The ongoing pandemic has strained all aspects of society, but the tightest bonds it has severed have been of a personal note. Familial relationships have been dramatically affected by stay-at-home orders and the risks of meeting with loved ones. Immediate family members have been drawn together by necessity, while extended family members have been pushed away for safety. The question remains: will what is typical in this decidedly atypical age become the norm in years to come?
David An is a college advisor at Berkeley High School (BHS). On a day-to-day basis, he interacts with many BHS seniors, who are worried now more than ever as to what the future holds after high school. As he’s seen their lives change and shift, so has his family’s. “My immediate family is my wife, Lucia, my son, Quinton, and my dog, Shae. In our apartment, it’s the four of us,” he said. An has, like many, felt that “before [the pandemic], we were so busy my wife and I didn’t get to hang out as much.” The increased flexibility of schedules and the removal of commutes has now given families more time together, but sometimes a little too much. “[COID-19 has] gotten us used to spending more quality time with one another … It’s been difficult juggling professional responsibilities and taking care of my 1-year-old. I think it’s both strained us and grown us closer,” An said.
John Piazza, a Latin teacher at BHS, felt as well that his family life has been restructured. “My experience [with COVID-19] has been full of surprises, and some of the social dynamics have been counterintuitive … I have found that my immediate family can only be close and functional right now when we establish and respect everyone’s need to have time and space apart,” he said. He found that maintaining an active social life is key, and that he is “not looking forward to” the new restrictions. Being a full-time parent while shouldering the burden of full-time work has been difficult for many this year. With a blurred work-life boundary, stress levels can fluctuate, leading to uncertainty about whether the week ahead will be strenuous or moderate.
An recounted a harrowing couple of weeks when college applications were due. “I had a very unhealthy schedule, where my work took over my evenings on almost every single day of the week. I was on Zooms until 9 to 10 PM every night and very close to a total burnout. I was definitely less patient with my wife and not as energetic for my son,” he said.
Piazza felt similarly, and offered his advice. “Having something outside of work to focus on has helped me to establish a clear work-life boundary. I have started spending my free time playing music. Having this to look forward to helps me to prevent work from taking over my evenings and weekend,” he said.
The uncertainty of COVID-19 has been difficult for many, especially in how it relates to extended family. Not knowing when one will see their relatives is stressful, and it has been for An and his newborn. “My parents and my wife’s parents have only seen Quinton two times in his first year of life. The one time we met during [COVID-19] we were fearful and had a baseline level of anxiety about the risk,” he said. Isolation from loved ones is an agonizing requirement, one that Piazza has accepted with candor. He said, “We are not planning to travel by plane anytime soon, and this means that we may not see some of our elderly relatives again. But this is also encouragement for us to reach out online and via traditional letters.” Even far apart, families still find ways to connect, providing hope that the years that follow will be ones of interaction and togetherness.