‘I had no idea about the hidden labour’: has the pandemic changed fatherhood for ever?
For the past year, many men have spent more time with their children than ever before. Could it force a permanent change?
Primary school spelling tests ringed by coffee stains; office printouts splashed with paint from GCSE art projects; laptops running out of puff in the middle of Zoomed-in geography lessons; and everyone in the family, from the mildest of adults to the sweetest of children, arguing with the fury of stockbrokers over their fair share of the wifi bandwidth. By shutting schools, by taking away the familiar avenues of social escape, by crunching together our working lives with our home lives, this marathon Covid pandemic has changed the terms of parenting beyond all recognition. Mothers have absorbed most of the blow: taking on more of the extra childcare; surrendering more of their scarcer work hours; being interrupted by children more; and any one of them would be justified in saying it was ever thus. But in the midst of it all, fathers have been undergoing some quietly radical changes in behaviour, too.
Or so research suggests. Dads are spending more time than ever before with their children, according to a report last year by the Office for National Statistics. Meanwhile, those dads who were already inclined to take on the playful aspects of parenting (what’s known by sociologists as “non-routine care”, and by the rest of us as “the fun shit”) have started doing more of the unpaid, unglamorous work of child-rearing, according to a joint study of lockdown behaviours by the Universities of Birmingham and Kent. Two of its authors, Holly Birkett and Sarah Forbes, believe that this year of intermittent lockdowns and school closures, along with the widespread adoption of home working, has hurried on an evolution in caring roles we might otherwise have waited decades for.