Pandemic parenting: Dads assess their share of care

Ann Hermes/Staff
Nick Townley plays with his children Malcolm and Maggie (right), as they go on a walk in their neighborhood on April 23, 2020, in Acton, Massachusetts. Mr. Townley shifted to part-time work to help with child care as his wife works full time.

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During lockdown, focus often turns to the parenting burden on women, who already spent more time on child care and housework. But fathers spend about triple the time on child care per week than they did in 1965, and more than double the amount of time on housework, according to a 2016 report by the Pew Research Center. 

How couples negotiate workloads during the pandemic “is going to say a lot about our conceptions of gender right now,” says Daniel Carlson, an associate professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah. “I think a lot of people are going to have to come face-to-face with their own and their partner’s ideas about who’s responsible for what.” 

Why We Wrote This

What effect is lockdown having on the role of fathers in the home? Are subtle shifts taking place? We asked dads in the U.S. to tell us about their experiences.

The Monitor asked a few fathers around the United States how the coronavirus has changed their work and family life and what lessons they’re learning about divisions of labor in the home. John Griswold, a father of three from California, says he tries to help his wife make time for herself after caring for their children. 

“She has the harder job. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it,” he says. “My clients don’t scream at me when something isn’t right, at least not normally.”

The coronavirus pandemic has placed new stresses on home life – and how household duties are divvied up. But while much of the media emphasis has been on the extra burden being placed on women, men have been stepping up as well.

Before the pandemic, data shows women regularly spent more time on child care, housework, and the “mental load” of household management than men, even though 71.5% of women with children under age 18 participate in the labor force. Several media articles have spotlighted the intense burdens many mothers are carrying at this time. But fathers spend about triple the time on child care per week than they did in 1965, and more than double the amount of time on housework, according to a 2016 report by the Pew Research Center.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Why We Wrote This

What effect is lockdown having on the role of fathers in the home? Are subtle shifts taking place? We asked dads in the U.S. to tell us about their experiences.

“The vast majority of men in the U.S. want to share housework and childcare equally with their partners,” wrote Daniel Carlson, an associate professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City in a recent Twitter post with tips for fathers on how to get more involved at home. “However, structural barriers like a lack of job flexibility and time at home prevent this. But this barrier has been removed for many. You are home now. Don’t let the burden of your new work/family arrangement fall just on your partner!” 

How couples negotiate workloads during the pandemic “is going to say a lot about our conceptions of gender right now,” adds Professor Carlson in a phone interview. “I think a lot of people are going to have to come face-to-face with their own and their partner’s ideas about who’s responsible for what.”

We asked a few fathers around the United States to share how the coronavirus has changed their work and family life and what lessons they’re learning about divisions of labor in the home. Their answers have been edited for length and clarity. 

John Griswold from Encinitas, California, is the father of three children, ages 7 months, 2, and 4. He works full time and his wife is a stay-at-home parent. 

Has being at home more made you think any differently about what your spouse handles at home?

She has the harder job. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it. She’s juggling a million things all at once. My clients don’t scream at me when something isn’t right, at least not normally.

[My wife] puts the kids first and doesn’t naturally set aside time for herself. So my biggest job is to try and force her to do that, and sometimes I do a good job at that and sometimes I don’t. I’m trying to make sure she’s getting enough time to decompress so she can be her best self for the kids because she burns it at both ends and doesn’t complain – she loves her job, she’s wanted to be a stay-at-home mom since she was little. 

How have you divvied up things like the dishes or laundry that aren’t necessarily child care, but are often more typically in the woman’s wheelhouse? 

The “home ec” roles I’ve taken as my own is I do all the grocery shopping and I cook at night. I plan it out, I’ve taken it as mine. She knows what we don’t have in the fridge better than me. I’ve figured out for our marriage, systems really work. [Normally] at 3 p.m. every day I call or text and say, “What do you need me to pick up?” She tells me and then I try to get to the store and be home at 5 from the grocery store so we can do bedtime. Since I’m at home now, I’m making my own list, going to Costco, doing that portion for her. I’m grateful for it because it gives me a reason to get out of the house. 

Nick Townley lives in Acton, Massachusetts, with his wife and their children, ages 2 and 5. He reduced his hours to part-time work during the pandemic. His wife works full time. 

How do you and your spouse regularly divide up child care and household tasks? Has that changed at all since the pandemic?

Before coronavirus we were both responsible for deep cleans. I do regular surface cleans and the laundry, we alternate cooking, I do 4 out of 5 weeknights for cooking, and she normally does weekends and Friday. Now she’s increased her cooking because she enjoys it and wants to and can without her commute. I’m still the primary parent when we’re both home during working hours because she’s on so many calls. I’m building my day around her work routine because I can do that with my schedule. 

Data shows dads lag behind moms with handling child care and household duties. As someone who has been more involved as a stay-at-home dad, what do you see as the benefits of handling more duties around the house? 

The main driver for me was that I spent so much time away when [my daughter] was younger. I’d go away for three months at a time and [my wife] was at home full time. I was going away and didn’t want to be an absent father and [she] wanted to be working.

I really think it comes down to the personalities of people and what they enjoy and don’t enjoy. We’ve been very lucky that most of the things I don’t like, she likes doing, things she doesn’t like, like tidying, I like doing. It’s personal preferences and the economics of the situation.

[We aim for a] greater sense of teamwork and common purpose and unity, where you both feel like the other person’s contributing and you don’t feel like the other person’s slacking, which means everything’s so much smoother. 

David Bates is a father of two children, ages 2 and 4, in Dallas. He works full time and his wife works part time. 

What’s changed in your child care and household routines? 

My kids usually go to school on certain days during the week and that’s when [my wife] gets her work done, but obviously with this change the kids are at home now so that has meant that there’s definitely more of a sharing of responsibilities. What usually happens is I’ll have to be more involved in the afternoons and evenings. I’ll come in, take care of the kids, we’ll play in the yard or take a walk if it’s nice, while [my wife] works, sometimes I’ll be more involved with dinner preparations because the evening is her time to work. Often I find myself the one putting my kids to bed.

How do you normally communicate about handling child care and home duties with your spouse, and has this moment forced you to talk about it more intentionally or more often? 

It’s almost the same as what we did previously. I feel like we always had an open conversation or understanding of how to divide things up. ... I haven’t really seen much of a change, it’s almost like things are moving too rapidly that we haven’t really sat down and talked. [Instead] it’s “Look, I need to get this done, let’s figure it out as we’re going.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

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