Across south Louisiana, family and friends are coming together.
With thousands flooded from their houses, people have opened their doors to loved ones who may not return home for weeks or months.
Living in close quarters can stress even the closest of relationships, but counselors and therapists say a cramped housing situation doesn't have to lead to animosity.
"Nobody chose for this situation to occur," said Stephen Aguillard, a clinical social worker at the Capital Area Human Services District. "It’s not anyone’s fault. We’re trying to help one another."
As many Louisiana families learned in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and other storms, living with family is much harder than spending holidays together.
“We all have our family issues," said Pat Godfrey, a clinical social worker in Baton Rouge. "As we grow up and start our own families, those don’t go away.”
Add the shock of losing a home to existing family dynamics, and "everything gets magnified," Godfrey said.
With the tragedy of flooding and home loss weighing on your shoulders, small disagreements or slights can boil over into huge fights, Godfrey said.
"If we overreact now, we are overreacting to what we've been through," she said.
Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, Godfrey and Aguillard learned several helpful lessons from clients who either hosted family and friends or moved in with loved ones. Here's their advice:
- Be cooperative and work together. Remain conscious of other people's space and the needs of others. "The common chores in a family like picking up after yourself and washing your coffee cup and not losing it," Godfrey said. "In a house with 20 people that becomes very important."
- Ask what needs to be done. If you're a guest in a friend or family member's house, ask what you can do to help. "These are working guests, seeing what can be done or what can't be done," Aguillard said. "Have a conversation about how things are going, 'What do you need from us? What are you getting from us?' " Regular communication can prevent animosity from brewing.
- Assign chores and tasks. After Hurricane Katrina, Godfrey found families that used an organized system to take care of regular chores and shopping were most successful. "It helps to assign and become focused," she said.
- Debrief daily. Every night, sit down as a group and discuss how the day went and talk about the coming days. "It’s what families typically do when they sit down and have dinner together," Aguillard said. "The difference is your family’s bigger."
- Find some alone time. Living with friends and family, it can be difficult to find time to reflect on your losses. But that's what you need, Godfrey said. "I think people need to be alone and introspective to really process what they’ve been through," she said. "Something with this dimension, it’s a huge loss." Also, individual families need time away from extended family and friends. "Find some independence," Aguillard said. "If the family has a room they can go to and relax, or I would take a walk together. They can play a game together."
- Don't worry about school. Children and teens haven't had time to settle into a school routine, so the time away from class won't disrupt their lives much, Godfrey said. But for children over the age of 3 or 4, this experience will shape their lives. "They can learn life lessons in this time that can serve them their entire lives that will be just as important as school," she said.