COVID-19’s impact on Aussie family life

New research exploring COVID-19’s impact on Australian families has demonstrated the importance of developing social networks to provide support in an increasingly unstable world.

Dr Sarah Hunter, Research Fellow in the Caring Futures Institute, led a team of Flinders University researchers – Dr Chelsea Mauch, Dr Kate Ridley, Dr Jessie Shipman, Professor Damien Riggs, Professor John Coveney, Dr Rebecca Feo and Professor Rebecca Golley – to examine the pandemic’s impact by better understanding how families spent their time completing household duties and maintaining important relationships.

Isolation measures resulted in large numbers of parents and caregivers having their routines disrupted. They spent more time working at home and needed to balance their professional life with housework, caring for their children and themselves.

The research shows that families with poor relationships went through negative and lasting experiences during this significant period of disruption.

During the first stage of this project, researchers distributed an online survey to more than 100 participants to learn about their COVID-19 experiences. The project’s second and third stages involved smaller groups completing telephone and online tasks, to provide further information about lifestyle choices and how people at home made sense of the pandemic.

Dr Sarah Hunter is as a Research Fellow in the Healthy Start to Life team within the Caring Futures Institute.

Dr Hunter says the unique set of challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic presented to families stands as a once-in-a-generation social experiment that examines the structures within modern families.

“The unprecedented social changes caused by COVID-19 disrupted routines that were taken for granted and had maintained modern family life,” says Dr Hunter.

“Our findings demonstrate how strong care networks can impact and influence our capacity and capability to provide care for ourselves and for others. Understanding family life and care work from a new perspective allows us to appreciate the importance of transitions and key points in our lives. COVID-19 has been a universal transition for families and has highlighted how crucial these relationships really are.”

“The study results tell us if we want to prepare, as a society, for the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, and prepare for future issues and pandemics, we need to focus on interventions that support family relationships, as opposed to those only addressing health outcomes.”

These research outcomes are in step with a recently published Caring Life Course theory – developed at Flinders University to demonstrate how strong networks impact and influence our capacity to provide care for ourselves and loved ones.

The findings also indicate that while participants felt less rushed during the pandemic, they observed increases in fatigue and overall negativity when compared with their life before COVID-19.

Dr Hunter says these findings speak to the complexity of navigating a contemporary pandemic, its lockdowns and restrictions.

“Victoria experienced one of the longest global lockdowns related to COVID-19 and our participants who resided in Victoria at the time of completing the survey, reported higher negative effects than those not in a lockdown. This reinforces the significant impact of lockdown on individuals overall mental health and wellbeing, which is to be expected.”

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