- I suspect COVID-19 will cause some parents to reassess their priorities and seek out new ways to be able to support their families while spending more time with them. Tweet This
- In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, some parents may re-evaluate their priorities and think about ways to spend more time focused on family life. Tweet This
Editor’s Note: The following essay is the second post in our week-long symposium on how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect family life.
Just as the current COVID-19 pandemic forces families to reorganize their lives to combat the spread of the virus, it may also inspire them to think about their longer-term priorities and goals. Given the sudden and dramatic disruptions to family life this pandemic has caused, many moms and dads will be happy to get back to normal routines. However, when we face experiences that remind us that our mortal existence is transient and that tragedy can strike with little or no warning, we tend to be motivated to evaluate what makes life worthwhile and to focus our attention on what gives us meaning.
For most of us, meaning in life is found in relationships, particularly with family and close friends. For example, in a recent study, my colleagues and I asked a diverse sample of American adults what gives their lives meaning. By far, the most common response was family, followed by other close relationships. In other studies, we find that when people are asked to describe their most meaningful memories, they almost always discuss shared experiences with loved ones. And in research where we examine different variables that predict perceptions of meaning, we reliably find that the more people have strong social bonds with family and friends and are invested in community life, the more likely they are to view their lives as full of meaning and purpose.
Based on all this research, I wonder if in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, in addition to dealing with practical concerns, some parents will re-evaluate their priorities and think about ways to spend more time focused on family life. Surveys indicate that the majority of American mothers prefer to either work part-time or stay home, and that they have fewer children than they prefer. Surveys also show a majority of American dads believe they spend too little time with their kids.
When we face experiences that remind us that our mortal existence is transient and that tragedy can strike with little or no warning, we tend to be motivated to evaluate what makes life worthwhile and to focus our attention on what gives us meaning.
Of course, economic realities often collide with personal preferences. Many parents may find it financially difficult to realize their family goals. The good news is that the pursuit of meaning can also facilitate the kind of innovative thinking that helps people organize their lives in ways that give them more freedom to focus on family. Some families may decide they can sacrifice certain luxuries so one parent can be at home more. Some parents may pursue self-employment opportunities that give them more flexibility. I’ve met a number of women who left their jobs to start their own businesses so they could spend more time with their kids. I’ve met parents who have started family businesses to pass down to their children or who have helped their teenage and young adult children launch their own small businesses. The pursuit of meaning can also inspire the entrepreneurial spirit. Indeed, a yet to be released survey I conducted with my colleague, John Bitzan, found that among individuals who would like to start a business, the more they perceived their lives as meaningful and believed they had the ability to live a meaningful life (existential agency), the more motivated they were to pursue their entrepreneurial ambitions.
It is impossible to know how this pandemic will impact our nation, but I suspect it will cause some parents to reassess their priorities and seek out new ways to be able to support their families while spending more time with them.
Clay Routledge is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Family Studies, a Faculty Fellow at the Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth, and Professor of Psychology at North Dakota State University. His work uses a range of empirical methods to examine the different ways people seek meaning and how meaning influences motivation and physical, psychological, and social health.