Parents Spent More Time With Kids During Pandemic But Stress Was High, Census Survey Shows

A new survey from the U.S. Census Bureau indicated that while parents spent more time with their children during the pandemic, stress was high.

"Families knew before the pandemic that they were overstressed. Kids had so many places to be. Parents were juggling an awful lot," said Roma Walsh, co-director of the Chicago Center for Family Health at the University of Chicago, in a phone interview, according to The Associated Press. "The pandemic made people not go to work, and our kids were home. It really helped parents to say, 'Hey, wait a minute. We are able to have real family time together that we weren't before.'"

The Survey of Income and Program Participation's findings were based on interviews with one parent from 22,000 households within the first four months of the pandemic in the U.S.

The Census Bureau released a report on the survey this week in which they noted that a large number of people did not respond to the survey. In addition, many of the parents in the survey were older, married, educated, foreign-born, and above the poverty level, compared to years past.

The survey did not measure the long-term effects of the pandemic, so it's unclear if the parents continued to spend more time with their children.

The survey discovered that the percentage of meals parents shared with their kids increased from 84 percent to 85 percent from 2018 to 2020 for "reference parents." For other parents, their proportion of meals shared with kids went up from 56 percent to 63 percent, the survey showed.

The pandemic also taxed many families. Job losses, financial worries, social isolation, the death of loved ones, virtual learning, and childcare and elder care demands hit hard, Walsh said, AP reported.

Census Survey, High Stress During Pandemic, Parents
The Survey of Income and Program Participation’s findings were based on interviews with one parent from 22,000 households within the first four months of the pandemic in the U.S. Here, Karen Albicy bonds with her daughter Kaia while waiting for her PCR test to process at George Bush Intercontinental Airport on December 3, 2021, in Houston, Texas. Brandon Bell/Getty Images

During the first several months of the pandemic in the U.S., Dina Levy made her young daughter and son go on walks with her three times a day.

They kicked a soccer ball around at the nearby high school. The children, then 11 and 8, created an obstacle course out of chalk and the three timed each other running through it. They also ate all their meals together.

Levy is among scores of parents who indicated in a new survey from the U.S. Census Bureau that they spent more time eating, reading and playing with their children from March to June 2020, when coronavirus-lockdowns were at their most intense, than they had in previous years.

"With school and work, you split up and go your own way for the day, but during coronavirus, we were a unit," said Levy, an attorney who lives in New Jersey. "It really was, I don't want to say worthwhile since this pandemic has been so awful for so many people, but there was a lot of value to us as a family."

The report found that outings with children decreased for parents because of travel restrictions and lockdowns, dropping from 85 percent in 2018 and 87 percent in 2019 to 82 percent in 2020. The drop was starkest for solo parents, going from 86 percent in 2019 to 75 percent in 2020, according to the survey.

"The key point is families have experienced extreme stress and strain over the course of this prolonged pandemic," Walsh said. She said her research showed that families do best when they share positive values, take a creative approach to problem-solving, and have the flexibility to adapt.

"Those families that can pull together and practice resilience are doing well, and it actually strengthens their bonds," she said.

That was certainly the case for Eugene Brusilovskiy, a statistician living in suburban Philadelphia. He said the pandemic allowed him to be with his daughter, who was born during the early months of the virus's spread. Since he was working from home, he and his wife decided not to put her in day care as originally planned.

"I was involved in every routine, everything from feeding her to changing her diapers," Brusilovskiy said. "I was able to spend real quality time, to go on walks and watch all of those first milestones that I wouldn't have been able to do otherwise."

Although many people are limiting their activities now with the Omicron-driven resurgence of the coronavirus, it's possible that once schools reopened in 2021 and kids returned to their extracurricular pursuits, parents fell back into earlier habits, said Melissa Milkie, a University of Toronto sociologist.

"Still, some families might have experienced eating more dinners together and reading as something they pushed to 'keep' even beyond those early months of the pandemic," Milkie said.

For Levy, the downside of all the meals with her kids was the intense cleanup.

"It drove me crazy," she said. "It was tons and tons of dirty dishes."

Still, that wasn't enough to diminish the once-in-a-lifetime sense of togetherness she was able to forge with her children.

"It was time we had never spent together," Levy said, "and probably never will again."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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