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“Lockdown Fathers: The untold story”

Fatherhood Institute has just released a short video clip illustrating the key findings from their project about what Britain’s dads have been doing, and how they have been feeling, during the Covid-19 pandemic. The full report can be accessed here.

In our interviews, both mothers and fathers talked about how they made effort to adjust to the unprecedented situation of the pandemic and lockdown. Some of them highlighted that their division of childcare and work duties became more balanced with fathers getting more engaged in childcare – you can read about our preliminary findings here.

If you and your partner would like to share your story, we would love to hear from you! We are still looking for a few UK-based couples to take part in our online interviews:

  • 1 couple with a mother-primary caregiver and a father-primary breadwinner
  • 3-4 couples with a father-primary caregiver and a mother-primary breadwinner

If you are interested, please email Agata at awezyk@lincoln.ac.uk or use this link to complete a short survey and we will get back to you.

How parents organised work and childcare during the pandemic

For the majority, the COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented situation. It has affected every sphere of life including work, education, leisure, and childcare. Parents have been more likely than non-parents to be furloughed and to have reduced income. Indeed, more than 30% of parents reported reduced income in the first three months of the pandemic, although this ratio had decreased to 17% by December 2020.  What is more, parents changed their working patterns to adjust to home-schooling and childcare responsibilities. For some this resulted in doing their job in unsociable hours.

Childcare has traditionally been seen as a mothers’ duty although in recent decades a cultural shift towards involved fatherhood and the equal sharing of caregiving have been encouraged. According to ONS reports, throughout the pandemic women have spent more time than men on unpaid housework and childcare, particularly in families with younger children. These differences were even more pronounced in September-October 2020, despite the first lockdown coming to an end in July and children returning to school for the start of the new school year. At this time, parents started to spend more time working and less time doing housework or childcare duties. Importantly, women did more than men in terms of nurturing or non-developmental childcare (e.g. dressing, feeding, cuddling). Men and women contributed more equally to developmental childcare (e.g. reading, helping with homework) which they also found more enjoyable. However, this does not apply to the most recent lockdown where women have been more likely than men (67% and 52% respectively) to be involved in home-schooling. These figures suggest a worrying return to gendered divisions of labour but we continue to know little about couple decision-making or the lived experiences of men and women as they have navigated their family and work lives through the first year of the pandemic.

While our project is not focused on COVID-19 specifically we have asked the men and women in our study about how the pandemic might have affected the way they organise and share their work and childcare duties. So far, we have interviewed seven couples. Our participants reported some changes, although most of them did not consider them to be major. In general, the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have promoted more involvement in childcare by the parent who used to be less present due to work duties. In this way, couples who used to maintain distinct breadwinner-caregiver roles have become more balanced:

Yes because he’s, he’s always here so he helps a lot with the, you know, lifts to the school or from school because he used to travel a lot.  […] he wouldn’t spend so much time in the house so, you know, he’s more available which is good.  He’s working the same hours but he’s around and it helps.” (Eva, 2 kids)

Well because Julie was working at home, she hasn’t been leaving early in the morning so she’s been doing a bit more.  Getting the kids ready for school and often she’s been picking them up from school because she’s been here and I’ve been working.” (Tom, 3 kids)

We split things pretty much equally, especially since he started working from home after COVID […] But since September he’s been allowed to work from home, so I have someone to share that morning routine with now and it is just makes such a difference. […] Just having that backup, actually everything’s a lot easier since he’s been working from home.” (Kate, 2 kids)

In some cases, the pandemic appeared to have reinforced the existing traditional arrangements where a male is the main breadwinner and the female is the main caregiver:

When the first lockdown happened, obviously I was completely off furloughed, Martin was then working from home. I stupidly thought that he would help out a little bit more… with more the schoolwork than anything else, which was the complete opposite. Uhm, even our eldest kind of said you know when daddy’s going to do some reading with me or when’s daddy gonna do some of the schoolwork with me? Why is it always mummy school? […] Whereas… like I, I started doing bins and things like that. So I suppose I ended up doing a little bit more in really trying to keep our youngest from constantly going into the office when he’s, when he was on work calls.” (Sophie, 2 kids)

Some of the parents highlighted the effects of COVID-19 pandemic on their children. They mentioned children worrying about their parent’s health, children’s education being interrupted and normal school being replaced by home-schooling, or that the pandemic had greatly restricted children’s usual activities, such as spending time outdoors, attending after-school clubs, visiting places, socialising:

But they know that they can’t do their clubs and they can’t see their friends and their birthday parties were all cancelled and we can’t see their grandparents […] it’ll kind of bubble up and they’ll get upset.” (Kate, 2 kids)

Remarkably, parents tried to adjust to the demands of the situation, showing resilience and looking at the bright side. They acknowledged negative effects but also pointed to certain positive outcomes of the pandemic such as more flexibility at work and working from home which allowed them to spend more time at home:

Thing is, if anything, it’s improved my work-life balance which is even better. Because I can be around the kids and work encourages, well, we had, in lockdown, would have team meetings where we bring the kids to the team meeting.” (Chris, 3 kids)

It is important to note that these interviews took place in November and December 2020, before the third lockdown. What is more, our participants so far have been relatively insulated, none has lost their job, and many were able to work from home. This may not be the case for others who are less well-positioned. In addition, some of the parents we interviewed explained that the restrictions were difficult psychologically as they limited people’s choice. Also, the closure of schools and childcare services posed a huge problem to those working from home:

I prefer it [working from home] as long as the nursery stay open. It was incredibly difficult when the nurseries were closed because you were having to divide their time between working and ’cause I’m client facing, I’ll be on the emails and phone calls to people as well as having a 3 year old that is demanding and wants your attention. That was really, really, really difficult.” (Hannah, 1 kid)

More broadly, ONS reported that although in the last few weeks people’s well-being has improved slightly, happiness and life satisfaction have remained low while anxiety has been much higher compared to the pre-pandemic levels. Moreover, home-schooling placed a lot of strain on parents. With the school closure in January, a higher number of parents than in the first lockdown (April-May) declared that home-schooling negatively affected their and their children’s wellbeing, as well as their job and the relationships with others in the household. Therefore, it will be particularly interesting to learn more about how the third lockdown affected parents and their arrangements of work and childcare duties.

One of the quite clear effects of the pandemic is that parents have been involved in home-schooling and had no time for other things, including taking part in research studies. But as the schools are open again, hopefully, we will be able to attract more participants and learn more about parents experiences during COVID-19 pandemic and in general. We are particularly interested in the experiences of families where the fathers do as much, or more caregiving than their partners. If you and your partner would like to take part in our project, click here or email Agata at awezyk@lincoln.ac.uk to find out more

Mounting Pressure to Modernise Family Leave Policies

There is a mounting pressure on Government and organisations to modernise their parental-leave policies as families demand greater freedom around how they organise work and childcare. Evidence shows that fathers are increasingly interested and expect to have greater involvement in their children’s upbringing, and mothers are keen to share childcare responsibilities with their partner to enable them to pursue other endeavours including their careers. Parents may experience hampered wellbeing if workplace policies continue to perpetuate traditional gender roles, reproducing stereotypes of mother as childcarer and father as breadwinner.

Parents Demanding Choice

Parents are demanding better support to enable them to raise their family in the way they choose, calling for family policies to modernise, and for employers and wider society to become more accepting of these decisions. Some fathers have become advocates for the uptake of shared parental leave and paternity leave, speaking publicly about the benefits of spending more time with their young children:

Watch the video below to hear Chris Stevenson explain his experiences of the value of taking up 6 months paid paternity leave, as offered by his company Aviva. In 2017 Aviva became the UK’s first large employer to offer equal paid paternity and maternity leave (Source – BBC News).

Click to read Yash Puri about some of the benefits and challenges faced by fathers taking paternity leave: “‘[Companies] are struggling how to understand to support the men. I don’t think men know themselves they can do this,’ says Mr Puri, who is a partner at IT consultancy FIS” (Source – BBC News).

Mothers are also calling for better support to enable them to maintain their employment and be taken seriously in the workplace. Changes demanded include affordable childcare, better policies around parental leave and flexible working, and an end to motherhood discrimination:

Watch the video below to hear Adeline Willis calling for MPs to recognise the voices of “the army of working mums” (Source – BBC News).

Click to read about Joeli Brearley’s campaign Pregnant then Screwed, aiming to “end the motherhood penalty”. 

Policy Needs To Catch Up

Recent comparisons made between UK practice and the rest of the world is contributing to the mounting pressure on the UK to catch up and modernise. Unicef’s 2019 report titled ‘Are the worlds richest countries family friendly?’ found that Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Estonia and Portugal offer the best family-friendly policies among 31 rich countries with available data. Yet the UK, among others including Switzerland, Greece, Cyprus and Ireland, operate the least family-friendly policies.

In early 2020 it hit the headlines that Finland was working towards greater equality in terms of role-division within families by equalising parental leave enabling mothers and fathers to take the same amount of time. This announcement was shared widely through social media by interested parents, campaigning organisations, and researchers.

What Are Employers Doing? 

Employers are paying increasing amounts of attention to their own policies around shared parental leave/paternity leave. Some UK companies have equalised parental leave policies but this is far from commonplace. In January 2020 Unicef UK announced equalised parental leave for all employees stating that the new policy:

“acknowledges the equal role of each caregiver in raising a child, shifting the focus away from gender, sexual orientation or length of service, and puts it on the child and the time spent with them during those early moments”.

Others are looking at ways to enable employees to work more flexibly around their childcare and wider care responsibilities.

However, employers need to ensure that parents feel comfortable taking up these offers and are assured that it will not negatively affect their career. A recent broadcast on BBC Radio 4 interviewed parents who had taken up shared parental leave and found that some fathers felt more ‘exposed’ at work when requesting leave. One father tells of feeling like he was “putting a spanner in the works” and “causing a problem”:

Click to hear BBC Radio 4 show Sharing the Baby. It explores the issues with and experiences of taking shared parental leave in the UK. 

Having access to family-friendly policies and feeling supported balancing wider responsibilities outside of the work place leads to some feeling that the company care about them and their families.

It is not just about increasing parents’ wellbeing – changing workplace policies to enable parents more freedom and choice around how they raise their families could contribute towards greater gender equality. Modernising family policies around parental leave will enable parents more choice around their work and childcare arrangements, facilitating fathers to choose to be more engaged with childcare especially in the early years, and mothers to be taken more seriously in the workplace.

Our Project: Breadwinning Mums, Caregiving Dads: Transforming Gender in Work and Childcare

We are excited for our project’s findings to further contribute to these discussions, collating evidence of the division of labour, satisfaction and experiences of challenges among traditional, role-reversed and equal sharing parenting models. The findings will expose ways to better support parents’ decisions around work and childcare through workplace policies and legislation around paternity and shared parental leave. Ultimately, this project seeks to identify the means to create more balanced, fulfilling lives for both men and women – enabling choice.

Breadwinning Mums, Caregiving Dads, and Equal Sharers: Research exploring how you organise work and childcare

Despite a gradual increase in fathers’ time with children and its positive implications for families, mothers continue to bear primary responsibility for childcare in the UK. This gender inequality in the home both disadvantages women in the workplace and denies men the opportunity to develop nurturing and involved relationships with their children.

Through September 2019 to February 2022, a large UK-wide study is being conducted at the University of Lincoln titled ‘Breadwinning Mums, Caregiving Dads: Transforming Gender in Work and Childcare?’. It is being funded by the Nuffield Foundation. By exploring parenting arrangements in which childcare responsibilities are shared equally or assumed primarily by the mother/father, the project will identify the barriers to greater gender equality.

To do this, the research team have distributed a brand-new online survey collecting experiences of time investment and the allocation of tasks from mothers and fathers living together with at least one shared biological child age 11 and under. The survey has been completed by parents:

  • In ‘traditional’ roles (where the main child-carer is the mother, and the main earner is the father).
  • In ‘reversed’ roles (where the main child-carer is the father, and the main earner is the mother).
  • Or mothers and father who share work and childcare fairly equally.

 

Face-to-face interviews will also be conducted with parents to explore different work and care arrangements within families. Please drop Dr Emma Long an email if you and your partner are interested in being interviewed (separately) for this project (elong@lincoln.ac.uk).

There is increasing attention being paid to policies around shared parental leave/paternity leave from organisations, campaigners, and families who want to be supported to raise their family the way they choose. From the findings of this large UK-wide study, the researchers aim to inform discussions on better ways to support fathers’ caring responsibilities through workplace policies and legislation around paternity and shared parental leave. Ultimately, this project seeks to identify the means to create more balanced, fulfilling lives for both men and women.

Please get in contact (elong@lincoln.ac.uk) if you would like to know more or follow us on on Twitter.