Couples with school-age children don’t have it easy right now. Much or all of a child’s education is likely happening at home. Who’s making sure the internet connection is good – let alone making sure real learning is taking place? In many households in which both parents can work from home, home-based learning during the pandemic has opened up a debate about gender roles in parenting. And in deciding how to divvy up child rearing, mothers and fathers – especially fathers – may be taking on new views of themselves.
Even before the pandemic many fathers had stepped up their parenting game. In 2018 married mothers who worked full time spent 1.2 hours each day caring for their children. But married fathers chipped in 49 minutes per day, reported the American Time Use Survey. The women spent another 2.1 hours each day on other household chores, with husbands contributing about 1.4 hours.
What comes as a pleasant surprise now is how much fathers stuck at home are enjoying more time with their children. In a study released by Harvard University after the pandemic began, 68% of dads said they felt closer or much closer to their children, and 57% said they appreciated their children more.
It’s no longer a professional embarrassment if during Dad’s Zoom meeting a child wanders into the room wanting a glass of water: It’s a chance to proudly lift the child onto his lap and introduce them. One father reports that he found his 6- and 9-year-old sons running around the house didn’t annoy him: just the opposite. “I noticed the total bliss I felt,” he told The Wall Street Journal, “and the feeling that I didn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Another young dad told The Guardian: “I’ll be honest, all my dad friends share the same view, lockdown has been an absolute blessing in terms of spending time with our children, and seeing them grow and develop. I have no hankering to get back to the way it was before.”
Mental and social barriers to male buy-in to parenting responsibilities still remain. The assumption that husbands will be the primary breadwinners has softened, but it hasn’t disappeared. That pressure can push back against fatherly inclinations to spend more time at home.
Men are also less likely to receive paternity leave, paid or unpaid, or feel comfortable taking it, if offered. And a lingering macho mentality may make fathers less comfortable talking about the challenges of parenting with their spouse or male friends.
When the pandemic eases, and the ability to return to the office opens up, like all workers fathers will weigh the advantages of being present in the office against stay-at-home pluses such as no commuting hassles.
But for dads who’ve formed new, closer bonds with their children, that advantage may be the hardest one to give up.