University of Delaware

Work-family balance upended by global pandemic

Cultural anthropologist talks about the ways COVID-19 has raised expectations and cranked up stress levels for parents
12-May-2020 6:40 AM EDT, by University of Delaware

American families have been here before — but not since Colonial times.

Suddenly, the lifestyles of centuries past have returned: Our homes now serve as both school and workplace, with one or both parents trying to keep the homestead running and the kids cared for.

The striking parallels between Colonial America and Coronavirus America reveal the cyclical nature of work-family life, according to University of Delaware Prof. Bahira Sherif Trask, who teaches courses on the history and diversity of American families in the College of Education and Human Development. Then, and during this spring’s coronavirus shutdown, the full family unit lived as one, with a more unified effort to keep things functioning.

“We’re not used to it because we’re several hundred years into the future,” she said. “But we’ve always had a need to provide for our families, and we’ve done that by adapting to the circumstances around us.”

And it’s perhaps the very nature of our current circumstance — a global pandemic that requires prolonged social distancing and isolation — that makes this abnormal “new normal” so difficult.

“It goes against the human experience,” said Trask. “We have evolved in groups because there’s safety in groups.”

And that loss of direct human interaction, coupled with heightened and frightening economic insecurity, affects us all.

“High-income professional people, expected to be available all the time, are now facing the reality of being at home, [which is especially complicated for those] with young children,” said Trask. “And they’re expected to be equally productive, or in some cases, more productive because they have ‘time off’ now. That has no basis in reality.”

A cultural anthropologist, Trask studies the relationship between social change, economics, gender and family life.

“For the people on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum, this is a complete and utter nightmare,” said Trask, who also pointed to an ongoing global rise in domestic violence, intimate partner violence and child abuse. “People are isolated, tense, and filled with real and growing economic fears.

“But trends are always very complicated. A situation like this raises the good in people, too.”

Families are spending more time outdoors. Parents are cooking meals with their children in the middle of the afternoon. Many Americans are finding pleasure in a simpler lifestyle, decreasing their emphasis on consumer culture and constant movement.

“Multiple things are happening at the same time,” Trask said of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Even though it’s the same event, it’s affecting each of us in a very different manner. And it is experienced very differently by people who are single or living alone, by the elderly, by those without easy access to technology. We can’t talk about a blanket result from this.”

And yet there are some overarching themes that this crisis reveals.

First, said Trask, is our “hyper-capitalist model,” in which ideal workers must demonstrate 24/7 devotion to their jobs — texts at 11 p.m., emails at 6 a.m. “Work first,” personal responsibilities second.

“But this pandemic has brought work-family issues to the forefront,” she said. “It’s highlighting that we’re not just workers who perform and for whom nothing else is important.”

Our kids matter, and their mental health matters, especially now, when nearly one in three adolescents between 13 and 18 will experience an anxiety disorder, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Trask worries how those figures might grow as we emerge from this pandemic, but she also finds the most comfort in today’s youth.

“I see, among young people, a real desire to affect positive change,” Trask said. “High levels of volunteerism. A commitment to service learning. An egalitarian sharing of jobs and responsibilities. In just the past few weeks, I’ve seen students start food drives, money drives. They’ve reached out to others who may be experiencing food, housing or technological insecurities. It’s the best of human nature.”

Indeed, the resilience, benevolence and creativity of our youth will be critical to the health and future of the world. And so perhaps the greatest opportunity to come from this pandemic might be our own attitudinal shifts and investments in their success.

“We know we need quality childcare and paid family sick leave. This is not a new idea,” said Trask. “Hopefully, this highlights that these are not left-leaning or right-leaning policies, but basic human rights.”




Filters close

Showing results

110 of 2451
Released: 2-Jul-2020 12:30 PM EDT
Tiny mineral particles are better vehicles for promising gene therapy
University of Wisconsin-Madison

University of Wisconsin–Madison researchers have developed a safer and more efficient way to deliver a promising new method for treating cancer and liver disorders and for vaccination — including a COVID-19 vaccine from Moderna Therapeutics that has advanced to clinical trials with humans.

Newswise: Newer variant of COVID-19–causing virus dominates global infections
Released: 2-Jul-2020 12:10 PM EDT
Newer variant of COVID-19–causing virus dominates global infections
Los Alamos National Laboratory

Research out today in the journal Cell shows that a specific change in the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus virus genome, previously associated with increased viral transmission and the spread of COVID-19, is more infectious in cell culture.

Newswise: From Wuhan to San Diego—How a mutation on the novel coronavirus has come to dominate the globe
Released: 2-Jul-2020 12:05 PM EDT
From Wuhan to San Diego—How a mutation on the novel coronavirus has come to dominate the globe
La Jolla Institute for Immunology

Two variants of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), called G614 and D614, were circulating in mid-March. A new study shows that the G version of the virus has come to dominate cases around the world. They report that this mutation does not make the virus more deadly, but it does help the virus copy itself, resulting in a higher viral load, or "titer," in patients.

Released: 2-Jul-2020 11:50 AM EDT
New Study Explains Potential Causes for “Happy Hypoxia” Condition in COVID-19 Patients
Loyola Medicine

A new research study provides possible explanations for COVID-19 patients who present with extremely low, otherwise life-threatening levels of oxygen, but no signs of dyspnea (difficulty breathing). This new understanding of the condition, known as silent hypoxemia or “happy hypoxia,” could prevent unnecessary intubation and ventilation in patients during the current and expected second wave of coronavirus.

Released: 2-Jul-2020 10:15 AM EDT
Stemming the Spread of Misinformation on Social Media
Association for Psychological Science

New research reported in the journal Psychological Science finds that priming people to think about accuracy could make them more discerning in what they subsequently share on social media.

29-Jun-2020 9:00 AM EDT
Coronavirus damages the endocrine system
Endocrine Society

People with endocrine disorders may see their condition worsen as a result of COVID-19, according to a new review published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society.

Released: 2-Jul-2020 8:50 AM EDT
Learn from the pandemic to prevent environmental catastrophe, scientists argue
University of Cambridge

• COVID-19 is comparable to climate and extinction emergencies, say scientists from the UK and US – all share features such as lagged impacts, feedback loops, and complex dynamics. • Delayed action in the pandemic cost lives and economic growth, just as it will with environmental crises – but on a scale “too grave to contemplate”.

Released: 1-Jul-2020 5:30 PM EDT
COVID-19 seed grants awarded to 7 ISU research projects
Iowa State University

Iowa State's COVID-19 Research Seed Grant program will support the initial stages of high-risk/high-reward projects that address the COVID-19 crisis.

Released: 1-Jul-2020 4:30 PM EDT
National Survey on COVID-19 Pandemic Shows Significant Mental Health Impact
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

The findings of a nationwide survey assessing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the emotional wellbeing of U.S. adults show 90 percent of survey respondents reported experiencing emotional distress related to the pandemic.


Showing results

110 of 2451

close
0.6799