“My Husband Thinks I’m Crazy”: COVID-19-Related Conflict in Couples with Young Children

Objective: We examine how disruptions related to the COVID-19 pandemic are creating conflicts for couples with young children. Background: National polls suggest that COVID-19 has led to increased conflict for couples in the U.S. Although scholars have not examined the source of these new conflicts, pre-pandemic research suggests that pandemic-related disruptions may create conflicts around paid work and parenting, economic security, politics, and health decision-making. Method: This study uses the Pandemic Parenting Study, a mixed-methods study of Southern Indiana mothers, conducted April-May 2020, and involving surveys (N=139), diary entries (N=104), and in-depth interviews (N=65). We examine mothers’ reports of pandemic-related changes in their frustrations with their partners and how those changes vary with the disruptions couples have experienced during the pandemic. We then use qualitative data to understand how pandemic-related disruptions are generating conflicts for couples and what consequences those conflicts have. Results: A substantial minority of mothers (39%) report pandemic-related increases in their frustrations with their partners. These frustrations are particularly common among mothers whose partners are (reportedly) providing insufficient support with pandemic parenting or dismissing mothers’ concerns about COVID-19. Mothers blame themselves for these conflicts and feel responsible for reducing them, including by leaving the workforce, beginning use of antidepressants, or ignoring their own concerns about COVID-19. Conclusion: The pandemic has exacerbated longstanding sources of conflict (related to partners’ insufficient support with parenting) and created new sources of conflict (related to partners’ dismissals of mothers’ concerns about COVID-19), with serious implications for mothers, families, and public health.
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