When Sharon Lewis’ 93-year-old mother came to live with her in May, Lewis was pleasantly surprised when their relationship deepened.
"We always had a pretty close relationship, but when I married I moved away from Chicago and didn't have long periods of time to spend with her,” says Lewis, a 63-year-old educator in Dallas. “We've been able to spend more time together."
That's not as unusual as you might think with families stuck at home together for months during the coronavirus pandemic, according to new research by independent cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken in Connecticut. He found the pandemic has revitalized mother-daughter relationships. Some 60 percent of mothers indicated that their relationship with their daughters has become “closer” and they feel more “connected,” according to McCracken's June survey of mothers. That survey polled mothers age 25 to 44 with a daughter age 10 to 20 living at home plus interviews with 55 other mothers by phone.
Anabel Basulto, a licensed marriage and family therapist for Kaiser Permanente in Orange County, California, has seen similar positive changes among mothers and daughters of all ages. “The dynamic between mothers and daughters is very complex; it's one that goes through highs and lows,” she says. Being cooped up with each other during the COVID-19 quarantine “makes you take inventory of the little things you take for granted day to day."
Bonding moments and opportunities
Why are these relationships improving? McCracken, who has studied the American family for three decades and has written 12 books, says quarantine pulled some teens away from social media and brought older daughters home from college, promoting improved connections. At the same time, mothers who no longer commuted to work gained time with their children.
Not all mothers have forged new connections with their daughters during COVID-19. Some mothers and daughters who have “crossed swords before” are being cautious and sticking to more conventional roles, McCracken says. Others may feel the strain of too much togetherness.
Still, the mother-daughter findings surprised McCracken, given how busy moms have been keeping the family afloat during the pandemic.
"A lot of these moms are working moms who were commuting an average of an hour a day to work,” he says. “COVID says, ‘Here are your daughters back’ and mothers said, ‘I have a chance to do this over again.’ Given these months of interaction, they can build relationships."
Lili Chamberlain, 58, of Dartmouth, Massachusetts, says her relationship with her 19-year-old daughter, Hannah, has strengthened during the pandemic. “We spent a lot of very concentrated time together, and I think we both had to learn how to put our own needs and desires on hold a little bit and think about the necessity of the time,” Lili says. “We had to come up with a lot of activities to do together — puzzles, games, watching movies."
Such activities served as a bonding moment and opportunities for mothers and daughters to share their favorite foods, films and stories. As Lewis and her mother, Rosetta Fletcher, have Zoomed from Dallas with family members and watched old movies together, Fletcher has talked a lot about growing up and her life as a child, Lewis said.
"She's given to reminisce,” Lewis says of her mother. “There are some stories I've heard before and some new information. It helps fill in some family history."
Long-Lasting Relationship Implications
Cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken thinks these strengthened relationships between mothers and daughters will outlast COVID-19 and could spur longer-term changes for the American family, culture and economy. He predicts:
- Mothers will prioritize family over career.
- Mothers will prioritize time with family over buying consumer goods.
- Politically active daughters will mobilize their mothers. McCracken's research found that deeper mother-daughter discussions are taking place, including about inequality and racial justice.