PARIS — At first "it was simple," Gwenaëlle recalls. Then the barbecues started.
When the coronavirus lockdown was first announced in France, the 23-year-old woman, a civil service volunteer in Lille, chose to go with her partner to their house in the Centre-Val de Loire region. But with the good weather came the barbecues, and some annoyances.
"My boyfriend and I are trying to reduce our carbon footprint, to eat less meat," she explains. "We made them understand that it would be nice to be a little more conscientious, but it was their house. I wasn't going to force them."
Television, which her parents watched "a lot," bothered Gwenaëlle as well. "This is no longer my way of life," she realized.
In the early days of confinement in mid-March, many young adults left their homes to find refuge with their parents, often seeking mutual support, sometimes space and comfort. In Paris alone, according to a survey on l'exode sanitaire (the health exodus) carried out by Jean-Laurent Cassely and Jérôme Fourquet for the Jean-Jaurès Foundation, 28% of people under 35 left their homes, most of them to heading back to the family nest.
The result? Family ties that tightened or loosened, personality traits exposed. For some, the unusual cohabitation prompted an unexpected evolution in their relationships. Gwenaëlle chafed at some of her parents' habits, but others seemed to really benefit from the time together.
"Without making generalizations, the situation seems to have worked out well for the 25-30 year olds," says psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Serge Hefez. "It's a situation where adults find themselves with other adults after a period of separation that was a real break-up. This is a real cohabitation, where one can experiment with new bonds that are divorced from the relationship of authority."
Myriam (not her real name), a 23-year-old student in a Parisian business school, spent the lockdown with her family near Toulouse. One thing she realized is that compared to her parents, her political views are now further to the left. There were lively discussions, as result, when she and her parents watched President Emmanuel Macron's televised addresses on the health crisis.
They disagreed, for example, on the issue of furlough — on whether employees who worry about being exposed to the virus should be allowed to opt out. "I think we have to respect it, whereas for my parents, people need to support the economy as much as possible," Myriam says.
It made me realize how much I've changed, how much I've grown up.
Proximity brought the differences to light, as did the long duration of the confinement period. "Usually, since we see each other for a shorter period of time, conflict doesn't necessarily arise," she says. Interestingly, Myriam saw the time together as an opportunity for introspection. "It made me realize how much I've changed, how much I've grown up and explored," she says.
For Vinciane, an architecture student in Dublin, the only revelation she experienced from confinement with her family was that after "mustering the courage to go and see something else, another country," returning to her parents felt like "going backwards."
As Serge Hefez explains: "When young people in their early 20s return home, there is a risk that they will find themselves in the same situation as before they left when they were teenagers. They may find themselves stuck in a social dynamic from which they had wanted to break free."
"MOOOOOOOM!" — Photo: jobsn
For Benjamin, 24, the confinement in Lyon at his parents' home with his brother brought his life to a "sudden standstill." He'd launched his career as a lawyer just a few months before, in January. He also has a serious girlfriend, and they were planning to move in together at the beginning of April. But with the lockdown, they separated: She went to stay with her parents and he moved in with his.
"We had to relearn everything," he says. "I felt like I was going back to my first college years. They wondered why we didn't watch TV together... I had to be accountable. It wasn't easy to go back to that world, but the protective environment is what kept me going for two months."
Overall, though, Benjamin feels the confinement was "successful." He describes his family as "fairly close-knit" and says that as a result of the time together, he plans to see his parents more often in the future.
"Confining together seemed to work well if it wasn't built around hierarchy, but around adults sharing common tastes," says Elsa Ramos, a sociology professor and researcher at the University of Paris-Descartes.
Recognition and gratitude
Pascale, a 55-year-old principal of a secondary school in Normandy who welcomed her 19-year-old daughter back, confirms this. The mother taught her daughter, a student in a Lyon catering school, how to sew in order to make masks. He daughter reciprocated by teaching Pascale some basic graphic design skills, helping her create health guideline visuals that she could post around her work.
The mother also thinks back fondly to the playlists they listened to together, the TV series they watched, the photographs they took the time to sort. All of those exchanges were a real "gift," says Pascale.
My father let go of the prejudices he had against me.
For others still, the lockdown period was entirely new territory as far as relationships are concerned. Ariane, 18, returned to Paris from Boston, where she studies journalism and political science, and moved in with her father. Growing up, though, she'd mostly lived with her mother, so the time with her dad was a chance to break new ground, especially since her two brothers were absent.
Ariane says that she and her father are from "two different worlds." And yet in lockdown, their relationship really improved. "My father let go of the prejudices he had against me," she says. "He saw that I put a lot of work into university."
The student, in turn, discovered that her dad is not only a highly dedicated university professor, but that he also knows how to keep in touch with people close to him. Before her midterms, he prepared "super lunches" and together they danced to old rock music to lighten the mood. That's the kind of support that, according to Sandra Gaviria, professor of sociology at the University of Le Havre (Seine-Maritime), "helps fashion mutual recognition and gratitude."
Ariane feels now that she and her father can really "count on each other." The support was especially important given the context in which she left Boston, where it seemed like she'd been "kicked out" after the United States closed its borders. "I trust him more than I did before to be a part of my life," she says.
The young woman is now looking forward to getting back to Boston to continue her studies and keep up her English. This time, though, she can't wait for her father to come visit: She really wants to show him around the city.
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