Will the pandemic change fathering forever?
One silver lining from the pandemic: An accelerated shift to more equal parenting: While childrearing was once the exclusive purview of women, this has gradually shifted over past decades, with some degree of co-parenting now the norm — although women still bear a disproportionate share of domestic and childcare responsibilities. The pandemic has accelerated the shift to a more equitable distribution of roles, with many fathers reporting being involved in the nitty gritty details of their children’s lives like never before. With most parents stuck working from home during at least some part of the past year, one of the upsides of covid-19 has been rendering this “hidden labor” of childcare visible. But is this a momentary effect that will fade along with the memory of lockdowns, or a change that’s here to stay?
Historically speaking, fathers have been progressively spending more time with their children: The amount of time fathers spend with their children at home has tripled since 1965, according to a 2012 Pew Survey, but is still far eclipsed by time mothers spend with their children, which is nearly double that of fathers. Part of this is attributable to a lack of adequate paid paternity leave in most countries (fathers in the UK get two weeks, while those in the US get zilch), while the other, more prominent factor is — you guessed it — persistent gender roles that put the breadwinning burden on fathers rather than mothers.
How has covid changed this? During the UK’s first lockdown in May, men reported a 58% increase in the time they devoted to childcare, according to data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS). But matters aren’t quite “equal” yet: A different ONS study found that women were still performing 77% more childcare work during those months of lockdown than men.
And interestingly, fathers seem to think they’re doing a better job than mothers: A 2020 New York Times study found that half of fathers surveyed in the US said they were doing the majority of homeschooling during lockdown, while only 3% of mothers agreed that their partner was doing more than them. According to the same survey, 52% of men said they thought the division of childcare labor was equal between them and their partners, while only 25% of women thought the same. Perceptions aside, fathers have been spending more time, quantitatively, with their children since covid-19 began.
How can we carry this forward? On a personal level, if lockdown has had a positive effect on how you’ve divided parenting roles, consider formalizing the arrangement with some long-term schedule changes. Fathers committing to working from home part time on a regular basis is a good start. Consider writing a checklist with the ideal egalitarian division of child care responsibilities you would like to see on a day to day basis and come up with a plan on how to stick to it. If that sounds like all work and no fun, fathers can consider investing in cultivating new fun skills that can help with child care.