Social Distance & Family Capital

Sequestered Households Tap into Deep Reservoirs Still Available

Americans are living these days in a Brave New World, one in which best-laid plans have gone up in smoke overnight while most “shelter-in” and nervously swipe through Facebook, Twitter, or other media of choice looking for some hope that the COVID-19 pandemic may soon be over.

All the while, many wonder, how could this have happened to America? How could the richest, most powerful country in the world be brought to its knees in a matter of days? And how long will it last?

Multiplying online every day are accounts of hospitals in Lombardy and Veneto—on the verge of collapse, patients waiting for scarce ventilators, others lined up in hallways because there are no more rooms. And many are claiming the U.S. is on its way to that. Americans are scared.

These weeks have been unnerving, to say the least, and so many different sources are claiming different things—the pandemic is near its end, it has just begun; this will last another month, this will last another year. But amidst it all, I have noticed a slim sliver of goodness. For in between the talking heads debating who is to blame, or the social media acquaintances putting forth this or that expert medical opinion, there has been another trend worth observing. And that is that on Facebook, on Twitter, in our text threads—you name it—people are embracing some really creative ways to hang out with their families.

NPR reported this week on how families across the country are handling social distancing and quarantine.[1] The story mentions Bennett VanOudenallen, a teacher from Cincinnati, Ohio, who is learning how to teach remotely while also hanging out with his daughters, ages 8 and 9. He told NPR, “While searching for some new ways to communicate and share content with my students, my daughters and I began singing songs together. . . . Then they illustrate those songs using markers on a piece of glass. They have to do the entire drawing as the song plays and then we post it on YouTube. They are taking requests from their friends.” The family calls the series “Coranaissance,” a combination of the words “Coronovirus” and “Renaissance.”

Another story subject—also a first-grade teacher—is using Monopoly to teach her son problem solving and strategy. And a mom of small children made bagels from scratch with her daughter because the store ran out.

And while sources say that the nation is nowhere near depleting its food stores[2], mass hysteria has meant that for now, many are having to get creative with what they can find. Yeast and flour are nowhere to be found—and while deeply annoying, it’s also a sign that people are actually prepared to bake their own bread if need be. For now, though, my Facebook feed is full of friends baking with their children, making their own play-dough, building forts, taking long nature walks outside. My own family has had numerous Zoom and FaceTime chats with other extended family; we have played new board games, and soon, I will endeavor to help shepherd our small sons through their school’s remote learning program.

This isn’t where we wanted to be or what we wanted to be doing, but maybe the time with family isn’t half bad. There’s a term used a fair amount in business literature—“social capital.” The dictionary definition of social capital is: “the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively.”[3] People depend upon people, and social capital is the term that captures those elusive relationships that enable us to do our jobs, start new ventures, have children, etc. As a recent paper puts it, “social capital is productive, enabling the achievement of otherwise unattainable outcomes.”

But there is yet another aspect of social capital, or another component. And that is family capital. In business terms, “Family capital was defined as total owning-family resources composed of human, social, and financial capital.”[4] Family capital “is both available to and created by members of the family unit.”[5] An example, in business, would be a married couple who decide to jointly start a new venture—he in one role, she in another. One study finds a significant relationship between access to family capital and the likelihood of new-venture startup.

Why? People in families depend upon each other—whether for companionship, help with household tasks, financial resources, health care, or other needs. Families provide an indispensable resource for those looking to engage in start-ups. Marcia Barlow writes, “Unlike many societal entities, a family has the ability to take resources, however limited, and use them in the most efficient manner. The nature of family allows it to intimately know the people involved and allow the resources to go to their highest and best use.”[6]

This is never more apparent than in a crisis. Families are best positioned to care for each other, entertain each other, provide companionship, comfort, structure, and education. During the current, tragic COVID-19 pandemic, families are rediscovering some of their innate strengths. Parents are tapping into creative abilities they didn’t know they had—bread-baking, singing, writing, painting—and teaching their children handicrafts while simultaneously learning alongside them. Families are relying on each other for daily needs in a very real way—juggling working from home with childcare, or with homeschooling, or supervising remote learning efforts.

Let us hope that we remember this strength, when this dark time has passed. And may God help us all.

[1] Brooklyn Riepma, “What Some People Are Doing To Fill The Social Distancing Space,” NPR, March 19, 2020, available at

[2] Russell Redman, “‘No Nationwide Shortages of Food,’ FDA Says,” Supermarket News, March 18, 2020, available at

[3] “Social Capital,”, powered by Oxford.

[4] Sharon M. Danes et al., “Family Capital of Family Firms: Bridging Human, Social, and Financial Capital,” Family Business Review, April 6, 2009, available at

[5] Peter Rodriguez, Christopher S. Tuggle, and Sean M. Hackett, “An Exploratory Study of How Potential ‘Family and Household Capital’ Impacts New Venture Start-Up Rates,” Family Business Review, May 8, 2009, available at

[6] Marcia Barlow, “Family capital: The fuel that drives development,”, November 16, 2016, available at

is the managing editor of The Natural Family, the quarterly publication of the International Organization for the Family.

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