Creating and Sustaining Shalom Bayit During Quarantine and Beyond

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BY AMY ALFRED

Shalom bayit is the Jewish religious concept of domestic harmony and good relations between husband and wife. Literally meaning peace or harmony in the home, it also refers to any practice or behavior likely to promote those ends. The goal is to create a space that is characterized by peace, nurturing, respect, and chesed (loving-kindness). As Rabbi Natan said: “If one brings peace into the home, it is as though peace were brought to all of the people of Israel.” Creating peace within the home can have far-reaching effects.

Working toward shalom bayit seems especially important now that we are living through a pandemic, where many people have been sheltering in place for weeks on end, living with their partners, spouses, children (both young and grown) and pets, along with a great deal of worry, uncertainty, boredom, fear, and economic insecurity. Our outside world brings little comfort at the moment, so ensuring that our homes are a place of respite is paramount.


As a licensed psychologist for the past 30 years, as well as an organizational consultant, I have spoken to many people around difficulties within the home and in the workplace. It is important to remember that all homes (and even workplaces) have different rhythms, personalities and values, so that what might work in one home can be disastrous for another.  Try to think of what the main characteristics of your home are as you read the following guidelines to create more peace.

Engage in good communication:

It is important to speak respectfully to your family members (and vice versa).  Healthy civil discourse includes being able to listen deeply, trying to understand, sharing talk time, speaking for yourself, suspending judgment, practicing forgiveness and paying attention to your thoughts and feelings. As an organizational consultant, I have worked with many groups where the discussion of what civil discourse means has helped enormously in terms of their overall effectiveness and productivity. In this respectful place, you can talk about a variety of issues so that you are heard and understood, paving the way for greater clarity and peace.

Set boundaries:

Meet with all household members to establish boundaries and an agreed-upon everyday routine. Have everyone participate so they will be more willing to stick by the rules. It is imperative to create boundaries in terms of time and space.  You can decide on the creation of potential places to be apart and then to try to respect those spaces. Understanding the rhythms of your household is crucial. Paying attention to when people are working, studying, reading, resting, talking with friends, etc. and not intruding on those activities goes a long way toward shalom bayit. In my home, for example, my daughter puts a sign on her door when she is engaging in online learning, and my son does not play his music (at least without headphones) after 10 p.m.

Create clear rules and expectations:

Clear rules should be developed around chores, division of responsibilities for shared spaces, as well as the timing of activities like sleeping, exercising, eating and playing music. Try to be a team player and be cooperative. We are moving from red to yellow soon and everyone’s comfort level with safety varies, so it’s important to discuss whether you need to shower after work, whether you are comfortable with socializing with a different family, whether you will sit outside at a restaurant, etc. If your household includes young children and one or more working adults, dividing up caregiving and time for work can help avoid resentment and burnout. One surefire way for misunderstanding is the misalignment of expectations. If there is a conflict, try to figure out if everyone was on the same page, and recommit to a shared vision of what works best.

The power of the dinner table:

Studies show that establishing regular mealtimes is a healthy thing to do for family stability. Eating dinner together can be a time to check in and share thoughts and feelings about the day. You can also talk about what is going on in the world or what you read about or who you talked to that day. For younger children, family dinner may help to give them some structure, both in terms of knowing there is a regular mealtime, as well as what kinds of conversation the family has. One game is called Happy/Sad/Learn. For example, each person goes around the table and shares something they are HAPPY about, SAD about and something they LEARNED. In addition, try to engage as many household members as possible in the creation of dinner, whether it is in shopping for the food, planning the meals, cooking, setting the table or cleaning up. This way no one person feels the burden of doing all of the tasks alone.

Find appropriate outlets:

Sometimes you may feel bored or frustrated or agitated and therefore need some time alone. This can be challenging to address when you have so many people around you. Some people have found that exercising has allowed them to get rid of excess energy. In order to feel calmer, some people like to talk to a friend virtually, find some quiet space in the house to read or meditate, have a cup of tea, or watch a show. Many are scrambling to find flour and yeast in order to engage in the soothing (and delicious) activity of baking bread. Try to figure out what works for YOU. Understanding what your rhythms are can allow you to choose the best activity for you. In addition, I am reminded that what works for one person may be all wrong for another. One of my clients said that she hated when everyone began suggesting yoga, because that was not calming for her.  What DID work however, was being able to go out for a run to get rid of her anxiety.

Change your perspective:

When you are feeling bored or restless or angry, it can help to try to see things through a different lens. You may wish to go for a walk, as it makes returning home easier and will allow you to see things more calmly. You can stop the task that you are doing and try to come back to it at a time when you feel more alert or have had some time to ponder it from a different angle. One practice I suggest to my clients is to take time in the morning or before bed to focus on three things in your life that you feel so blessed to be able to experience. While it is useful to acknowledge your feelings and ways you may have experienced grief or loss during this pandemic, it can then be just as important to switch your framework, to be able to lessen the feelings of discomfort.

Establish rituals:

Establishing rituals every day helps to promote stability and order. If you are working from home, then you should start and end your day at the same time as if you were going into your office. Although there have been many jokes about the difference between our day pajamas and our night pajamas at this time, for many it remains wise to get up and go about their usual routine of waking up and showering and getting dressed. This helps to maintain some normalcy. Making coffee the night before, helping children pick up their toys at the end of the day, exercising in the morning, breathing exercises before bedtime — all are ways to keep some routine and constancy in the middle of what can seem chaotic.

Don’t sweat the small stuff:

Learning to let things roll off of your back or turning the other cheek are ways to keep stress at a minimum. Understand that someone in your household may be going through a momentary time of grumpiness or anger and try not to allow that to impact your day. Stay away from personalization, the belief that everything others do or say is a direct, personal reaction to oneself — even when it wasn’t meant that way. Allowing someone to just be where they are and not try to change them or cajole them out of their mood may be the most loving and respectful way to handle the situation.

Say I’m sorry:

Even in the best of times, we all make mistakes. During this pandemic and beyond, it is crucial for the creation of shalom bayit to be able to recognize a mistake, to accept responsibility for it, and then to apologize. Saying you are sorry goes a long way toward soothing ruffled feathers and hurt feelings and allows others in your orbit to move on from a conflict. One of my clients reported how her anger fizzled out as soon as her husband said he was sorry for forgetting to clean all the dishes, but that he was trying to help their children resolve a fight.

While we are living in a world outside that feels so crazy and confusing, it is important to create a sacred, safe, and loving environment in our homes. Communication and flexibility can be just as essential as yeast and toilet paper, if not more so. As we move from strict quarantine to the next phase of this new normal, we will be confronted with ways to stay steady and productive. The very essence of shalom bayit will allow us some comfort and stability so that we can face the challenges of this pandemic and beyond, to come out of this with a new perspective, along with resilience and hope.

Dr. Amy Alfred has been in private practice for almost 30 years, where she treats clients with a wide variety of presenting issues. She can be reached at  610-755-2929 or amyalfred@aol.com.

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