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May 1, 2020

Who Is Your COVID‑19 Crisis “Extended and Chosen Family”?

Jennifer Kaddatz

May 1, 2020

My family moved to Ottawa from British Columbia for my job, nearly eight years ago now. It still feels like yesterday. Moving was a big, scary life change. There was considerable upset in the wake of the extraction of our three young boys as we left the kids’ grandparents and their aunt on the West Coast. The rest of our relatively small extended family is spread between three countries, with the majority residing in the South Pacific, so there were no grandchildren left in BC to be hugged.

My husband and I were pretty much left to fend for ourselves in Ontario after we relocated, but we have now settled, after eight wonderful years. During this time, we have developed strong relationships with our new neighbours and, while it’s no substitute for family, our relationships with our neighbours are a precious alternative.

Always know where to go in a zombie apocalypse

Within a year of moving to Ottawa, my family and I made some of the most amazing new friends – adults and kids we met through our involvement with Scouts Canada. These friends – our “chosen family” – are the ones my family now celebrates with every holiday or special event, including Christmas, New Year’s, Easter, St. Patrick’s Day, Victoria Day, Canada Day, Labour Day, Thanksgiving and birthdays in between.

These are the friends with whom we play, boil maple syrup, have new adventures (axe throwing and/or karaoke, anyone?) and vacation during the summer. We know each other’s biological extended families and our kids have grown together (like siblings or cousins), watching the youngest morph out of his baby fat and diapers and watching the eldest get his driver’s licence and embark upon a committed relationship with a girlfriend.

These three families are the friends that we always joked we would team up with in a zombie apocalypse. Turns out it was a COVID‑19 apocalypse, but at least we were ready! Need toilet paper or flour? Someone will bring it. Need a smile? Someone will make you laugh. Mid-pandemic, the boys are in contact with one another virtually 24/7 online, chatting through homework and gaming sessions alike.

  • 90% of adults in Canada agree that they currently have people to count on in case of an emergency.1
  • 44% of Canadians say that one of the main precautions they have taken as a result of the COVID‑19 situation is to make a plan for communicating with family, friends and neighbours.2

Get close to your neighbours, but no closer than 2 metres

But that’s not my only local community. I think I’ve pretty much got the most awesome neighbours on the planet. My ruralish neighbourhood has fairly quickly changed from a place where most of the “kids” were in their early 20s to a place where every second house and yard is now home to the noise and energy of approximately three children and youth, most of whom are under 12. We have skating in winter, an annual Easter egg hunt, campfires, bike rides, an informal “tick and wild animal” alert system, a vegetable-seed sharing club and a diverse group of incredibly hard-working, compassionate, giving and, let’s not forget, pretty darn tired mothers and fathers.

When I was undergoing cancer treatment earlier this year, it was these neighbours who took care of me, making sure my family had everything we needed, including some of the most delicious homemade meals ever shared. This morning, my breakfast was bread, freshly baked in gratitude by one of my neighbours who works in health care, because I’ve been sewing personal protective equipment for her during the pandemic.

  • Nearly three-quarters (74%) of the population feels very attached (35%) or somewhat attached (39%) to their neighbourhood.3
  • Four in five (80%) people in Canada say that their neighbours are strictly (29%) or somewhat strictly (51%) following the guidance of public health authorities to social distance from others.4

Stay in touch with family and friends using technology

Thanks to technology, my community doesn’t end at the Ontario border. I grew up in a farming and fishing village, where the high school mascot was a horse and blackberries were a dominant feature on the main road. This kind of childhood can make for long-lasting ties and my best friends from childhood are still with me now. During the COVID‑19 pandemic, we chat via text messaging and social media apps throughout the day every day, even though they are living way out west under the cherry blossoms, while I’m still feeling kind of shivery out here in eastern Canada.

These beautiful women make me laugh, give me hope and get me exercising. They are the ones I share with when I need a shoulder to lean on. We are all experiencing different aspects and effects of the pandemic – and in quite different ways – but we support one another through everything and anything.

  • 41% of people in Canada have been on social media more often since the start of the COVID‑19 pandemic.5
  • 88% of adults in Canada are very attached or attached to their friends, a share just lower than the 93% of adults who are very attached or somewhat attached to their family.6

But it’s not just for the fun and games

For me, staying in touch with my long-time besties, my Ottawa axe-throwing friends and my amazing-but-tired neighbours isn’t just about having a good time. This inner circle of people form my “extended extended family” and my relationships with them are critical for my positive mental health. During a time of crisis, like the COVID‑19 pandemic, they are my lifeline.

  • Half (50%) of Canadians report a worsening of their mental health during the COVID‑19 period, with 1 in 10 (10% overall) saying it has worsened a lot.7
  • Asked to describe how they have been primarily feeling in recent weeks, Canadians are most likely to say they are worried (44%), anxious (41%) and bored (30%), although fully one-third (34%) also say they are grateful.8

Where else can you go for support?

The Canadian government has acknowledged that COVID‑19 results in varying degrees of stress for many people who do not have ready access to the friend, community and neighbourhood networks for which I am grateful.

As a result, they have developed Wellness Together Canada, which provides an entire suite of tools offering different levels of support depending on need.9 It even offers an opportunity to chat with peer support workers and other professionals.

Visit Wellness Together Canada to connect with others during difficult times.

Jennifer Kaddatz, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada


  1. A survey by the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger, conducted March 10–13, March 27–29, April 3–5, April 10–12 and April 17–19, 2020, included approximately 1,500 individuals aged 18 and older, interviewed using computer-assisted web-interviewing technology in a web-based survey. All samples except for the March 10­–13 sample also included booster samples of approximately 500 immigrants. Using data from the 2016 Census, results were weighted according to gender, age, mother tongue, region, education level and presence of children in the household in order to ensure a representative sample of the population. No margin of error can be associated with a non-probability sample (web panel in this case). However, for comparative purposes, a probability sample of 1,512 respondents would have a margin of error of ±2.52%, 19 times out of 20.
  2. Statistics Canada, “How Are Canadians Coping with the COVID‑19 Situation?” Infographics (April 8, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/2wVzkuL.
  3. April 17–19 survey by the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger (see note 1).
  4. Nanos conducted an RDD dual frame (land- and cell-lines) hybrid telephone and online random survey of 1,013 Canadians, 18 years of age or older, March 14–17, 2020. The margin of error for this survey is ±3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
  5. April 10–12 survey by the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger (see note 1).
  6. April 17–19 survey by the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger (see note 1).
  7. Angus Reid Institute. Worry, Gratitude & Boredom: As COVID‑19 Affects Mental, Financial Health, Who Fares Better; Who Is Worse? (April 27, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/3eWWzGd.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Health Canada. Government of Canada Connects Canadians with Mental Wellness Supports During COVID‑19 (April 15, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/3bWq4FS.