Tim 5:8) Serve your neighbours, your church family and the wider community. Opportunities to serve others are not lessened by social distancing, they just become more creative. If we serve others, we are doing the Lord’s work, and gaining purpose and shape to our days. One way to serve each other is …
- Share the housework. Cooking, shopping, laundry, vacuuming, taking out the garbage, whatever is needed according to your work patterns. We haven’t always agreed on the division of labour in our home (our offspring can testify to this!). We’re convinced that if we abandon the habit of lovingly sharing the burden of housework, these months will quickly expose the imbalances and cause arguments. We were at a family wedding a couple of weeks ago (just before the 5 person limit was introduced) and heard someone, maybe the preacher, say to the bridal couple “Don’t argue about who does the dishes, but about who doesn’t have to do the dishes.” Great advice.
- And be thankful. (Psalm 69:30; 116:17; Jeremiah 29:11; Phil 4:4-7; Col 3:15-16; 4:2) God has this world in his hands. We cannot see even into the next minute, but he knows when, and how, the pandemic will end. He knows every single bird that we hear singing in the gumtree outside our window, and he knows every hair on our heads and every concern of our hearts. He cares for us and will work good out of these dark days. Hold fast to this truth.
 https://www.nextiva.com/blog/working-from-home-tips.html and https://au.pcmag.com/get-organized/61100/20-tips-for-working-from-home Or, this: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/how-not-to-kill-your-spouse-and-other-tips-for-working-from-home-from-someone-who-hates-it-2020-03-20 https://theconversation.com/5-expert-tips-for-working-from-home-in-a-crowded-house-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic-133967