Shalom bayit is the Jewish religious concept of domestic harmony. 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.”
Working toward shalom bayit seems especially important now that we are living through a pandemic. Our outside world brings little comfort at the moment, so ensuring that our homes are a place of respite is paramount. Here are some guidelines to help.
Engage in good communication
It is important to speak respectfully to your family members. 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.
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
We are moving from yellow to green 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 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.
The power of the dinner table
Studies show that establishing regular mealtimes is healthy for family stability. Eating together can be a time to check in and share thoughts and feelings about the day. 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. 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. 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 or stop the task that you are doing and come back to it when you feel more alert or have had time to ponder it from a different angle. One practice I suggest is to take time in the morning or before bed to focus on three things in your life that you feel blessed to be able to experience. While it is useful to acknowledge the ways you may have experienced grief or loss during this pandemic, it can be just as important to switch your framework, to be able to lessen the feelings of discomfort.
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, for many it remains wise to get up and go about their usual routine of waking up and showering and getting dressed. Making coffee the night before, 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.
Say I’m sorry
Even in the best of times, we 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 apologize. Saying you are sorry allows others in your orbit to move on from a conflict.
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. As we move from strict quarantine to the next phase of this new normal, 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. JN
Dr. Amy Alfred has been in private practice for almost 30 years, where she treats clients with a wide variety of presenting issues.