The COVID pandemic has changed how fathers parent… for the better

Unfairly, women have historically bore the most responsibility for raising children. But in the pandemic world, it does appear the playing fields are levelling. Practice specialist for Relationships Australia NSW, Andre King, explores how coronavirus has changed parenting for the better.

Traditionally far more the domain of women, Australian men are becoming more vocal about their role in fathering, and the value they place on connection with family, particularly their children. In the COVID era, the fact that both parents are working from home means they can be equally present in their kids’ lives, and that’s led to a shift in more balanced responsibilities between mums and dads.

The pandemic has been a catalyst for change

Lockdown and work restrictions have enabled many dads (and mums) to be around the home much more than they might ever have been. Workplaces have suddenly been able to be flexible and unintentionally family-friendly.

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Recent studies have shown that while average childcare hours for both parents have increased during the pandemic for dual-income families, there has been a relative increase for average childcare hours for males compared to females.

Men are participating more in their children’s lives and the household generally, and for many this has been revolutionary in terms of what might be a better arrangement going forward. They have been better able to be active and present in their fathering, and to experience being both wanted and needed by children and partners.

How to be a better father in the COVID era

When dads have contact or live with their children

Although there are changes afoot, many men short-change themselves and their kids due to the demands of other roles and the hope that brief time together will suffice. It’s often mums who are left with a lot of the emotional connection and social arrangements – with men seeing themselves as an “add-on” to the family plans.

Mums can encourage their partners to consider making their special relationship with their kids more of a priority. Children need their dads far more than most men realise, and maybe more than they show. Investing in quality time now and extending it each day will reap rewards. As kids get older, they may have less time; so this quality time is so important.

When dads have contact or live with their children but can’t leave the house

Food is the one go-to survival plan during COVID. Create something together. Try camping or a picnic in the backyard. Dad’s time and attention is what children enjoy; watching a favourite show together, lingering over light conversation, colouring in together, playing board games, will all be very meaningful because they are about time with one of the most special people in their lives.

When dads have no physical contact with their children

For children of separated fathers, they are likely to relish receiving a video they can watch now or in the future, or a card or letter they can keep. Hearing their dad’s love, how often they think of them, and what it means to be their dad, reassures them of connection, dedication and their importance.

If a video call is the order of the day, children are likely to enjoy doing something fun, like playing a card game online, listening to a story or hearing about their day or their childhood. What’s important is that they don’t have to worry about any negative dynamics between their parents, so that they feel freer to participate and openly talk back. The best outcomes for children will occur when their parents are amicable and respectful.

It’s important for both parents to think about how they would like their children to describe them to others – playful, fun, a good listener, caring, thoughtful – as you make memories that you can share forever.

If parenting has become fraught because conflict has got in the way and connection is damaged, or perhaps you are recovering from separation, or want to be a different dad, then getting some professional assistance can really help.

Andrew King is a practice specialist at Relationships Australia NSW.