Weird but true: lockdown has made many families happier

Jamie Doward
Photograph: LightField Studios Inc./Alamy

Some people may disagree, but a new study suggests that lockdown has strengthened many parents’ relationships with their children.

The research, published by the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, finds that around a quarter of parents report that their relationship with their children has improved since the government introduced its stay-at-home policy. Less than 5% said it had become worse. The results are based on research for the Understanding Society Covid-19 survey, a nationally representative study that collected data from 5,500 parents.

Its previous studies have reported that mothers are bearing a disproportionate amount of the extra work involved in looking after children who would normally be at school. But the new findings suggest this has not negatively affected their relationships with their children.

“Many recent studies have pointed out the increasing economic and caring burden for women,” said Prof Brienna Perelli-Harris from the ESRC Centre for Population Change at the University of Southampton, who led the study with Sandra Walzenbach from the University of Essex.

She pointed to the April Covid-19 survey which indicated that, on average, mothers were spending nine more hours per week during lockdown on childcare and home schooling than fathers.

Related: The ultimate test of parenting is coming: the summer of boredom

“However, nearly one-third of women appear to be benefiting from the lockdown as a time to become closer to their children,” Perelli-Harris said. “Only 5% reported their relationships had become worse. It seems that, despite the unequal pressures of home schooling and housework, slightly more mothers than fathers reported an improvement in their relationships .”

Many parents who said they had closer relationships with their children had helped out with home schooling. Nearly 40% of parents who reduced their hours to look after their children said their relationships had improved. Only 6% said their relationships had become worse.

But, some parents have struggled more than others. Fewer lone mothers reported an improvement in their relationships, and slightly more said they had become worse. About 10% of parents who said they were finding it difficult to get by or thought their financial future would worsen were more likely to say their relationships had deteriorated, while 27% said their relationships had improved.

“The survey has shown that working from home and having the time to home school seems to improve parent-child relationships,” Perelli-Harris said. “However, those who can work from home are most likely to have higher incomes and education. Overall, nearly a third of those in deprived circumstances still report their relationships had improved.”