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A Snow Globe World: Lockdown’s Lessons on Family Dynamics

Writing by Olivia Humphrey. Illustration by Josie Berry.

The enforcement of lockdown throughout the UK in March of this year saw multitudes of students abandon their university flats and hurry back to the confines of their immediate families. Amongst the considerable uncertainty, there was a certain security associated with the womb of the family home – a reassurance that our parents might protect us from the invisible threat that continues to raze the world. In any case, for many it simply made sense; with social circles quickly diminishing, there were few reasons not to retreat to free dinners and drip-free ceilings.

Initially, nobody could anticipate how long they might remain stranded indoors – lockdown had no specified shelf life, after all. The return home during this extended period of time inevitably brought about challenges, both mental and practical, for everybody. Once autonomous students, accustomed to managing (or for some, not managing) their own eating, sleeping and social schedules, were suddenly plunged into a new regime. There were definite advantages to this: not paying for groceries is a perk in anyone’s book, and if anybody is kind enough to do your laundry then they should be cherished forever. However, there was also a pronounced shift in dynamics within familial structures. The presence of parents and caregivers, whilst comforting, is also limiting. The once independent student found themselves once again in a ‘child’ role amongst adults, even those firmly into their twenties. And it wasn’t just an adjustment for them – a profound reorganisation of everyone in the household took place as parents also began working from home. Each intersected life was clustered into snow globe microcosms – if one life were shaken up within the globe, the flurry would land on everybody else in its sphere. Even when the dust eventually settled, 2020 would time and again prove itself more than capable of providing another global crisis to stir things up again.

The year has witnessed multiple catastrophes that inevitably slink into dinner table conversation topics. The rise of Black Lives Matter, following the murder of George Floyd – one, out of countless cases of black deaths at the hands of white law enforcement – and subsequent protests occupied discussions in every household. Likewise, so did Yemen’s ongoing humanitarian crisis, rampant murders of women throughout Turkey, continuing concerns over the climate crisis and the dramatic course of the upcoming American presidential election. For students, discussing these topics can become second nature amongst their university circles – it’s easy to vocalise opinions when surrounded by friends and peers who often reflect our own views. However, views often differ within families, and these impassioned topics can reveal certain truths about the mindsets of our loved ones.

There are certain presumptions most people hold about themselves. The student, having pursued further education, has perhaps immersed themself in an environment where protest marches are regularly marked on their calendar, and makeup tips can fluidly transition into political debate at a moment’s notice, over rapidly accumulating bottles. They consider themself informed and well versed in discussing world affairs, and envision a world that should be, rather than what is. The parent, who holds the benefit of having lived through considerably more dramatic world events, thinks themselves more logical than their idealistic child. Both have valid and legitimate perspectives on the world, yet frequently clash.

It’s disconcerting to find yourself in conversation with views you hold so keenly if they aren’t echoed by your loved ones. In the wake of ‘cancel culture,’ it is tempting to simply avoid the views we don’t agree with. In some cases, this can be a sound decision for one’s mental health – topics surrounding violence and discrimination can be triggering for many. But for those who are able, continuing these conversations with those who disagree with us is vital. It’s all well and good addressing a room of people who agree with you, but it does nothing to stimulate change; the hard conversations - the ones we don’t enjoy, that can make us angry, discouraged, impassioned - that we must continue to have, not only to broaden other people’s minds, but to expand our own. It puts our knowledge to the test and reinforces the drive to fight for our beliefs.

Lockdown has now been relaxed, and students across the country are beginning to return to their university towns and cities. For some, this will be a relief – the chance to get some breathing room, to reassert their independence and exercise their freedoms. For others, it will be a melancholy transition; venturing out from the hood of the snow globe and back into uncertain territory, where the world will continue to shake, without the shelter of our parents. Yet 2020 has shown us that now, more than ever, is time to raise our voices above the tremors: to reach out and talk throughout the storm.

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