Working life has certainly been handed a dynamic shift as many work from home, blurring the lines of home life along with the deadlines handed to us. Working from our kitchen tables or makeshift desks has become the norm this past year as Covid-19 has forced us to reimagine how we work.
Along with this work-life shift, a dramatic move in the patterns of certain parenting structures has also occurred. With more dads at home, albeit aiming to complete a full workday, they are now also navigating the family workload 24/7 with their partners, who may also be endeavouring to get through a loaded workday at the other end of the kitchen table.
Traditionally – and a tradition many of us are wholly against, men and women alike – mothers have held a greater share of the childcare, and the majority of the mental load. More mothers in comparison to fathers are afforded flexible working in these officious gender imbalances. But there appears to be a somewhat welcome transition occurring as a result of the pandemic. As fathers are more physically present in the home, it affords a change in how we perceive these conventional gender roles of parenting.
“The wall of tradition is coming to an end,” says relationship consultant, Maireád Molloy. “Millennials have cemented and taken on the mantle of gender equality. What I see from my clients is that fathers in general are more involved in their children’s lives more than ever before and now with the pandemic even more so – and they like it. But women still carry out more of the responsibilities at home. I see that women do more housework than men even if they earn more money than their husband. The scales of society rules are still tipped in man’s favour, but equality is in the pipeline.”
There is intense speculation as to how this shift will ultimately pan out, considering working mothers have navigated lockdown after lockdown alongside the inequalities of childcare, and home-schooling together with job losses. However, we are seeing an increase in the change of mindset of parents who are deliberately engaging with this shift in gender roles as more dads are at home, affording working mothers more availability as the responsibilities of family life are more proportionately shared.
Gavin Fox has found this change occur within his own family throughout the pandemic. “We are a stereotypical family, really,” he says. “We are both working parents and relied on our support network to help out with the kids, around drop-offs, pick-ups and minding before the pandemic. When lockdown hit, I went from working full time in the office to working full time in the corner of the bedroom like most people, to then being made redundant in April and moving to being a full-time dad.”
While Gavin’s employment altered, his wife, who works shifts on the front line 24/7 continues to work outside the home but now with less stress about childcare or the fluctuations of family life. “I wasn’t unique about not working during the first lockdown,” says Gavin, “with lots of organisations furloughing or cutting jobs, but ultimately it worked out for us. I was able to spend time with the kids and make sure they were being looked after.”
Now employed as a director of recruitment company Martinsen Mayer, Gavin is once again working from home but this change in mentality has stayed. “I didn’t realise until we stopped how much I was missing during the day. Simple things like not having to be in the office meant not having to be out the door before the kids woke up, or the need for them to be minded before school if we were both working that day. Not having to do all that has allowed me time to have breakfast with the kids, which is something really small but now I couldn’t think of not doing that. I now do the school drops every morning and will continue to do these even post-Covid-19. Walking with the kids, having a chat with them about the day ahead and getting to know more of the parents in the school is great.”
Gavin feels this parenting shift has changed him as a parent. “I always thought I was a hands-on dad, but the change has shown me how much more I can do. When I was off work, we were able to go to the park more, get ice-cream and have some really good fun together. I have gotten to know my kids better and feel like I am being their dad rather than just being a parent after work or at the weekend. Working from home now, I will be keeping these new habits, that’s for sure.”
The shift has also allowed Gavin and his wife to co-ordinate family life closer and better as a team. “At the start when I was off, it allowed my wife to be more relaxed going to work knowing that the kids were being looked after and it wasn’t affecting how I did my job, and this time around we have struck a balance which has allowed both of us time to get work done and keep the kids occupied.”
“Post-Covid-19 it has been debated whether to implement policies aimed at increasing a father’s involvement in childcare activities,” says Molloy, “such as increased mandatory paternity leave periods and more flexible work arrangements. I have clients already navigating this change with their workplace at the moment. Most feel these changes would have positive effects on children’s wellbeing with the additional plus of rebalancing a women’s workload (both at home and in the market) so to shift gender norms even further from the now antiquated traditional family structure to more egalitarian role models.”
For Gavin and many dads who may miss going to the office, being present in the family life “certainly outweighs” the rat race which saw us struggling to get to the office for 8am. Our working structures may not fully revert back to how they were pre-Covid-19 as there has certainly been a shift in our mentality. “From my own point of view,” says Gavin, “and from friends I speak with who also seem to enjoy being around more for their kids, I think there is a greater value placed on fathers being around more”.
“From speaking with my kids, they are enjoying having me around and I am enjoying being there and being more available for my family. I am 100 per cent happier as a person and a father these days and feel sad in a way I wasn’t around for more when they were younger.”