Each time Jacob Edwards, a senior at Virginia Tech, needs to take a quiz for his housing and the consumer course, he relays an important message to his parents and sister — please disconnect from WiFi.

Typically, a quiz takes about 10 minutes to complete, but that 10 minutes is crucial. If the entire family is using WiFi simultaneously, the time required to download the quiz questions and upload answers may mean that Edwards misses the submission deadline.

“It kind of puts the WiFi on overload,” said Edwards, whose younger sister, a high school senior, also is tackling online courses from the family’s Richmond home. 

Across the nation, Hokie families and others like them are facing similar challenges. As college students return home to finish spring semester classes online, due to COVID-19, families are forced to adapt on the fly. After all, this isn’t just a week of spring break or a summerlong stay. The pandemic is a national crisis without an end date. And with social distancing and quarantine guidelines in place, leaving the house for a break isn’t an option. 

So, how can families adapt to this new living arrangement and maintain a peaceable household? It starts with recognizing that parents and students everywhere are in the same boat, said several Virginia Tech experts.

“Let’s give ourselves grace for sorting this out,” said Jody Russon, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Science at Virginia Tech. “Everybody is adjusting to this. There will be conflict. There needs to be room for adaptation, and we’ve got to expect that.”

Jody Russon
Jody Russon is an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Science at Virginia Tech. Photo by Leslie King for Virginia Tech.

The experts caution parents to recognize that their college students may have many different emotions right now related to the unanticipated move back home, taking online courses, and living away from their friends and campus activities. 

“This was not voluntary. There’s a lot of disappointment and fear and anxiety and anger and grief that students may be experiencing,” said Ellie Sturgis, interim director of Cook Counseling Center at Virginia Tech. “It’s just really important right now to listen to one another and to validate how each person is feeling.”

This is especially important for parents of college seniors who will celebrate graduation virtually rather than with a traditional in-person ceremony. 

Sometimes, if a parent and child sit physically beside one another it helps these kinds of conversations to go more smoothly, Sturgis said.

Ellie Sturgis
Ellie Sturgis is interim director of Cook Counseling Center at Virginia Tech. Photo courtesy of Ellie Sturgis.

It’s also important for families to help set a daily routine and consider what each person needs.

For example, Mike Crabtree’s three children, including two high schoolers and Austin, a Virginia Tech first-year student majoring in economics, try to start their online work every day at 9 a.m. Each student has a separate area of their house where they do their coursework. 

“The biggest thing for us is structure and consistency,” said Crabtree, a Virginia Tech alumnus who lives in Pulaski, Virginia. “Stick to what you say you will do and create normalcy to what their former norm was and be patient.”

Some parents also are working at home alongside their students, which may require unique solutions for sharing spaces. Both parents and students should be clear about what works best for their productivity, said Jenene Case Pease, clinical director of the Family Therapy Center of Virginia Tech and a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Science. This includes everything from where to work in the house to what noise level to maintain.

“Allow each person in the household to describe what will work for them,” she said. “Have deliberate, ongoing, and open discussions about ways for each family member to be successful. Everyone wants a sense of normalcy during this time.”


Jenene Case Pease
Jenene Case Pease is clinical director of the Family Therapy Center of Virginia Tech and a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Science. Photo by Leslie King for Virginia Tech.

Maddie Tran, a junior majoring in business information technology, and her family figured out an effective arrangement for daytime work. With both of her parents now working from their Oak Hill, Virginia, home, her mom has claimed the kitchen while Tran and her dad work together in the home office.

Tran said she was worried that returning home would mean letting go of some of her independence, but so far, that hasn’t been a problem. The family, including her high school–aged brother, have their own routines during the day, but they come together for dinner each evening and may watch a movie or take a walk.

“My parents are pretty hands off with my school,” Tran said. “They let me do my thing, which I really appreciate.”

Seeing one another as adults is key to good communication, Russon said.

“We have to transition young adults and caregivers to thinking about themselves as two adults living in the same household, without the same communication style that might have been there before,” she said.

Aside from working, don’t forget to allow everyone in the family to do what makes them happy, Sturgis said. Parents should be supportive of their students connecting with friends virtually, such as via FaceTime and Zoom.

Spending time together as a family may be part of being happy and having fun, also.

“Through this chaos, we have an opportunity to really treasure our time together,” Sturgis said. “This is a return to meals together and to periods of time when we can actually enjoy one another, go outside, play games together, sit on the porch and talk. It’s bringing all of us an opportunity to connect with simpler times.”

This is exactly the way Edwards is choosing to see his unexpected stay at home. For the past two summers, the property management major has had internships in Washington, D.C., and did not live at home.

Now, he realizes that this could be his last long stint living with his family. He already has had several virtual job interviews with property management firms.

“It gives you that time to spend with family before you actually start to move out and start your new life,” said Edwards, who has been playing board games, watching movies, and taking walks with his parents and sister.

Written by Jenny Kincaid Boone