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Empty Nests and Coronavirus Stress – Can Family Quarantining Make or Break a Marriage?


When people say, “you can’t go home again,” they obviously were not thinking about the effects of a global pandemic. In truth, a good amount young adults have found themselves doing just that, opting to quarantine in their family homes rather than at school or in their own places.

According to Pew Research, “in July, 52% of young adults resided with one or both of their parents, up from 47% in February…. The number and share of young adults living with their parents grew across the board for all major racial and ethnic groups, men and women, and metropolitan and rural residents.”  This is the highest recorded number of young adults living with their parents in recorded U.S. history.

Much of this spike can be attributed to the coronavirus. With many college campuses closed to all but virtual learning, students came home for break and then just… stayed. Other people purposely moved in with their parents to wait out a quarantine period that stretched on, from weeks to months. Still others may have moved home because they lost a job or needed someone to help with childcare.

The potential benefits

For many “empty nesters,” having the kids at home may make things easier, at first. Parents have their children (and maybe grandchildren) to focus on once again. There are meals to plan, laundry to do, and perhaps toys to be picked up. With the children at home, parents no longer have to worry about if they are safe.

For some parents, the desire to care for their newly homebound children may be exhilarating, even with the stress of the pandemic hanging over them. Couples who had started to drift apart could be united, either in their desire to revert to the “old days” of big family dinners, or in their realization that having the kids home is fun and new. Some couples may find themselves talking more, spending more time together, and reigniting the spark of their marriage.

The potential drawbacks

Having grown kids back home can, however, just as easily become a stressor. One parent may be thrilled to have the children and grandchildren there, but the other is not. Couples whose marriages were already on the rocks may wish to hide this fact from their children, creating additional stress on the marriage and the family.

Just the pressure of having family at home can lead to tension in a marriage, especially if the adult children assume the roles and behaviors they did as adolescents. It is one thing to tell your teenager to pick up his socks or clean her room; it is quite another to have a 30-year-old child leaving dirty dishes in the sink and spending all day asleep on the couch. This can lead to the couple sniping at one another or taking their marital frustrations out on their children or grandchildren.

Finding a way to move forward when it seems like you are stuck in time

In a paper for the journal Family Process, Jay L. Lebow called COVID-19 “the enemy of planning.” Between the backlog in the courts and shelter-in-place rules, many couples find themselves unable to move forward legally (and emotionally). Having your adult family children at home can exacerbate these issues, Lebow says, which is why the family may be best served by counseling and therapy. Couples who plan to divorce may have more successful mediation sessions if they attend couples or family counseling sessions first, so that they can learn to cooperate and hear one another more effectively. This can reduce both the stress and the cost of litigation.

The coronavirus has made things difficult, but it is still possible to move forward with your divorce. The first step is getting the right lawyer on your side. At Berkman Bottger Newman & Schein, LLP, we help matrimonial law clients throughout New York City, Westchester, and Bergen County, NJ. Please call (212) 466-6015 or fill out our contact form to schedule a consultation.