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Spending Lockdown With Your Parents: Does Familiarity Breed Contempt?

The recent periods of social distancing have not only created opportunities for families to spend plenty of time together, but also created a lot of mental pressure when members scramble to find personal space. As a result, individuals learned to face themselves and their family members; distances could be reduced, yet there are new boundaries that must be respected.

Miscommunication abounds

There is a great paradox in the fact that young people feel lonely in their own home despite spending all of their time with their families in quarantine. This issue arose when their daily activities and relationships were changed abruptly, leaving them to adjust to the "new normal."

Hà, currently a third-year economics student, shares: "I am an extrovert, so it was really uncomfortable and frustrating when I woke up one day and realized that I have to limit my communication with friends. I think my parents also had the same problem, especially when their work was in a crisis. After too much time staying at home, each of us suddenly showed too many bad habits, which could lead to heated arguments about trivial things."

Similar to Hà, Hiếu, a pedagogy student, also has many concerns about the heavy atmosphere in his family. Normally, everyone in Hiếu’s family has their own work and space, so before the lockdown he didn’t spend much time with the family besides meals and taking care of his sick father.

Hiếu's father watching TV in their living room, a shared space.

"In the time of social distancing, my entire family felt the pressure because my mother, who is the main breadwinner, couldn't work. Our finances were worse than before and I had some setbacks in studying and teaching. So everyone had their own struggle, and our family [who rarely talks about stuff] then didn't know what to say. We were afraid to hurt each other and make the situation more awkward, so it felt all the more suffocating,” Hiếu said in explaining the reasons behind the mounting tension in his family.

To explore these negative psychological changes, we can look to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Psychologist Lê Trần Hoàng Duy told Tuoi Tre that this is a model used to explain basic human needs such as physical wellness, safety, the need to be loved and respected, and to express. It is easy to see that the living conditions of many young people during the pandemic did not meet these needs.

From the perspective of parents

Parents, like their children, also have struggles of their own. They could easily suffer from psychological trauma as the main source of income for the family in a time of economic crisis.

Linh, Hà's mother, admitted: "My kid is in university, but she can’t be financially independent. During the pandemic she studied online but tuition still needed to be paid. And I also had to worry about how to sustain the long-term business. I am both a mother and a daughter myself. My own mom had a stroke, but her house was in the red zone so there was no way to visit. The continuous burden made me toss and turn for many nights."

Hà's mother in their home kitchen.

For parents, middle age usually comes with a need for responsibility and sacrifice for the children, as they are willing to go to any length to provide for their children. But amid the tumult of COVID-19, there is an enormous pressure to reconcile those aspects.

Prior to the pandemic, family disagreements could be temporarily set aside when members leave the home to engage in societal responsibilities. But now, parents must deal with daily concerns like food and money, as well as family dynamics, simultaneously, with little preparation or support.

Diệu, a single mother, is currently working as the director of a family company in Gia Lai. She shared: "During the pandemic, my children moved back in, and I had to spend more on food and other supplies. However, my worries did not come from the economy but from the relationships within the family. I alone had to take care of everything, from the company and house chores to my children and other problems. That’s why sometimes I get angry over trivial things, though I am also afraid of hurting my kids."

Rediscovering the forgotten

Time spent with family around-the-clock could also provide the opportunity for household members to learn more about the habits and quirks of one another, and even the sufferings that are at times difficult to admit.

Diệu shared that after seeing her son's living habits after a year living at university, she felt touched: "His father passed away early, so I’ve always wanted to make it up for him; he used to be such a mama’s boy. But it was this pandemic that made me realize my son has grown more active in daily life and more careful when dealing with others. It has eased my worries."

Despite not talking much with his parents, Hiếu also noticed things he had never seen before: "Staying at home made me realize that before, whenever both mom and I were gone, my father would be alone in the living room with the TV. And mom had to work and take care of my dad at the same time. With the quarantine, we had more meals together, and I learned that the whole family cares for each other so much, not through words but through actions."

Chi, who lives in Da Nang's Son Tra District, feels thankful that the social distancing allowed her to spend more time talking to her family, even if it's only online. Her family owns a grocery store in the alley near her house. But when Da Nang implemented the “everybody stay put” order, her parents had to stay at the grocery store to clean and take care of the inventory. As a result, she had to learn how to live by herself while also taking care of her younger sister. Since then, the entire family has started to text more frequently and called one another about their daily events.

The mom-and-pop shop of Chi's family.

Not only affecting personal feelings, living at home has also instilled in young people a sense of awareness about many aspects of life, particularly family financial matters — things that parents rarely share.

Hà continues: "This pandemic made me realize that I used to waste money on pointless things. In the past, I never worried much about my family’s finances, until my parents' work became more difficult. Perhaps I was a little careless before, not realizing that my parents never rest from their work, that they are always trying hard to build a better home for us."

Chi's neighborhood and her family's small grocery store are very close to each other, but due to strict social distancing rules, the whole family could not reunite.

Faced with rarely experienced facets of their loved ones, one may be daunted by the prospect of living at for a long time. However, from a positive standpoint, the social distancing period provided an opportunity for each individual to confront and resolve thorny issues rather than avoiding them as they did previously, when there was little downtime to find common understanding.

Now with the regulations easing up, young people, depending on their living circumstances and financial conditions, can make their own decisions: to leave home or to stay. But either way, new awareness about their own self and their loved ones' can change family dynamics for the better. Familiarity doesn't always breed contempt.

Some names in the article have been changed at the request of the interview subjects.

[Photos courtesy of interview subjects]

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