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Family Resilience Amidst the Pandemic

Several days ago, I came to campus to meet a colleague. Since last March, the university has been quiet because lectures are taking place online. Upon entering the university gate, officers checked my temperature. Then I walked into my colleague’s office. I only saw a few students and university staff.

When I arrived at my colleague’s office, I saw him working while watching his 4-year-old son make a drawing on a piece of paper. I found that his desk has become not only his working space but also a desk for learning and playing for his only son. My colleague is a single father since his divorce two years ago. He used to send his son to the daycare while working. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, the daycare for his son is closed. Meanwhile, his work on campus cannot always be done at home. So, several times a week he had to come to work on campus. Since no one took care of his child, he had to take him to campus. My colleague told me how it was not easy to work while taking care of his only child. In addition to doing his tasks as an employee, he is also a teacher for his child now.

His burden as a single father, which is already quite heavy, is getting heavier due to the pandemic that closes schools, including daycare where he can entrust his son. The Covid-19 pandemic has had a serious impact on family life. The endurance of each family in facing a crisis during a pandemic continues to be tested until a vaccine is found. This colleague and many young families with toddlers and school-age children, staying at home for months is a test in itself. Many parents experience that their income decrease, especially those with middle to lower-income.

When all family members stay at home, usually the mother will get a double burden. In addition to having to do domestic work or household chores alone, at the same time she has to care for and accompany her children to learn from home. On many occasions, some mothers experience stress and could behave aggressively and beyond their control. The Indonesian national newspaper Kompas (September 17, 2020) published news about the death of an 8-year-old child. It is suspected that he died from being beaten by his mother while he was learning online from home. Investigators also suspected that the psychological immaturity of parents was the cause of aggressive behavior and acts of domestic violence towards their children. This case shows us that being a parent as well as a teacher during the Covid-19 pandemic crisis is not easy for some parents. In this situation, the patience of parents in guiding their children to learn at home is the main “capital.”

Not only the mother’s patience, caring and mentoring for children while studying at home,  but it also requires the cooperation of both parents. The survey results from the Indonesian Child Protection Commission found that during the pandemic, the mother took more care of the children. The survey results also showed that as many as 21% of fathers never accompany their children to study. This means that during a pandemic, a heavy domestic burden rests on the mother, including the responsibility for childcare. It is suspected that the unequal division of domestic responsibilities is also the cause of domestic violence against women. However, not many women dared to report acts of violence they experienced. Most of them prefer to be silent or just tell their relatives, friends, or neighbors. Meanwhile, the results of a study by World Vision Indonesia found that most parents with low education had difficulties assisting their children to learn from home. As many as 61% of the children who became respondents felt that they had experienced verbal abuse and more than 11% of them experienced physical violence by their own parents.

The pandemic that forces people to work and study from home has left parents and children alike isolated and doing activities in conditions that are not ideal. Many parents experience stress and depression because they do not have the capacity to teach their children subject matter, and have enough time and patience to assist their children in learning. In this situation, parents are challenged to bring justice to their families. Justice is very much needed in the division of domestic duties. This does not easily happen in a society that has not given equal roles to women.

What about Catholic families? Last April, when we were forced to celebrate Holy Week in our own homes, it seemed that the term “Ecclesia Domestica” was very meaningful. At that time, all Catholics did not celebrate the Eucharist in churches and did not listen to the homilies of the parish priest. Instead, it was the parents who gave homilies to their children. It seems to be true that the family as a domestic church serves as the privileged place where faith is lived, taught, and transmitted from one generation to the next. But now, “Ecclesia Domestica” needs to be understood differently. It does not only refer to the process of passing faith from parents to children but also refers to the process of witnessing the faith of parents to children. Pope Francis wrote: “The Lord’s presence dwells in real and concrete families, with all their daily troubles and struggles, joys and hopes.” (Amoris Laetitia, 315). In the family, as the smallest community of faith, there are vulnerable parties, namely mothers who are burdened with the responsibility of caring for the house and accompanying their children to study in this pandemic.

This kind of family situation reminds us that fostering emotional resilience is as much a part of our ethical responsibility during this pandemic as is preventing the spread of infectious disease. Emotional resilience is our capacity to procure composure and resolve in the face of stress, adversity, and domestic violence. Christian communities have been called to promote family resilience and calm in this time of uncertainty that they may be able to adapt in a way that enhances the well being of individuals and works to support the common good.