Every morning, Luis Wallace gets up and hugs his mom. Wallace is 15, an age when he might be expected to prioritize other aspects of his life over his relationship with his mother. Yet their relationship has grown even stronger over the course of the pandemic.
“I was with my mother every single day…every time we wake up, we hug each other—that was something I’ve really appreciated that we’ve started doing,” he told me.
“Our communication got a whole lot stronger. I feel like I’ve learned things about her, and she’s learned things about me that she probably didn’t even know.”
Wallace is not alone in strengthening bonds with his family over the past year. We might picture quarantined homes with teenagers as tense environments, punctuated by sharp comments, closed doors, fights over when it is safe to spend time with friends.
But Wallace and other DC teens describe a very different family environment. They speak of months spent primarily with siblings and parents as a time when they have continued to find themselves—just in relation to their family instead of friends.
Wallace and his mom have supported each other through their struggles and have celebrated each other’s accomplishments. At the beginning of the pandemic, Wallace’s mother lost her job. He talked about his experiences supporting her during that challenge.
“For the first time, I saw my mother get sad,” Wallace shared. “I had to be there for my mother and support her during this time. I [told her] ‘No, Mom, it’s going to get better; you are going to get your job back, you are going to start working.’”
After going through this difficult experience together, Wallace feels more in awe of his mother than ever. “I’m so proud of her. She’s my idol, my superhero.”
Basketball Brings Family Together
“The pandemic definitely locked me in the house with [my family] for a long time,” said Cameron Cary, a Ward 6 resident and avid athlete.
You might expect to see Cary throwing a ball around with his friends or scoring in a school basketball game. Due to the pandemic, he is unable to do either.
But Cary has found ways to maintain his love of sports while simultaneously becoming closer with his family. His family even managed to build a basketball court together in his backyard, and now he and his brother and sister spend hours playing together. With the pool of potential team mates curtailed by the pandemic, they’ve turned to one another at game time.
“We have gotten closer. Our entire family is athletic so we have found new ways to workout inside together,” Cary said.
Bonding Through Food
Without the option to spend time with friends in school, during extracurriculars or even at informal gatherings, young people are turning inward to their families to find often unanticipated joy and comfort.
Tenth grader and Palisades resident, Frankie Ruppert, reflected on how the pandemic has led her unexpectedly to bond with her older brother —through food.
“I’ve been making pasta, and my brother and I one night stayed up until 1 a.m., and we were rolling out pasta,” she recounted. “[I]t was getting 10 feet long, and we were listening to really bad music.”
Cooking into the early hours of the morning, and talking while they did so, their sibling friendship blossomed. “It was just a lot of fun,” she said. “I think we hung out more than we ever had.”
Perhaps it’s surprising that isolated from friends and denied their normal routines, the young adults that I spoke with were not resentful about the additional time spent with family due to the pandemic. Actually, they expressed deep gratitude.
Juliette Krevat explained, “I have enjoyed having increased time with my family because I think that wouldn’t have happened [without the pandemic]. I would have been spending less time with them and doing my own thing.”
While the pandemic has led to lost friends and lost independence for teenagers, the family closeness brought on by it may inadvertently strengthen the very family bonds that will support these teens moving forward, making them realize the value of the family that has surrounded them for their entire lives.
Ninth grader Kamtoya Okeke expressed the kind of gratitude that all the teens voiced for this story. She said she will take the lessons learned during the pandemic and apply them to her future.
“I’m not going to take the things I have now for granted,” Okeke said.
Follow along: this story is the second in a three-part series entitled: Lost Year? Teenagers and Learning During the Pandemic. You can read the first part of the series here.
Sarah Cymrot is a 16-year-old from Capitol Hill who occasionally contributes to the Hill Rag. She is the co-host of My Life’s Work podcast and attends School Without Walls High School. You can reach her at [email protected].