Not that long ago, days for Wendy Fraioli and her family rushed by in a flurry of busyness.
Fraioli, a mom of two, and her husband work day jobs at University of Massachusetts Medical School and in the evenings run a small business, Villari's Martial Arts Center of Shrewsbury. Their routine was a juggling act that most working parents know well; an exhausting daily sprint of running here and rushing there.
“I had to pick up this one from preschool and that one from the babysitter, then go home and change my clothes while debriefing our days, before I had to bring them back to the babysitter,” Fraioli said. “It was always a struggle for me to make the two hours between work shifts quality time with my kids.”
But a few weeks ago, the busyness came to a halt with the closure of schools and non-essential businesses to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The Fraiolis shut the karate school and transitioned their day jobs to work-from-home, and suddenly, their world shrank to their Worcester home.
It’s been hard, to be sure. Closing the doors to their business was devastating, and working remotely with children at home presents its own myriad of challenges.
But slowing down has also been unexpectedly refreshing, Fraioli said.
“Having both lunch and dinner with my children every day, having time to do art projects and play outside, to sit together to watch TV or read books? It's been amazing,” she said.
Amid the closures and stay-at-home advisories, most families have struggled to adjust to a new reality. Parents have had to play the role of teacher, a job for which they have no training. They’ve had to adapt to a new way of working, if they’re lucky enough to be working at all.
On top of that, there’s anxieties to manage, cancellations to grieve, and households to run.
But like Fraioli, many families are trying to find some good in the crisis: there’s nothing to do but slow down; nowhere to be but together. The pandemic has dealt families plenty of stress, but also some blessings, too.
For Kristen Costa, of Somerset, quarantine offered the chance to be present for some milestone moments. Costa, a museum curator, and her engineer husband might have missed the first time their 10-month-old son Gray said “mama” or pulled himself up to creep along the furniture had they not been working from home.
“We’ve also been taking lovely walks as a family that we never did,” she said. “I mean, maybe on the weekends, but not at 11 a.m. on Monday.”
In Brimfield, photographer and mom of three Melody Paine has been documenting the special moments that have occurred while she’s sheltering-in-place with her family, and sharing them on social media with the hashtag #beautyinquarantine.
A sort of call to action, she’s asked others to do the same, creating a space online to focus on the everyday joyful moments taking place in the midst of social distancing and isolation.
It’s not that her life has been picture perfect throughout the crisis -- in fact, just the opposite, she said. She and her husband, both small business owners, have had to put their livelihoods on hold. At times, she’s been filled with anxiety. And in between smiles, her children have had their meltdowns. She’s not being inauthentic, she’s just choosing to capture the good.
“A lot of people are like, beauty? I don't see any beauty right now. How can you focus on that when we're in such a crisis place?” Paine said. “But embracing the beauty and seeing a silver lining in one moment doesn’t mean you have to do that everyday. We can freeze the things we want to remember in our mind without pretending that everything is good.”
Dr. Beverly Nazarian, a pediatrician at UMass Memorial Medical Center, agrees that there’s a benefit in trying to recognize the bright side of the situation, however dim it may be. Certainly, there is plenty that parents and children have missed out on in quarantine — socializing with friends, sports and afterschool activities, even vacations, proms and graduations. But it can help to focus on what’s in front of them.
“Finding the silver lining is a really important thing,” she said. “For our kids, ask them, ‘what’s something that’s been good about all this?’”
Maybe it’s being able to reconnect, or discover activities that they’d never had time to do before, like cooking together, board games, or family walks, she said.
“In our house would we ever sit down and do a 1000 piece puzzle? No. But we’ve done that,” said Dr. Nazarian.
Findings in psychology research show that positive emotions help us to undo the negative effects of stress. Recognizing the small moments of happiness in our days -- the proverbial silver linings -- can help us cope until the clouds break.
It’s an outlook many parents, like Fraioli, are trying to be mindful of.
"It's not perfect. My daughter is two and being home all the time can be tedious. When it rains too hard for us to go outside, my God, is this miserable,” she said. “But now the bad times are moments in a long day rather than my entire two-hour timespan spent with my kids that day. I know it's going to be hard to go back to the busy schedule when the world turns back over again.”