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The Amazing Social Experiment Nobody Wanted

For most of us the world we entered and grew up in has been relatively safe and stable with our challenges and tragedies confined to our family and community. This has all changed and now we, as a world, have been confronted with a global and relational disaster with a death toll in August 2020 of 808,684 worldwide and no signs of abating in many regions.

Jay Lebow, Clinical Professor of Psychology at Northwestern University and Editor in chief of the journal, Family Process speaks of the pandemic as one of the greatest tragedies across an interconnected world but also a ’once in a lifetime international social experiment about family life’. Very direct effects are the loss of family members and fear of potential loss, of employment and financial security. Indirect effects flow from extraordinary externally imposed boundaries that severely limit physical connection which have produced both ‘heroic family closeness and resilience’ and uncontrolled stress and conflict. Additional pressures have appeared for families already under stress, especially those previously at risk for violence, conflict, and relational dissent or those now caring alone for a challenging family member. The normal life transitions of leaving home and making a family have been interrupted bringing with it a raft of consequences that will possibly be felt for decades.

In Australia we have been remarkably fortunate with a death toll of 485 but we are not unscathed and many of the consequences identified by Lebow apply to the families we see. Perhaps most striking is the attention it calls to profound inequalities in our society with the privileged; passengers on a cruise ship and least advantaged; tenants in a locked down tower block, most directly impacted.

Lebow,J. (2020) Family in the Age of COVID-19 Family Process 59:309–312

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