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“You would think she would hug me”: Micropractices of Care Between First-Generation College Students and Their Parents During Covid-19

Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry / Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry / Sep 28, 2023

The Covid-19 pandemic has greatly disrupted the education of first-generation college students (first-gens)—those whose parents did not complete a college degree. With campuses closed, activities canceled, and support services curtailed, many first-gens have increasingly relied on their parents for mental, emotional, and logistical support. At the same time, their parents face compounding stresses and challenges stemming from the prolonged effects of the Covid pandemic. The authors examined the role that relational dynamics between first-gens and their parents played in how they weathered the first 2 years of the Covid pandemic together. The authors draw upon journals submitted by self-identified first-gens and parents of first-gens to the Pandemic Journaling Project between October 2021 and May 2022 as part of a pilot study of first-gen family experiences of Covid-19, along with a series of interviews conducted with three student–parent dyads. The authors argue that what they term the micropractices of care—the “little things,” like a kind word, small gift, or car ride, that were regularly exchanged between parents and students—played a key role in mental wellness and educational persistence. The authors find that when there is synchrony between practices offered by one dyad member and their reception by the other, mental wellbeing is preserved. When there is asynchrony, mental health is destabilized. These findings reflect the strategies on which first-gen families have creatively relied to maintain shared mental wellness and student success during a time of crisis. The authors show how everyday mental wellness is forged in the intersubjective space between two people engaged in achieving shared life goals.