Andrés and Andrea Jorge were happy to get some time away from work when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. They spent the lockdown at home in Vancouver, raising their five-year-old daughter Alice and had relatively few conflicts over how to isolate, mask or maintain social distance.
But with new safety guidelines, masking mandates and social-distancing rules rolling in as the pandemic progressed, they encountered an unfamiliar set of parental challenges when it came to adapting to “the new normal.”
It turns out that almost half of parents in Canada who have been living together since the beginning of the pandemic have disagreed with their spouse or partner about parenting decisions, according to a recent report published by Statistics Canada.
“The lockdown gave us more time to spend together, which was important,” said Andrés, a public-health professional. “But after that, there was a back and forth between trying to get Alice to be social with other kids while still being cautious about her health. I wanted her to socialize more, whereas my partner didn’t.”
The Jorges weren’t the only couple who disagreed, but they figured out a common ground in their parenting decisions. For many others, this was not the case.
Nasser Allan, a divorce lawyer practising in Vancouver, saw an increase in appointments during the pandemic.
“With couples, maybe they experienced more exasperation during COVID,” she said.
It also affected partners who were living in different cities or were separated.
“There were too many concerns about parenting arrangements, especially if the child required some sort of travel,” she added.
With new questions about health and safety arising consistently, partners also found themselves in conflict about respecting other COVID-19 measures. About 38 per cent had disagreements about respecting physical distancing and public-health guidelines.
“People were asking their partners several questions during the pandemic like: ‘Are you keeping us safe?’, ‘Are you wearing a mask?’, ‘Are you washing your hands?’, ‘Are you being mindful of what we need to do to keep our space safe?’ Partners tended to be more critical or judgemental of each other, which led to more fights among them than usual,” said Suzanne St. John Smith, a counsellor and family therapist based in Vancouver.
In Canada, the first COVID-19 vaccines were administered in Quebec and Ontario in December 2020. From the moment they were rolled out, they became another topic of heated debate associated with the pandemic.
In fact, the report shows that differing views on vaccination were the cause of arguments amongst 20 per cent of partners living together.
“When you have one person who just did not believe in vaccinating and the other person saying that we have to do it anyway, it becomes problematic to the relationship. Many relationships didn’t make it through the pandemic just because of the intensity of these new situations they found themselves in,” said Smith.