There is a light at the end of this pandemic tunnel! In her exclusive for The Mens List, author Michelle Travis reveals how Fathers and children are shifting their relationships to create awesome, lasting connections.
It’s no secret that parents are struggling during the pandemic. While many working moms have been hit the hardest, working dads have reported increased stress as well. Eleven percent of men are experiencing severe anxiety and a third of men are suffering from sleep issues. Working dads are also feeling new levels of guilt while being stretched between work and increased family demands. Some dads are also grappling with economic hardship and insecurity from a job loss.
But amidst these daunting challenges, a new nationwide survey of dads has also revealed some heartening news. Many dads are reporting that the pandemic has deepened their connections with their children in very meaningful ways. These trends are being reported by dads across race, class, education level, and political affiliation.
Stronger connections between dads and their children can have enormous positive effects. Researchers have discovered long before the pandemic that children with engaged fathers are more resilient, have higher self-esteem, and show fewer signs of anxiety and depression. Children with involved and caring dads also have better cognitive development and educational outcomes. For daughters in particular, having an engaged father supports stronger physical and mental wellbeing, as well as healthier relationships with others.
Before the pandemic, one of the biggest barriers to engaged fathering was the lack of time that many men got to spend with their kids. Eighty-five percent of fathers had reported wanting to spend more time with their young children to become more involved in their lives. Although Covid-19 has brought immense hardship and loss, it has also provided many dads with the extra interaction time that they’ve been seeking—and they’ve been learning, growing, and thriving as a result.
Positive Fathering Trends
1. Dads are feeling closer to their kids.
The combination of working from home, shuttered daycares, and remote schooling has given many dads more time with their kids than ever before. For men in the nine percent of households with partners or spouses working in essential jobs (particularly in healthcare), this extra childcare time has been largely solo. Despite the challenges of parenting in a pandemic, dads report forging deeper connections with their kids as a result of their extra time together. Sixty-eight percent of fathers surveyed said they are feeling closer to their children since the pandemic began.
As dads are becoming more connected with their children, they’re also finding themselves more attuned to their kids’ emotional wellbeing. The majority of fathers surveyed said that they were paying more attention to their children’s feelings and perspectives during the pandemic. This was prompting their children to share more about their feelings in return.
This emotional learning has been flowing in both directions. Half of fathers said they were opening up more about their own feelings with their children, and many felt that their children were paying more attention to their perspective as a result.
2. Dads are having deeper conversations with their kids.
The increased closeness that dads are feeling with their children is leading to more meaningful conversations. Fifty-two percent of fathers surveyed reported that their kids were more frequently raising important topics to discuss with them. Nearly as many dads also reported the reverse—that they were more often raising important topics to talk about with their kids.
These conversations are helping dads and their children discover more about each other. The majority of fathers surveyed reported that they have learned more about their children and gotten to know their children better during the pandemic. Many dads also said that they were sharing more about themselves and their own lives with their kids. As a result, forty-six percent of fathers believed their kids were getting to know them better as well.
3. Dads are finding shared interests with their kids.
Learning about each other has also meant spending time together in new and productive ways. The majority of fathers surveyed reported that they were spending more time engaging in activities that their kids were actually interested in doing. Forty-three percent of dads said they had found shared interests with their kids that they hadn’t recognized before the pandemic began.
Spending more time together builds mutual adoration. Fifty-seven percent of fathers said they have started appreciating their children more during the pandemic, and forty-three percent believe that their kids are showing a greater appreciation for them in return.
How Dads Can Stay Connected with their Kids after the Pandemic
As dads are recognizing the shared benefits of having more time with their kids during the pandemic, we should all think about how to maintain these deeper connections once Covid-19 is behind us. It’s unlikely that the pandemic will launch a “stay-at-home dad revolution,” in part out of economic necessity. Moms have been hit harder with job losses than dads, so most dads are unlikely to be voluntarily exiting the workforce anytime soon. But with more than half of American fathers now describing parenting as central to their identity, we don’t want to lose this forward progress after the pandemic ends.
1. Commit to a shift in work/family priorities.
An important first step for dads who want to maintain deeper connections with their children is to commit to a shift in work/family priorities even after the pandemic is over. For dads who share parenting with a spouse or partner, this should include having an explicit conversation about establishing co-parenting strategies for the long-term—something that your spouse or partner is likely to deeply appreciate as well. This is also a great time to establish new fathering rituals with your kids—like a weekly game night or an evening walk—that can survive the transition back to old habits when schools reopen and many of us return to our central workplaces.
2. Advocate for paid family and paternity leave.
By making men’s role as engaged fathers more visible, the pandemic also offers the opportunity to decrease the stigma that men face as caregivers. That stigma is one reason that the United States lags woefully behind other countries in offering paid parental leave. It also explains why so few men take paternity leave even when they have access to it. And it makes it difficult to push for paid family leave to care for sick children. Yet without paid family leave, far more women than men take time off for caregiving responsibilities, which perpetuates the gender role stereotypes that keep dads from becoming more involved in the first place.
If we want more dads to share childcare responsibilities and maintain their connection to their kids after the pandemic, we need to champion workplace policies that enable them to do so. Equalizing men’s and women’s caregiving roles is also critical to equalizing women’s opportunities at work. One easy step is to sign the Dove Men+Care Pledge for Paternity Leave. We can also join and support family leave advocacy groups, like Zero to Three, which offers a Paid Family Leave Advocacy Tooklit with tips and strategies for getting involved.
3. Support workplace flexibility.
Empowering dads to continue spending more time with their kids after the pandemic also requires employers to commit to increased workplace flexibility. Many working moms have been advocating for workplace flexibility for decades—including telecommuting, flex-time, part-time, and job-sharing arrangements—as a way to level the workplace playing field for women.
The pandemic offers dads the perfect opportunity to join this conversation and become advocates for workplace flexibility as well. The massive and highly successful shift to remote working during Covid-19 arms fathers with very persuasive evidence to convince employers that workplace flexibility is entirely compatible with productivity, supervision, and collaboration. If the pandemic could lead to long-term structural workplace changes to support fathers’ deeper engagement with caregiving—while at the same time supporting equal opportunities for working moms—that would be a silver lining that we could all get behind and celebrate.
Michelle Travis is a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law, where she studies male allyship for gender equity. She is the author of Dads For Daughters: How Fathers Can Give Their Daughters a Better, Brighter, Fairer Future.