Family Strife is Some Students’ Invisible Struggle During COVID-19

Kelsey Bonham, Maroon-News Staff

I read an article in The New York Times recently about how the switch to online classes at colleges around the country is laying bare socioeconomic inequalities among students that may be less visible on campus. Not only is access to the Internet variable for different students, but even seemingly trivial things, like backgrounds in Zoom videos, reveal some to be quarantining in mansions or lake houses, while others are distinctly not. While I am incredibly grateful to have a roof over my head and relative financial security, the article made me think about the less visible struggles that some students are facing.

As I am sure is true for many, high school included some pretty dark moments in my life. My father was manipulative and emotionally abusive. He downplayed my academic achievements, insulted my failings and overextended his control. He picked and prodded at my life, and when my answers did not satisfy him, he invaded my privacy by reading my texts, digging through my drawers, denying me access to my lifelines outside of the household and gaslighting me into doing what he wanted. Luckily, I was able to move far away for college, helping my mental health. The physical distance between my family and myself was possibly my favorite thing about my first year at Colgate. Suddenly, there was no risk of judgment, of tracking my movements, of demanding the passcode to my phone or of someone searching through my stuff. But now, that is temporarily gone.

As I sit stuck in my house, it feels like I never left. While I am not subject to the same degree of scrutiny, I still find myself hiding in my room to avoid listening to fights downstairs, and silently picking up the household slack to hopefully spare some of those fights in the future. I let my stepmother vent to me about how she is nonstop drafting ethical guidelines for hospital triaging and deciding who gets ventilators and who does not. I find myself carrying some of her emotional baggage. I look on in fear as I watch my younger siblings struggle with learning disabilities. I try to help them, but I am left wondering about the lack of support they are receiving. I do most of my schoolwork at night after I can relax with the knowledge that everyone else is asleep and I won’t be disturbed. I refrain from entering certain spaces and opening certain drawers, doing all I can to avoid bringing back a flood of bad memories that are linked with them. I find myself quarantined in a space that is smaller than the physical walls of my house.

Of the few escapes I have found, one of them is social media, but that has proven to be counterproductive as I am swamped with my peers’ posts, which show that many of them appear to be having some version of fun in quarantine. Themed family dinners, making TikToks with siblings, baking cookies with parents, even going on family skiing or camping trips. It all just serves as a reminder of how stuck I feel.

The point of this, however, is not to shame people who are doing well in quarantine; I’m very happy that people have found ways to survive. Rather, I hope to highlight the ways in which some people may be struggling with family situations that are not easy to see through Instagram, FaceTime and Zoom meetings, and I am sure many have it far worse than myself. If your family does have a healthy relationship, I hope you pause to reflect on that privilege and be grateful for it, and consider reaching out to your friends who may not. And if your family is anything like mine, I hope you can be comforted in the fact that you are not alone, even if it feels like it, and that this simply will not last forever.