In the early days of the pandemic, my husband and I packed up our baby daughter and booked it to my parents’ house in the suburbs, desperate to get out of our Brooklyn apartment as the virus surged in New York. We were lucky to have them in drivable distance, we knew. But thus began a very intense three months—particularly for my mom and me. Every boundary we had negotiated since I moved out a decade and a half ago crumbled to dust. When I tried to cook dinner, my mom would lurk behind me singing out feedback like, “That’s NOT how you dethaw chicken!” When I was in a Zoom meeting, she’d stroll into the frame with a plate of snacks—a nice gesture but also certainly a ploy to snag a Zoom cameo for herself and see what was up. Some days I felt myself going slowly insane, an adult woman rattling around inside my childhood bedroom with a Zoolander poster and Polaroids of my high school boyfriend while my mom monologued about her favorite podcasts outside my door. Other days, I heard her shriek of delight when she saw my daughter’s face in the morning and felt overwhelmed with gratitude and love. In the end, we learned how to live together again, and I think we also came to see each other more fully than we had in years. Since I moved out, I’ve missed her every day.
COVID-19 has upended—along with so many other things—the relationships between parents and children. Across the country, this has played out in countless different ways. Some kids have spent the year navigating remote school while their parents worked from home in the next room. Some people watched their parents or their children fall ill from the virus and found themselves contemplating the mortality of loved ones through a new lens. Some who live on opposite coasts began reconsidering their decision to live so far apart. Some swapped roles, with kids begging their parents to follow the rules and be careful. At Slate, we wanted to try to capture the range of these experiences. So we put out a call for parents and children of all ages who were willing to have candid conversations with each other about how their relationships have evolved since lockdown began, and we received hundreds of replies in return. Below are nine of their stories. —Laura Bennett
The teens stuck in a house with three parents
Kerry, 42, and her daughter, Lily, 14, and son, Sam, 17, live in Maryland. They share a house with Kerry’s wife and ex-husband—the kids’ dad—who is also gay and lives in the basement. Kerry teaches writing at a local university. All five of them have been quarantined together since last March.
Kerry: Lily, one of your biggest complaints about having three parents in the house is that if you get in trouble, there are three people all talking to you. And I know it’s been hard, especially in quarantine, that there are more adults than children.
Lily: You guys sit me down like it’s a business meeting and you’re about to fire me. It makes me so anxious. You’re like, “So, we’ve talked.” And then you each take turns and then are all like, “So we’ve concluded that all of us can agree that you did that wrong.” I am a very social person. It took a big, crazy, unexpected toll on me when the pandemic started.
Kerry: You’re giving me a look right now that’s impossible to interpret.
The college senior who moved back in with her mom
Wendee, 51, and her daughter, Raven, 22, live in Houston. Raven moved home when her senior year of college at Cornell went virtual. Now Raven is a Ph.D. student in the African American studies department at Northwestern, still living with her mom. Wendee is a single mom and a corporate presenter for Fortune 500 companies. (“I jokingly call myself the ‘Oprah of pharma,’ ” she says.)
Raven: We really do need each other.
Wendee: I love you and not just because you’re mine. Oh God, you’re going to make me cry.
Wendee: I’m sorry.
Raven: No, I feel the same way.
Wendee: People always say, “You only have one?” I’m like, bitch yes. I got the best one. If you were on the other side of the world or the country through this pandemic, I would not be able to sleep. I’ve learned so much from you this year. Like, TikTok dances and stuff. Makeup tricks. Even overhearing your classes. That, honestly, is one of the coolest things ever. My whole brain explodes sometimes. There are words I’ve never heard in my whole life.
The daughter who got COVID while her elderly mother was visiting
Martha, 89, lives in Anderson, Indiana, and her daughter Suzanne, 51, lives in Paradise Valley, Arizona. Martha raised her five children, including Suzanne, on her own after she and her husband divorced. Suzanne and her husband have four kids, ages 13, 15, 17, and 18. Suzanne is currently a stay-at-home mom, and Martha volunteers for a nonprofit organization that helps the poor. Martha came to visit Suzanne at the start of the pandemic, and ended up staying for eight months.
Martha: When I left in October, I was still wearing my mask.
Suzanne: Me too. I would take mine off in the shower.
Martha: You didn’t hug me till I was right at the airplane.
Suzanne: I did. I burst into tears.
Martha: God love you, you got me a first-class seat.
Suzanne: I had been watching on the news, the airports were like ghost towns. But when we got there it was jampacked.
Martha: It was just wall-to-wall people.
Suzanne: I mean, I wanted to die. I got in the car with my husband to go home and just burst into tears. I said, “Did I just kill my mom?”
The mom who went to live with her daughter—and had some thoughts on her parenting
Rhonda, 70, and her daughter Jennifer, 42, live in Apex, North Carolina. Rhonda and her husband moved in with Jennifer and her family at the beginning of lockdown. Jennifer works in fundraising; Rhonda has one other daughter, is retired, and helps take care of her 4-year-old granddaughter, Hannah.
Jennifer: You have no poker face whatsoever, so when I’m dealing with one of my daughter’s tantrums and you’re not agreeing with how I’m dealing with it, I can definitely tell. You’re also one of the neatest people I know. Nobody wants you coming behind us and cleaning up after us because then it makes us feel guilty.
Rhonda: I’m good at the guilt.
Jennifer: You are very good at the guilt. You’ve got this way of asking questions when really you’re giving directions. I’ll just sit down for a second and you’ll be like, “When do you think you’re going to mow the lawn?” I’m like, “Oh, right now obviously.”
Rhonda: Well, you should be used to it. You grew up that way. Your husband, not so much. I think his mom picked up for him all the time.
The daughter who spent her pregnancy quarantined with her parents
Rita, 57, and Kritika, 34, currently live together in Greenwood Village, Colorado. At the beginning of the pandemic—while Kritika was pregnant with her first child—she and her husband moved from Denver to live with her parents. Her son, Rumi, was born in October. Kritika is a clinical psychologist. Rita helps take care of Rumi.
Kritika: You and I didn’t talk for a week. We’re really good at ignoring each other while living together. This is how we deal with conflict.
Rita: It runs in our family.
Kritika: Eventually it passed. I went downstairs, I was hungry, you fed me, something like that. I also got gestational diabetes. And then I had to change the way I was eating, so a lot of our fights were about what I would or wouldn’t eat. You had a totally different take on what my diet should be than what the doctor was saying. I would yell at you. But in the end, my blood sugar responded best to the food you made. So you were right. Which is really annoying.
Rita: Normally you hate spicy food. But during pregnancy, you suddenly wanted it. I was so happy I texted all my friends to tell them.
Kritika: I had a really hard pregnancy. I was very disconnected from feeling any joy. But I honestly think your excitement kind of got me through it.
The dad who loves to party and the daughter who worries about him
Cory, 59, lives in Chandler, Arizona, and his daughter Taylor, 23, lives in Phoenix. Cory is a design engineer and a dad of nine kids who range from age 12 to 34, including four foster kids; he currently lives with three of his other children. Taylor just finished a B.A. in biochemistry at ASU and will start graduate school this fall. Cory and Taylor have lived in driving distance from each other throughout the pandemic.
Taylor: Remember that one time I was at your house, and then a week later you told me you’d had COVID symptoms? Because I do. You didn’t even call to tell me. We were having a conversation and you brought it up.
Cory: I was just kind of absent-minded. I didn’t think about it at the time.
Taylor: You are very much an “eat, drink, and be merry because tomorrow we die” kind of person. Whereas I’m, like, you know, let’s not put ourselves at risk.
Cory: I’m not that wild.
Cory: I don’t drink that often—
Taylor: Dad. I am not going to have this conversation right now. You are a party person. I feel like a parent all the time. Especially this year, I’ve wished you were a little more cognizant of your mortality.
The mom whose son hated remote school so much he secretly quit
Meg, 38, and her son, Jack, 14, live in Alexander, North Carolina. Meg is a registered nurse and teaches nursing. She and Jack have been living together, just the two of them, through the pandemic. Jack is what Meg describes as a “social learner,” and has struggled a lot with virtual school.
Jack: Most of the time I would wait for you to leave for work and then I would go play on my PlayStation.
Meg: You’ve always been a good kid and I’ve never really had to keep on you about stuff. I didn’t know how bad it had gotten until your report card showed up.
Jack: Which I tried to hide.
Meg: You got really into checking the mail, and I was like, “This seems out of the blue.”
Jack: I was sort of making up a system as I went. I was going to get the mail and either bury it somewhere, or throw it in the recycling bin, at the bottom.
The stay-at-home dad who reached a breaking point with his teen daughter
Shannon, 46, and his daughter, Genevieve, 15, live in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. Shannon and his wife, who works in advertising, live with Genevieve and their two sons. Shannon has been a stay-at-home dad since Genevieve was 2.
Shannon: We definitely butted heads about your online orchestra class.
Genevieve: At dinner, you’d be like, “Well, you didn’t do orchestra,” and I’d be like, “I know.” And then I just wouldn’t care because I truly didn’t.
Shannon: You shut down. That’s your defense mechanism. Our breaking point happened one night when you were walking up the stairs. I said, “Do your orchestra,” and you said “no” and started bouncing up the stairs and that set me off. Your mom can tell when I’m worked up. She puts her hand on my shoulder or my forearm to calm me down a little bit.
Genevieve: Yeah, Mom’s a lot calmer at talking sometimes.
Shannon: I think I’m more authoritative, though, am I not?
Genevieve: Well, you’re loud.
The mom who had to explain her layoff to her young son
Suchada, 43, and Otto, 10, live in Chula Vista, California. Suchada, an interior designer, lives with her husband, Sean, who is in the Navy. They have three kids, and Otto is the middle child.
Suchada: When the pandemic hit, I was laid off. And your dad, who teaches firefighting classes for the Navy, wasn’t allowed to go to work. So we were just home a lot, not really knowing what to do. We’ve done COVID home improvement projects.
Otto: A few days ago I made some cabinets.
Suchada: Yeah, we’ve been putting together Ikea cabinets and just kind of sprucing up. But it wasn’t always the easiest. When I lost my job mid- to end of March, it was my first design job, and they laid off 10 percent of the company. I was panicked because I’d only been there about a year and I didn’t have extensive design experience and I was thinking, “How am I ever going to get another design job? What are we going to do? I have these student loans that we have to pay off.”
Otto: I was kind of like, “Why? My mom’s great. She’s great at what she does. Like, why would you lay her off of all people?”