Surviving Family Lockdown

On the evening of Sunday 15th of March a cheer rang out through the classrooms as the President announced the schools would close under the declared state of disaster in South Africa.

The cheers were somewhat premature as the volume of excited voices drowned out the information that the shutdown was still three days away and would involve shortening the June/July holiday. The excitement, while understandable in the young, is also going to prove premature for a host of other reasons.


In the aftermath of the Presidential address it became clear that as someone who had recently returned to South Africa from the UK (out of the fire and back to the frying pan), I had to go for testing followed by self-isolation. The next morning, having finally confirmed on the NICD hotline (you are number 85 in the queue) that a test was required, I headed off to the nearest facility. Unlike our students I haven’t taken a test for a while and I was nervous.

From the welcome, “This is going to be a little uncomfortable”, to the test (I’ve never had anything inserted so far up my nostril), I found the experience anxiety provoking. Dealing with people in masks, while entirely necessary, feels like being in a dystopian teen novel. My blood pressure, taken at the time, soared. White coat hypertension apparently.

After what felt like a lot longer than two days, I got the call to say I was all clear.


While all this was going on it turns out my colleagues were sending the departed students a barrage of work large enough to stop a small army in its tracks. Certainly, enough to curb the premature excitement of the recipients.


Like the cheers at school, my sense of relief has faded. Reality, added to by news channels and multiplied by social media, has created a growing sense of collective concern. This sense of unease was confirmed by the more recent Presidential address instructing us all to stay in our homes for a three-week period.

Anxiety well and truly back.

I am sure that you have had your moments of fear and worry. Your children also. While we grapple with these emotions, we simultaneously must navigate how we and our families manage during these unprecedented times. The problem with fear is that it is a potent and instinctive driver. Not a good climate for constrained family life at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic lockdown.


For some guidance on the way forward I chatted with psychologist Dr Rob Pluke around this topic. “If fear underpins all we do as families then I really doubt we’ll be able to avoid internal selfishness, irritation and carping” says Rob.

So how do we avoid getting sucked into fear in the choices we make and the way we relate to each other? Here are our pointers on the way forward.

Emphasize the why

As families we must find a compelling ‘why’ to our new behaviour. If everyone has clarity on the importance of what we are being asked to do, it can help re-orientate us in difficult moments. This can include the reasons for your own family rules and routines. In these conversations try to include in your ‘why’ others in your community. We are not only taking actions for ourselves but for the good of others.

Count the cost

The next three weeks are going to present a challenge for most families. Living in proximity for 21 days straight with my kin was not part of my holiday plan (and neither, I am told in no uncertain terms, was it theirs).

“This national emergency demands cooperation, collaboration and common action. More than that, it requires solidarity, understanding and compassion.” President Cyril Ramaphosa.

It’s important to examine what this time asks of you and your family. Include your children in discussions about what it is going to take from each member. Not only in terms of safety but also in relation to creativity, appreciation and care. Forget toilet paper, we are going to need to stockpile some of those staples like kindness and forgiveness.

Hold on to love

At the end of the day ‘without love we are nothing’ and we are reminded that if we get love right, fear is sent packing. This shift from fear to love is achievable, but it will require leadership from responsible adults in terms of redirecting and re-framing conversations and the actions that follow.

If we are clear about why we are doing what we are doing, aware of what it is going to take and manage to hold onto love, then our family times could even be fun, meaningful and memorable.

A slightly different version of this blog can be found at SU Mag

One comment

  1. To the point and true! Thank you – from an over 70 condemned for the most part to self isolation. For the first time I say heartily “Thank God for social Media”


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