Abstract: (Converted as ePoster, See Poster Gallery) Mothersâ₀™ experiences of emotional connection during COVID-19 in the United States: A thematic analysis (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

(Converted as ePoster, See Poster Gallery) Mothersâ₀™ experiences of emotional connection during COVID-19 in the United States: A thematic analysis

Sunday, January 16, 2022
Independence BR G, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Emily K Miller, MSSA, Research Assistant, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH
Kari O'Donnell, MA, Research Assistant, Case Western Reserve University, OH
Anna Bender, PhD, Doctoral Candidate, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH
Kylie Evans, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH
Megan Holmes, PhD, Associate Professor, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH
Background and Purpose: Enhanced understanding of the role of social support and connection in mitigating the mental distress associated with disease outbreaks is imperative. For parents, in particular, the negative impacts of the multitude of pandemic-related stressors requires close examination in order to provide them with adequate and appropriate support. The social distancing requirements of the pandemic have resulted in reduced in-person contact with family and friends who can assist with childcare, contributed to more secluded work lives as parents have juggled work and caregiving responsibilities, complicated the lives of caregivers who must now facilitate virtual schooling for young children, and prevented gathering with others for important social rituals.

Methods: Guided by stress and coping theory, the current study explored how parents with young children (N = 191) in the United States perceived and experienced emotional connection and social support during the COVID-19 pandemic. Data were gathered through an online survey about siblings, child well-being, family functioning, and how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted families. Participants were asked to elaborate on their experiences of reduced contact with loved ones, how they define emotional connection, and describe how they have emotionally connected with family and friends during the COVID-19 pandemic. Participant responses were analyzed using a reflexive, thematic analysis.

Findings: The majority of the sample were female (96.86%), White and not Hispanic/Latinx (72.77%), and married (71.73%). Participants reported an average of approximately 2 adults (SD = .55, range = 1–5) and 2.68 children in each household (SD = .92, range = 1–6). When describing key components of emotional connection, participants largely drew on different aspects of social support, including affective support – namely feelings of empathy, acceptance, and love – support through companionship from friends and family, and instrumental support. The primary ways participants adapted to achieve emotional connection during COVID-19 were through technology and in-person interactions with a close group of friends or family and/or those that adhered to physical distancing measures. Technology use included calling over the phone, making video calls, and text-messaging. Connecting emotionally in-person involved visiting a close group of loved ones and family members outside the household and spending quality time with members of one’s own household.

Conclusion and Implications: Parents of young children are grappling with a unique and complex set of stressors due to COVID-19, and the present study illustrates the adaptive ways they have drawn on others for support resources in order to cope emotionally. Practitioners working with parents and families faced with physical distancing requirements should draw on creative, technology-based strategies to help clients connect with family members and close friends in order to maintain vital emotional and social support resources. In order for the social work profession to evolve to meet the needs of clients during extraordinary stressors, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, research must elevate participant voices to gather information that highlights lived experiences. Future research should continue building knowledge around what emotional connection means for individuals and families in times of great stress.