Raising and growing in times of COVID: how the pandemic has deteriorated the well-being of mothers, fathers and children

  • By:jobsplane



Through an exhaustive review of international and national evidence, the column analyzes how the pandemic has deteriorated the well-being of mothers, fathers and children, who have had to drastically change their routines as a result of confinement. There is exhaustion, anxiety and depression in parents, and irritability and boredom in children. Added to this general fatigue is the inequity in basic services in our country, which makes a comprehensive protection system urgent that listens to the discomfort of parents and children, and attends to the needs of lower-income families, the authors maintain.

This column is based on the results of three investigations: 'Learning about parenting experiences with young and unborn children during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Chile', an initiative of the Professional Team of the San Joaquín UC Perinatal Mental Health in collaboration with MIDAP (www.midap.org); “Study on the effects on the mental health of children due to the COVID-19 pandemic”, sponsored by the UAI School of Psychology, by the IMHAY Millennium Nucleus, Theraplay Chile and the RHRI, and the study entitled “CREA (growing and learning) with mom and dad, COVID-19 version”, was directed by Daniela Aldoney, researcher Center for Attachment and Emotional Regulation, CARE, UDD), and in which CARE researchers and assistants participated, among them the Associate Researcher of MIDAP, Carola Perez.

SLIDE: The authors do not work for, share with, or receive funding from any company or organization that could benefit from this article. In addition, with the exception of Daniela Aldoney, they must not reveal any relevant political activism or affiliation beyond their status as a research academic. Daniela Aldoney is a constituent candidate for "non-neutral independents." It does not receive funding from this organization, but it does receive funding from natural persons and from SERVEL in its capacity as a candidate.

Globally, the pandemic has forced us to restrict physical contact with our loved ones and to renounce the ways in which human beings usually face crises and emergencies, seeking closeness and affection (Newkirk, 2020). Added to this, the environment of uncertainty has increased parenting stress and vulnerability, intensifying the emotional experience of those who have children in their care (Jiao et al., 2020; Provenzi & Tronick, 2020).

In the case of Chilean families, the COVID-19 context is even more complex, as Chile is experiencing a "triple crisis." At the social and economic level, in October 2019 strong demands were activated from citizens, associated with inequity in income distribution and inequality in access and quality of education, health, housing, working conditions and well-being. general among the different socioeconomic groups (Morales Quiroga, 2020). A few months later, the health crisis began, and the first cases of people infected with COVID-19 appeared, while social demands continued unresolved. This triple crisis brought strong effects on well-being levels and exacerbated physical and mental illnesses in the most vulnerable groups: lower-income families, women, and children (Vivanco & Duarte, 2020).

After more than a year of living with this triple crisis, in this column we review the impact of the restrictions and changes associated with the pandemic on Chilean mothers, fathers and children, also collecting international evidence. We highlight the relevance of the first years of life, the mutual influence between parents and children on their levels of psychological well-being, and the importance of providing comprehensive support to lower-income families, considering the inequity in access to basic rights in our country.


International studies have described the psychological consequences of the pandemic on children , family and social, highlighting the fear of contagion and the presence of multiple bereavements from the loss of their usual routines (Jiao et al., 2020). Additionally, restrictions on free movement, less social contact and high parental stress could also increase the risk of neglect and violence towards them (UNICEF, 2020).

Evidence shows that the change in children's lifestyles due to confinement can negatively impact their physical and mental health, due to the lack of outdoor activities , frustration and boredom (Wang et al., 2020). Associated with the above, less physical activity, more time in front of screens, irregular sleep patterns and less healthy diets are reported (Wang et al., 2020), as well as irritability and difficulties in paying attention and concentrating (Jiao et al., 2020).

These changes become more relevant during childhood, since it is a period with very rapid and sensitive physical, cognitive, emotional and social development, in which all experiences have a significant impact on brain structure and subsequent mental health ( Schore, 2001; WHO, 2019). In this sense, children are a risk group in crisis contexts and need to be made visible, given that they are building the foundations of their personality and subsequent development, especially those under 5 years of age, an age at which these processes occur more significantly.

Regarding the effect of the pandemic on fathers and mothers, despite the general emphasis on the overload to which they have been exposed due to the need to fulfill multiple roles (UNICEF, 2020), a greater negative impact has been described of COVID-19 in women, considering the greater unpaid workload that they usually assume and the demand for multifunctionality in relation to work, domestic and childcare roles, especially in Latin American cultures (Almeida et al., 2020; Pérez- Díaz & Oyarce Cádiz, 2020, Salazar Méndez et al., 2017). Specifically, international evidence shows higher levels of stress, burnout, anxiety and depression in fathers and mothers during the pandemic (Gromada et al. 2020), as well as a greater deterioration in the mental health of this group compared to other childless adults (Alonzo, Popescu & Zubaroglu, 2021; Park et al 2020; Russell et al 2020).


Studies on mental health in Chile during the pandemic show results that are consistent with each other, in relation to the deterioration in the levels of well-being in fathers, mothers and children. In one of them, carried out in June 2020, in which 1,163 mothers and fathers of children under 5 years of age participated, greater irritability, sadness and decreased perception of happiness were found since the arrival of COVID-19 , as well as deterioration in the quality of sleep, the ability to enjoy, the ability to regulate one's own emotions and to calm down[1] (Olhaberry, Sieverson, Franco, Romero, Tagle, Iribarren, Honorato, 2021).

Raising and growing in times of COVID: how the pandemic has deteriorated the well-being of mothers, fathers and children

Another local study that included children between 0 and 11 years of age, in which 5,997 mothers and fathers participated, found in the first weeks of quarantine that 73.4% of the participants perceive an increase in the level demand of the child towards the adult; symptoms related to mood (22.8%); disruptive behaviors (49.8%); anxious symptoms (39.2%); low tolerance for frustration (38%); sleep problems (52.5%) and symptoms associated with attention difficulties and hyperactivity 70.8% (Escobar, Panesso, Franco, Cardemil, Grez, Del Río, Del Río, Vigil, Durán, 2021).

Of the main results of the research with children under 5 years of age (Olhaberry, et al, 2021), the association between the deterioration of daily functioning in fathers and mothers with the perception of deterioration in the daily functioning of their children stands out /ace. This result shows the mutual influence that exists between mothers, fathers and their young children (Azhari et al., 2020; Ponnet et al., 2013), as well as the tendency to perceive more The behavior of the children is negative, based on the discomfort of the adults associated with confinement and sanitary restrictions. In this context, parental difficulties, associated with high stress and lack of support, interfere with the ability to respond to children's needs for contact and closeness, activated in children as a healthy resource for regulation of fear and anxiety.

Another relevant result is the association between the perception of mothers and fathers of deterioration in the child's daily functioning, specifically the increase in the frequency of crying and tantrums, with the decrease in the perceived support of the partner, family and peers. friends. Along the same lines, the study carried out by Escobar et al. (2021) documented that the way in which the symptoms are presented show variations according to the stage of development of the children. Disruptive behaviors prevail in the youngest (irritability, aggressiveness, difficulties in following rules and regulating oneself) and in the older ones internalizing symptoms (anxiety, depression, bodily discomfort).

Finally, in the second stage of the study developed by Escobar et al, 2021, data was collected between September-October 2020, with the participation of 982 families. An increase in the internalizing symptoms of the children was observed: sudden mood changes (40%), more listlessness, fatigue, lack of energy (20%) and sadness for no apparent reason (9%); Regarding externalizing or more disruptive symptoms, they remained high, presenting greater emotional reactivity (74%). In addition, their parents note that they are more defiant (51%) and that they fight more (32%). 48% of parents note that attention/concentration problems began or increased, particularly in school children aged 6 to 8, followed by those aged 9 to 11. The perception of the child's demand towards the adult also increased to 79% of the cases and 36% of the children have begun to present or have increased regressive behaviors.

These results show, on the one hand, the psychological discomfort of children and the increase in demands for fathers and mothers during parenting in a pandemic and, on the other, show the differences in needs and capacities infants according to stage of development. This also highlights the need for support, care networks and social conditions that consider both children and their parents, recognizing the high child dependency and the mutual influence between parents and children during upbringing.


It is known that the number of stressors that mothers and fathers face during parenting, as well as the protective resources available to them, differ among different socioeconomic groups in terms of Chili. These differences have also been associated with a greater negative impact of poverty on family mental health, in that the difficulties faced during upbringing and child care do not depend only on the capacities of the parents to solve them, generating impotence and hopelessness (Ulloa, Cova, Bustos, 2017).

The results of the Chilean studies reveal the importance of support networks for mothers and fathers, as well as think of parenting as a shared process that requires the presence of numerous community actors, with special attention to vulnerable groups . On the contrary, isolation, the lack of support, time for self-care and rest, and the scarcity of spaces for those who live with a partner, have a negative impact on the quality of child care. Specifically, they interfere in the ability to recognize and adaptively manage emotions and behaviors, in the ability to reflect and take perspective in relation to experiences, as well as in the ability to contribute to the calm and regulation of the couple and children. /as, turning these elements into risk factors for mental health, which could even favor negligence and child abuse in our country, as UNICEF alerts.

Reaffirming these hypotheses, Oyarce, Valenzuela and Sorrandia (2021) analyzed the impact of the pandemic on the wear and tear of Chilean mothers. They found that 8.1% show wear and tear in their parental role, which accounts for an increase in relation to the 5.8% reported before the start of the health crisis (Roskam et al., 2021).In This same study found a positive association between burnout and three variables: negligence, violence, and mothers' desire to escape. This is consistent with previous studies (Mikolajczak, Brianda, E., Avalosse & Roskam 2018) and sets off alarm bells about the increased risk of hitting or mistreating children. Regarding work-family reconciliation in Chile, this same study shows that maternal exhaustion increases when positive family dynamics decrease, that is, when women have fewer possibilities to enjoy themselves at home, to organize themselves and to feel confident in the way of leading domestic life.

Regarding the influence of socioeconomic level on parenting, we found that, in Chile, belonging to a high socioeconomic level allows access to resources that guarantee better physical and mental health, education, housing, and quality of life in general. Therefore, it becomes a protective factor for the deployment of child care in times of pandemic, to the extent that it generates a greater sense of protection, control and access to better quality care. In this sense, a comfortable socioeconomic situation during confinement opens the possibility of contacting opportunities for rest, family gatherings, and parental resources, to the extent that basic needs are already covered and do not represent a major concern. These results make it urgent to provide instances of work, educational and health support, especially to lower-income families, who are subjected to a greater number of stressors and risk factors in relation to their well-being. This can promote a healthy upbringing that allows a balance between the parental needs and those of the children, supporting development and mental health.


National studies show the effects of social isolation as a result of the pandemic, as well as the importance of care networks. It is worth noting the need to provide formal, comprehensive and universal support for fathers, mothers and caregivers, especially for those with lower incomes and access to quality support networks. Along these same lines, it is It is important to note that these parenting support systems should consider the close relationship between a mother, father and/or caregiver and their child, ensuring the development of systems and strategies that facilitate and promote the necessary competencies in adults and relationships of quality between the two.

For its part, it is necessary to develop coordinated strategies that address both mental health and the material and social well-being of families. A comprehensive protection system should not only ensure the reduction and disappearance of the factors that put children and their families at risk, but should also be capable of recognizing and promoting those factors that protect relationships between fathers/mothers and children.

Regarding professional support for this group in a context of confinement, it is necessary to develop and promote the use of telematic and face-to-face multidisciplinary care tools to facilitate access, which allow listening to the discomfort and suffering of children, as well as that of mothers and fathers, providing timely care that includes promotion, prevention, diagnosis and treatment. It is also important to highlight the existing digital gap according to family income, in which access to remote care, tele-education and teleworking between families is unequal and does not depend only on having a computer or a cell phone, but also requires access paid online. In this sense, it becomes necessary to improve not only the offer of remote care for children and their families, but also to guarantee universal access to the Internet in order to use them.

Given that parenting is sensitive to social and labor conditions, support would be required for fathers and mothers that allow them to make their working hours more flexible without financial costs. In the case of mothers and fathers of young children, extend postnatal leave, also considering fathers, to guarantee greater gender equity in child rearing, economic support for households and adequate care for their children, reducing the risk factors to which they are exposed.

Edited by Juan Pablo Rodríguez


[1] Although a high impact of these changes would be expected on the levels of confidence in the parental role, in this same study 54.4% indicated feeling equally confident in their parenting skills since COVID-19 and only 20.2% report less confidence in their ability to adequately exercise their parental role. It is likely that as time passes and experience is elaborated, the perception of the impact that sanitary measures have on the parental role increases, considering that 75.7% of this group studied identifies some type of impact on their role parental. In addition to the above, it is important to consider that this study was carried out through an online survey, in which fathers and mothers from wealthy socioeconomic levels participated to a greater extent, so it is likely that in low-income families, with higher levels of stress, these results are less encouraging.

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This article is part of the CIPER/Académico project, a CIPER initiative that seeks to be a bridge between academia and public debate, fulfilling one of the founding objectives that inspire our environment.

CIPER/Academic is a space open to all national and international academic research that seeks to enrich the discussion on social and economic reality.

So far, CIPER Académico receives contributions from six study centers: the Center for the Study of Conflict and Social Cohesion (COES), the Center for Intercultural and Indigenous Studies (CIIR), the Center for Research in Communication, Literature and Social Observation (CICLOS) of the Diego Portales University, the Millennium Nucleus Authority and Power Asymmetries (NUMAAP), the Center for Water Resources for Agriculture and Mining (CRHIAM) and the Millennium Institute for Research on Depression and Personality (MIDAP) ). These contributions do not condition the editorial freedom of CIPER.

Raising and growing in times of COVID: how the pandemic has deteriorated the well-being of mothers, fathers and children
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