Family and Independence: Struggles in Isolation | Elaoise Benson

In what should now, perhaps, be called the pre-isolation era, those of us lucky enough to be close with our family may have found ourselves taking that for granted. For some, spending time with family might have been treated as a seasonal affair, to be delighted in in small doses: at birthdays, weddings, Christmas. In a culture that defines itself by success—whether in our careers, pay check or social status—there is less of a focus on the importance and value of family. Gone, perhaps, are the days of growing up together, working together and staying together.

Despite being someone who considers themselves quite the home-body, I have come to realise how accustomed I have become to a level of independence and self-sufficiency. I underestimated the feeling of accomplishment that comes with moving out to your own home and cultivating your own routine and social circles.

Yet in the throes of a global pandemic, I, like many others, have retreated from my London lifestyle to my parent’s house in the countryside. My control over my routine has been prized from my grip and replaced with family walks, family yoga, family meals and family squabbles over the TV.

Photography by Holly Hanson

In this short period of isolation, I have found myself going through multiple phases of ingratiating back into a family unit. For some, it may start with an initial joy at being reunited, like the novelty of a holiday. In turn, we might find the experience rather surreal, returning to a place which is both familiar and yet more unknown than before. It is like stepping back in time, or entering your childhood in eternal stasis. The family home is imbued with old memories and can bring nostalgia for who we once were. Nevertheless, we all have to adjust to our new surroundings whether we jubilantly receive it, or begrudgingly resign to it.

Then, rather like a grievance for your old life, you may fall into a state of denial. The fears of the outside world and the unknowable timeframe of this pandemic are glossed over by a need to act. You shall do all the things you did before, and more! You will become a pro-baker, learn the piano, keep fit, stay in contact with friends and complete all your work. This proactive denial, for me at least, inevitably subsided somewhere in week two; and yet still stubbornly resurfaces when the world becomes too overwhelming.

After this comes the melancholia. It is the build-up of watching the news every night, the dwindling enthusiasm for social media challenges and a slowing of outside social interaction, which leads to an intensifying sense of repression. Couple this with typical family strains, arguments over chores, and the realisation that perhaps you are reliving your early teenage years, that familiar lethargic anger may arise. Family, at this point, will likely become the bearer of your resentment, despair and longing for your past self.

Photography by Holly Hanson

If this is you, then I would like to offer a hand and say, you are not alone. In many ways you are going through the typical grief cycle: denying the facts, trying to justify going out and seeing your friends, cultivating micro-aggressions towards your family’s routine, lamenting over what has happened and what is to come. But after all of this, there is always acceptance. No matter what stage you are at, I want to encourage you to try and imagine that future resolution. And think about how one might begin to accept a lack of control over our current situation. Sometimes relenting control allows for a calmer, more meditative state of mind to emerge.

I also suggest we all take the time to reassess any family angst that may be resurfacing during this time. That we might look past the old arguments, the teen-like resurgence of a struggle for independence. Be confident that you are your own, fully formed person; and accept that that doesn’t necessarily mean you must endure everything alone. Even if you aren’t living with your family, perhaps this is the time to pick up the phone and call. Let’s be vulnerable with one another, share your frustrations and your fears. There is something powerful about enduring, reliable and loving relationships that should never be taken for granted.

And lastly, be forgiving of one another. Your parents, or family member, are equally struggling. Why should we place the burden of perfect parenting onto an already loaded plate? It is in our innate nature to feel fear, confusion, anger and a powerlessness when situations are beyond our control. But it is also an intensely human need to seek and give comfort to those around us.