Are families closer after being forced apart during COVID-19?

By: Daisy Cole

When the lockdown was announced by the UK government to prevent the spread of the virus COVID-19, it forced millions of people into isolation away from friends and loved ones.

Households have had to turn to virtual forms of communication to keep in touch, with many finding they are speaking to people more than they normally would have pre-lockdown. With weekly pub quizzes, bingo nights and virtual cocktail parties taking place.

In the face of the global coronavirus pandemic, reporter Daisy Cole has been speaking to people across the world about how they are embracing digital technology to keep in regular touch with loved ones.

Jessica Rowley, a 23-year-old student from the West Midlands said: “If anything, as a family we communicate a lot more. We were pretty close but even though we are apart now, lockdown has brought us closer than ever. I have daily phone calls with my sister and grandparents.

“I live with my parents and we’ve started sitting down together by having meals and film nights which we haven’t done for a while because of work and other commitments. It’s really brought us back to basics and I’m enjoying spending time with them.”

The day lockdown was announced, zoom analytics showed the software was downloaded 2.13 million times from all over the world on the 23rd of March. These figures showed a significant increase from the 56,000 a day that was recorded just two months prior. 

Simon Cole, a 54-year-old Realtor, who lives in North Carolina with his wife Alyssa 53 and Son Charlie Cole 23, said: “All three of us are now permanently housed under one roof for 24 hours a day, so we are having to learn to accommodate each other’s flaws and work around each other’s work schedules. I feel our communication is the best it’s ever been as we have no other choice but to work out all problems then and there.  

“I feel as we think more about how each other feels more than ever, and I hope this pandemic has changed how we think of each other’s feelings. I have also been doing weekly pub quizzes with my family who live in the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

“It was a bit tricky at first because of all the time zones, but it has been worth it as I get to speak to family members I haven’t spoken to in years.”

Several families have found the use of technology a bonus for seeing family that live abroad. Others who have family closer to home are finding it difficult coming to terms with not seeing their loved ones faces every week.

Lyra Shemsedini, a 25-year-old attendance and admissions officer, who lives in London, said: “As a Kosovan, I’m incredibly close with my family and I consider my extended family to be more like my brothers and sisters. This pandemic has definitely made it more difficult for me as I am so used to seeing them at least once a week. 

“Luckily, we all have apps like FaceTime and Zoom to help us keep in touch and while this definitely helps, we’re still not able to celebrate life milestones together like we usually can. But I’ll take what I can get at this minute until I can properly see them and hug them.”

A wide range of communication technologies such as Zoom, House Party and Skype there has understandably been difficulties for the elderly community to keep up with such modern forms of communication.

Maria Verdeille, a 23-year-old researcher from Hitchin said: “I think the pandemic has had both a positive and negative affect on my family and how we communicate. In some ways we have been speaking more and helping each other more than we usually would.

“But I think the downside in terms of ways we communicate is just not what we are used to doing, especially with the older generations. We are now having to spend more time communicating over the phone, zoom, and facetime which can make it harder for everyone to hear and have a group conversation compared to everyone being physically in the same room”

With 1/5 of the UK population being over 65, it has been difficult keeping them connected in a world of advancing technology. Whilst some are finding the use of new technology challenging, others are embracing it.

Maureen Cole, a 74-year-old grand-mother from London said: “I have found it difficult not seeing my grandchildren and not having physical contact with anyone. Before the pandemic the only thing I really only understood how to use was facetime to keep in contact with my family over-seas. My granddaughter has been hosting weekly pub quizzes and bingo nights through Zoom for the family to join. 

“After a long phone call with her explaining step by step how to download and use it, I now feel comfortable trying new technology so I can join in on these calls. Seeing their faces on a screen is better than not seeing anyone at all.”