Pandemic weighs on family dynamics

  • Left, Aoife Reynolds,14, works on English while her brother, Liam Reynolds studies physics, in their living room. In the dining room Carol McMurrich, their mother, attends a Zoom meeting next to her daughter, Maeve Reynolds, 9, who is working on math while Fiona Reynolds,11, takes a fiddle class on Zoom. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Fiona Reynolds,11, takes a fiddle class while her younger sister, Maeve Reynolds, 9, works on math and their mother, Carol McMurrich, attends a Zoom meeting. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Left, Aoife Reynolds,14, works on English while her brother, Liam Reynolds studies physics, in their living room. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Maeve Reynolds, 9, takes a brief break from her math to add a quick joke to her mother Carol McMurrich’s Zoom meeting. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Maeve Reynolds, 9, works on math while her mother, Carol McMurrich attends a Zoom meeting. In the next room is Fiona Reynolds, 11, in a Zoom fiddle class and two other siblings, Aoife Reynolds,14, and Liam Reynolds, 16, in high school classes. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Carol McMurrich jumps up from her Zoom meeting to talk quickly with the fiddle instructor for her daughter, Fiona Reynolds, 11, while Maeve Reynolds, 9, works on math. In the living room are the other two siblings, Aofie Reynolds,14, and Liam Reynolds,16, working on high school classes. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Greg Reynolds and Carol McMurrich get dinner together with their four children, Aoife Reynolds, 14, Maeve Reynolds, 9, Liam Reynolds, 16, and at the table, Fiona Reynolds,11. Since the pandemic started they have made dinner every night, except one, “Greg and I went to outdoor dining once over the summer on a date,” explained McMurrich. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Lourdes Santiago sits in while her daughter, Isabela Rivera, a kindergartner at Jackson Street School, takes part in her remote class from the living room of their home in Northampton on Tuesday, March 23. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Lourdes Santiago sits in the living room of her Northampton home Tuesday with her daughter, Isabela Rivera, taking her remote kindergarten class at Jackson Street School, while her son Yhazir Rodriguez, left, finishes up a remote learning day as a sixth grader at JFK Middle School. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Lourdes Santiago helps her daughter, Isabela Rivera, a kindergartner at Jackson Street School, log in to her music special from their home in Northampton on Tuesday, March 23. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jackson Street School kindergartner Isabela Rivera sings and waves goodbye to her teacher, Maria Garcia, at the end of a remote class from her home in Northampton on Tuesday, March 23. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 3/26/2021 9:47:46 AM

Editor’s note: This story is part of a weeklong series marking the one-year anniversary of the COVID 19 pandemic.

Working parents and no access to child care. Children struggling with remote learning. Wi-Fi connections dropping as entire families attempt to work or learn remotely. Children and teenagers cut off from their friends, and their parents’ fears of how this will affect their social development.

These concerns are just some of the difficulties that families have highlighted over the past year as the COVID-19 pandemic has required many people to spend more time with their families than ever, with few opportunities for typical socialization outside of the house.

‘They’re supposed to be spreading their wings’

Carol McMurrich of Westhampton has experienced some of these issues firsthand. While her whole family has dealt with difficulties as they abide by pandemic restrictions, McMurrich worries particularly for her two teenage children.

“I think all of us struggle with being forced to socialize only with ourselves,” McMurrich said, “but for my teenagers, that’s a very, very hard thing. … They’re not supposed to be hanging out with their parents all the time, they’re supposed to be spreading their wings and gaining independence.”

In the past, McMurrich thought having teenagers would mean worrying about typical concerns like partying. Now, she finds herself thinking, “If only there was a party they could go to” and be safe.

With her teenagers and fourth and fifth grade children at home, as none attend in-person school full time, McMurrich rarely finds herself uninterrupted during the work day. As the director of Empty Arms Bereavement Support, McMurrich provides resources for parents grieving the loss of an infant or pregnancy, and has mostly shifted to remote work during the pandemic.

“I don’t think ever, since the beginning of the pandemic, that I have worked for one hour without being interrupted,” she said. “I don’t ever get to just work, and on the flip side of that, I don’t ever get to just be a parent.”

‘It felt like everything was falling apart’

For Lourdes Santiago of Northampton, parenting became a full-time job due to the pandemic. With both of her children learning remotely and no access to child care, Santiago had to leave her job to watch her two children, ages 6 and 11, and help them with remote school throughout the day.

“It was very difficult,” Santiago said. “Because I wasn’t working for anyone else, I didn’t qualify for unemployment, so that was one of the hardest parts … It felt like everything was falling apart.”

The pandemic also took its toll on the family emotionally. Santiago’s daughter, who had previously looked forward to starting kindergarten at Jackson Street School, had a particularly hard time adjusting to lockdown measures.

Per a state mandate, elementary and middle schools must reopen for full-time, in-person learning next month. But Santiago isn’t sure she’s comfortable sending them back to in-person learning yet, especially as the whole family has asthma.

“I feel like they’re safer here,” Santiago said. “I have friends and neighbors whose kids are going to school, and they don’t feel like they’re being careful enough.”

But staying remote also comes with difficulties: Santiago still needs to stay at home for her kids, and trying to keep them occupied while helping with remote learning and tending to other responsibilities has taken a toll.

“Being strong for (my daughter) and older son is really difficult,” she said.

Santiago hopes that the pandemic will abate in time for the next school year.

“I really don’t know how things are going to go,” she said. “It’s like, whatever happens, I just deal with it. But I’m trying my best to keep (my kids) safe and healthy, and I hope that everyone does the same.”

‘Out of energy and patience’

When the pandemic started last March, Amherst resident Ellen Keiter had “all these great aspirations for family time” and bought board games, puzzles and crafts to help occupy the family during lockdown.

Looking back, “I kind of laugh at how naive I was that I thought this would be a short-term situation,” she said.

Now, those activities feel almost like a chore, and some of the games and puzzles are still in their plastic wrapping.

“I think we’ve sort of run out of energy and patience,” said Keiter, who works as chief curator at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. “The thought of doing a board game feels sort of forced, and no one is enthusiastic about the idea — including me.”

The family trudges through stresses shared by many: Keiter’s 19-year-old daughter was home from college last year in mid-March through September, and her son, an eighth grader at Amherst-Pelham Regional Middle School, has been learning in an entirely remote capacity since schools shut down last March.

In addition to socialization difficulties imposed by public health regulations, Keiter’s open-concept house does not adapt well as an office or classroom space. Family members can overhear each other’s conversations during work or school calls, which can make focusing difficult, and their two dogs will bark at people who walk by on the street.

Meanwhile, Keiter tries “to remain grateful that we’ve all stayed healthy,” she said, and focuses on outdoor activities such as hiking, biking and skiing.

“I recognize that I’m very fortunate to live where I do and have my family be safe and together,” she said, “and I just try to remind myself when I’m feeling down of the positives.”




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