What the Pandemic Taught Us About Family Life
The 2020-2021 shutdown was rough in a lot of ways. Amid pandemic fears, shelter-in-place orders, mandatory or voluntary quarantines, financial insecurities, and having to get a Covid test every time someone sniffled—well, we would expect families to be overjoyed at the prospect of sending kids back to school, getting into the office, and resuming life as normal.
Except . . . we're not. At least not entirely. As of earlier this spring, roughly 40 percent of Americans preferred to work from home full-time once pandemic restrictions lifted, and 35 percent wanted a home/office hybrid arrangement. Only 25 percent were looking forward to going back to the office full-time.1 For kids, homeschooling has exploded. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that, between the spring of 2020, when the pandemic hit, and the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, homeschooling rates doubled in the U.S.2 (The Census Bureau posed its survey questions to ensure that these rates represented true homeschooling and not just virtual schooling.) And although it is still too soon to tell if this boom is temporary or will be more long-lasting, initial reports suggest that many families have kept with it this fall.3
For at least some Americans, the pandemic may actually have helped them to slow down, enjoy time together more, and improve their personal relationships. According to one Pew Research Center report, roughly a third of Americans mentioned positive relationship developments that resulted from the pandemic (though this was far more likely for younger than for older individuals, as the latter tended to report greater feelings of isolation).4
Similarly, a large cluster of media stories from the spring of 2020—the middle of pandemic shutdowns for most—reveal some unexpected silver linings. One CNN story reported on families who felt closer, more connected, and less frazzled.5 "While it's too early for any studies on a happiness spike," author Elissa Strauss writes, "hundreds of families from around the United States have shared on social media and in discussion boards a sense of relief and joy, which tracks with what we know about the causes of childhood anxiety and depression today."
Parents who at first panicked at the idea of being stuck at home all day with their kids were shocked to see their kids begin playing independently or with their siblings, preparing their own snacks, or getting a drink of water by themselves. Experts pointed to a greater availability of time for free play as being good for kids' mental health. Strauss continues, "Letting [kids] take chances can also restore what psychologists call their internal locus of control—the sense that they are in control of their own lives and can handle disruptions on their own. It's a crucial element of emotional well-being."
Similarly, in the UK, nearly one-third of mothers reported feeling closer to their children, even though these same mothers were also picking up greater hours of housework.6 The survey found that "working from home and having the time to homeschool seems to improve parent-child relationships." And a spring 2020 story from the Washington Post detailed many things about the pandemic that families wanted to keep going, including family dinners, exercise, walks, and book clubs; the chance to slow down; and a greater sense of connection through shared tasks.7
Not Helpless After All
In other words, it wasn't all bad. Don't get me wrong—the pandemic was a tragedy, resulting in hundreds of thousands of lost lives, economic shortfalls, political turmoil, and a great amount of uncertainty, confusion, and unrest. But amid all this, individual families began to realize something: they weren't as helpless as they thought they were.
Families that had relied on institutions to fill every moment of every day began to spend more time together when those institutions shut down or were otherwise cut off. Adults enjoyed the benefits of working at home, with their kids and other loved ones around. Parents appreciated a greater understanding of what their kids did in school all day, and in some cases at least, decided that they wanted to do the schooling task at home instead. Instead of everyone packing into the minivan and heading to soccer practice after school, then grabbing take-out on the way home, kids had to play soccer in their own backyards, and parents spent extra time cooking. Many parents reported that their kids seemed happier, calmer, more rested, and more able to play or work independently.
Certainly, this wasn't true for all families. Married or partnered parents, as opposed to single parents, had an easier time in the pandemic, as did those at higher income levels. Nonetheless, we can learn a few things from the experience. Slow down, trust kids with more, take time to be together, don't be afraid of boredom. The divinely ordained institution of the family is still capable of educating its own children, working for its own livelihood from the home, and providing its own meals and entertainment.
1. "Many Americans want to keep working from home after the pandemic," USA Today (May 19, 2021).
2. Casey Eggleston and Jason Fields, "Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey Shows Significant Increase in Homeschooling Rates in Fall 2020," U.S. Census Bureau (March 22, 2021): census.gov/library/stories/2021/03/homeschooling-on-the-rise-during-covid-19-pandemic.html.
3. Katie Gilbert, "How Homeschooling Evolved from Subversive to Mainstream," JSTOR Daily (Sept. 8, 2021): https://daily.jstor.org/how-homeschooling-evolved-from-subversive-to-mainstream.
4. Patrick van Kessel et al., "In Their Own Words, Americans Describe the Struggles and Silver Linings of the COVID-19 Pandemic," Pew Research Center (March 5, 2021): pewresearch.org/2021/03/05/in-their-own-words-americans-describe-the-struggles-and-silver-linings-of-the-covid-19-pandemic.
5. Elissa Strauss, "Why some kids are happier right now, and other unexpected effects of quarantine" (April 27, 2020): cnn.com/2020/04/27/health/children-mental-health-quarantine-coronavirus-wellness/index.html.
6. Jamie Doward, "Weird but true: lockdown has made many families happier," The Guardian (July 5, 2020): theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/
7. Amy Joyce and Ellen McCarthy, "A better normal," The Washington
Post (April 27, 2021): pacesconnection.com/blog/a-better-normal-
is the managing editor of The Natural Family, the quarterly publication of the International Organization for the Family.This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #59, Winter 2021 Copyright © 2022 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/article/salvo59/no-place-like-home-2