Dads, you might not have gotten enough credit during this time of staying at home with the kids. A lot of the chatter has been about how hard moms have had it as they try to manage the kids, school work, household tasks and their own jobs.
But we see you, too, dads. We see that many of you took over managing school assignments, feeding the family and housework. You worked your regular job in alternative hours or in brief stints throughout the day.
Or you divided and conquered with your other parenting partner.
Now, more than ever, your role as dad has been elevated.
Dads have had a long history as being seen as the babysitter, says Jon Lasser, associate dean for research and sponsored programs at the college of education at Texas State University.
“There needs to be a recognition that fatherhood is important,” he says.
He points to recent research about the effects of fatherhood on children. It doesn’t have to be a biological father; it could be any male role model.
“When kids get the attention of men as well as the acceptance of men, it can do wonders to self-esteem,” he says.
The changing role of fatherhood is thanks to feminism, he says. “We’ve redefined what it means to be a woman in the workforce,” he says.
Now, especially under COVID-19, we’re redefining what it means to be a father in the home.
Nancy Hazen, a professor in the department of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas, has been studying fathers and is starting to study what this time of the coronavirus will mean for the role of dads.
“The moms really are for the most part getting the short end of the stick,” she says, especially if they have children who are babies, toddlers or preschoolers. “Even if dads are pretty involved, moms are the manager.”
In some families, though, she’s seeing where dads are having to take over this role of manager, especially in families where the mother is working an essential role like nurse, doctor or grocery store clerk.
“That has been challenging for a lot of families,” she says.
For those families where both parents are trying to work from home at the same time, there has been a lot of hot potato with the kids: Can you take them while I get on this Zoom call? Now let me take them while you get on your Zoom call.
“Fathers and mothers have had to work together to do creative co-parenting more than ever and on short notice,” Hazen says.
Dads tend to play differently with their children than moms. They are more physical, which isn’t a bad thing. There’s research on that being an important way for kids to learn barriers and how to read facial expressions, Lasser says.
In this time of pandemic, though, fathers have had to figure out different ways to entertain kids, and “they have stepped up as teachers,” Hazen says.
One thing she thinks will change in some families is that as fathers have taken larger roles and become more comfortable in that role, they might continue their expanded roles after the pandemic is over. One way to make that more certain is for moms not to micromanage tasks or make dads feel inadequate by saying the dads aren’t doing it the way they would, she says.
Another thing that Hazen believes will come out of this is businesses’ appreciation for the needs of families and the needs for child care. You can thank all your young, interrupting Zoom bombers for that.
Austin psychologist David Zuniga is one of those parents who has seen his role expand during this time.
The father of two daughters in middle school managed a lot of day-to-day family life during the school year because his wife is a teacher. He still doesn’t do a lot of the cooking, because he’s just not good at that, excepting making smoothies in the morning.
“Dads need to do more,” he says. “The roles are becoming more flexible.”
Psychologist Mike Brooks also has taken on more for his three kids, who are in fourth, eighth and 12th grades. His wife works a 60-hour week, and he’s continued to see clients virtually.
He says between his practice, the home life and school, it’s been “too many balls to juggle.”
It’s made him realize that we don’t pay teachers enough, he says.
He became a big fan of “good enough” when it came to his kids completing all of their school work.
Zuniga says this time has been hard for all members of the family. The “emotions are really brittle for all of us right now,” he says.
What he sees is that his kids “are sitting with difficulty” right now. Many of the things they would be doing as a family they are not able to do. And while they try to come from a place of gratitude for their health and the things they are able to do, it can still remain challenging to remember it’s about living a purposeful, meaningful life rather than fleeting moments of happiness, he says.
For many men, this time has been particularly a struggle as they are not able to go to the office, whether they are now working from home or have been furloughed or laid off. Often men’s psyches are wrapped up in their job, their office routine and their role as breadwinners, Zuniga says.
“Men have a hard time when their identity shifts,” he says.
Self-care has become even more important for parents. “When we take care of ourselves as parents, it’s a good way to help our kids,” he says.
For Brooks, that has meant exercising daily and connecting with friends.
He’s also found activities such as camping in the backyard, hiking or fishing as a way to connect as a family and improve everyone’s mental health.
Brooks says one things he’s learned is to take the long view. This isn’t going to last forever.
In the meantime, it’s about cutting ourselves some slack, he says.
“It’s OK to feel stressed out and bad, but you don’t want to feel bad about feeling bad,” Brooks says.
“If you get punched in the face, you’ll bruise,” Brooks says. “This has been a psychological punch to the face. We're feeling it. If we weren't feeling it, that would be worrisome.”