COVID-19 puts new stress on family relationships

Parent-children dynamics are changing with new home life

Angela Ide, Opinions Editor

an illustration of a man on a couch and a woman looking at him from behind the couch
Illustration by Chloe Guillot

The family that I deeply love and know from the safety of my dorm room is vastly different from the family that suddenly became my roommates for the first few weeks of quarantine.

Instead of having space and freedom to finish the winter quarter strong and give my finals the attention they deserved, I woke up to six missed calls and my parents telling me that I needed to pack my bags before they finished their 3-hour drive to pick me up for spring break.

Back in high school — when I last lived at home — if I had homework or finals to work on, I would normally sit in the nearest Starbucks or Roasters, the local coffee chain, until I finished. That way, at least, home and school work could stay separate. But that is no longer an option.

If I were home, I would have to fight with questionable-at-best internet, find the proper channels to turn in a portfolio and play the longest game of hide-and-seek just so I could finish my many papers. For those reasons, I elected to continue living on campus.

Many of us are facing this new reality during spring quarter. As much as we love, adore and want to spend time with our families in this difficult season, this is not an easy adjustment. It is a difficult transition for anyone to make without the added stress and circumstances that we are facing in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In all honesty, this bumpy shift into a new normal is part of the reason why some of us — who have the resources and opportunity — have decided to continue living on campus, despite classes being held online. It only took three and a half weeks at home for me to feel the need to return to the dorms for one more quarter this year.

The situations we face at home might not allow us to put our best into our school work right now, and I cannot tell you how disheartening it is to know that the quarter where the blues of winter can usually be washed over in sunlight and good friends has been turned into something just as isolated and frustrating as January.

For those of us who cannot escape to campus life or to the coffee shops that greet you with breves, frappes and sweet silence while you pound out another English paper, why does the simple prospect of unending family time and interaction cause such distress? So many of us wish we could spend more time with our families when we are in the midst of the isolated stress that every winter quarter tends to bring, so why not now?

What I have learned in my experience of this pandemic is that it is not about wanting or not wanting to spend time with your family. It is about the relationship between you and the people around you being put under a whole new kind of stress.

It comes as no surprise that many of us have learned to exercise a new kind of freedom as college students. Nor is it a surprise that home does not have the same ground rules. This is only exaggerated for the students who have less than ideal relationships with their parents, which might look like intermittent communication, contentious sharing of communal spaces, and/or small talk thinly veiling the tension boiling under the surface — if they have a relationship at all. With every relationship now under the spotlight, this season is bound to be inevitably difficult at times, no matter who you are, who your family is, and where you are.

Even in ordinary times, it is perfectly normal for adult children and their parents to go through moments of adjustment in their relationship. The biggest difference now is that everyone is going through it at the same time.

So just remember, no one knows the “right” way to navigate every relationship as it evolves and changes. Every parent comes to a point in their lives when their babies grow into full-grown humans and, even though all they can remember is the scraped knees, tear-filled breakups and moments of disappointment that they got to watch their child go through, the parents have to come to terms with this new and interesting person that stands before them.

Many children come to a point where the parents they have idolized and looked up to are no longer Superman or Wonder Woman, but they are just as prone to stress, fear and uncertainty as anyone.

COVID-19 has given every child, parent and sibling the opportunity to reevaluate their relationships and rediscover the wonderful people they are surrounded by.

Despite the frustration of shooing my family out of the living room for an hour, just so I do not have to argue with them on camera as my professor drones on about the intricacies of differential equations, I want to remember the blessings I do have.

I get to discover who my parents have become right before my eyes as I take off the rose-colored glasses I’ve been wearing. I get to show my parents the amazing person they helped create that grew beyond their expectations. By the end of all this, if I have not descended into true madness first, I can hope that my parents can see all the ways I have grown, I can see the ways that they have grown, and that we can allow for a new kind of relationship.