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The Gift of Time

Lessons I'm learning about the chaos of coronavirus from my DNA discovery.

In the span of three months, the world as we know it in North America has changed so monumentally it has become hard to fathom. The threat of a virus we know little about and have less control over is spreading fear and panic, triggering some of the best and worst in human behavior.

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and today began a three-week shelter in place order for the nearly 7 million people living in six of the nine counties comprising the Bay Area. My practice went from 12% teletherapy to 100% overnight. We can luckily still go out for groceries and essential needs but that could change into a lockdown at any moment; once initiated, people are not allowed to leave their homes and the authorities will enforce curfews, etc. Friends in France currently must provide a letter to authorities detailing why they need to be outside of their homes. Probably Italy too. Amid all this chaos and change, I am reminded of the benefit I am being given by remaining at home with my family: time.

Ben White/Unsplash
Source: Ben White/Unsplash

As a Non-Paternal Event (NPE), family has been a subject of great interest to me and, precisely because of the paternity discovery, at times quite painful. One of the many emotional variables involved in DNA revelations is the change to family dynamics. In discovering a secret biological father, a chain of events was triggered that forever changed the landscape of my family of origin and had a ripple effect through my own nuclear family and newly discovered biological branch. Time began to slip through my fingers and family relationships did the same.

One of the simplest ways to create a sense of family is spending time bonding over life cycle events, holidays, and intimate connections like weekly dinner nights; something in abundance now that school has been canceled, sports programs indefinitely postponed, and work is entirely remote for the majority of the Bay Area. It reminds me of the hope of most NPE’s out there: to spend time with new family and cultivate that sense of belonging and identity derived from family and ancestry. The very fact of a DNA discovery creates a bind in that we cannot have it all: Either our known family is hurt and censors us or the biological family could reject a new stranger, suspicious of intentions so as to protect fragile family relationships.

I now have all the time I have ever asked for in my years of complaints that I have no time at all. That I could not do something with a friend or my children because of work, or my kids' baseball or volleyball games, or even that I was too tired from all the things I was trying to cram in as a working mom. I have all the time I want to languish in books, binge watch TV with my kids, make those recipes that require more time than a typical weeknight will permit. I have time to develop family, and I remember clients and friends who are NPE that have not had that chance with newly discovered biological family. Many have not been given the gift of time to create family, or if they have, it came at the expense of their known family, who feel replaced and rejected.

In my therapy practice, I coach clients to examine their patterns, motivation to change unwanted thoughts and behaviors and increase flexibility for adaptation to change. Ironically, each of those skills and themes are at play with the coronavirus pandemic, forcing us to re-evaluate our habits, patterns, and to connect with people differently; I am making plans to meet friends for cocktail hours over the self-isolation period using FaceTime!

Furthermore, I believe the NPE experience has a head start on many of these issues. We have had to adjust to unwanted changes, unwelcome treatment from family on either or both sides and change how we connect to people. We struggled with our identity and used our precious time between work and family obligations to mend ourselves and make plans on how we would use our future time. We found family in friendships and cohorts in Facebook groups and intentionally changed the way we use our time to bring us more meaning. I think that is a direct result of the forced change to our sense of family and self, brought on by our DNA discovery.

Sandy Millar/Unsplash
Source: Sandy Millar/Unsplash

I am hopeful we as a nation, and on a macro level as a species, can learn from this pandemic that we need to change our methods across so many areas it’s easily overwhelming. Let’s start with how we spend our time. Instead of running the rat race because we think we have to, let’s change that paradigm so that we can easily say yes to family and personal needs. We can easily appraise our schedules for bandwidth to add in something without anxiety spikes. We can easily structure our working hours to be efficient with a healthy balance of personal/family life. I endeavor to make these changes on a personal level because what at first was almost punishment is really the gift of time.