Did the Pandemic Affect Fathers' Roles With Respect to Childcare?

drawing of dad taking care of kids in the kitchen

Verywell / Theresa Chiechi

Key Takeaways

  • Dads believe that during the pandemic, they took on greater responsibility with childcare.
  • On the contrary, moms felt that dads didn't step up as much as they could have.
  • It's important to make the "invisible" responsibilities of parenting visible to both partners.

During the COVID-19 pandemic families spent more time together than ever before. Being locked down together taught parents important lessons in family dynamics—in particular, many fathers were suddenly enlightened as to just how much work goes into caring for children.

Despite the push for parents to be more equally involved and for moms not to have to shoulder all of the weight, pre-pandemic childcare responsibility typically fell on the mother's shoulders. When lockdown ensued, childcare, schooling, and household chores could no longer be outsourced by working parents.

In a new study published by the Institute for the Study of Labor, researchers analyzed childcare responsibilities in heterosexual couples. They found that on one hand, dads believe they upped their game and are now much more involved in child care responsibilities. But on the other hand, research also concluded that mothers were not so convinced.

Dad’s Perspective

In a survey of over 1000 dads conducted in May 2021, 84% of dads believed that they had been more involved with their children during the pandemic. They said they understand their children better, understand their spouse better, and have greater respect for their children’s teachers.

"With students learning remotely, dads reported closer relationships with their children and spouses and a real desire to stay involved," says Alyssa Walters, director of research and analysis at Pearson, who helped conduct this research. "This is a great thing for kids as research shows that parent involvement leads to greater student achievement."

Alyssa Walters, Director of Research and Analysis at Pearson

With students learning remotely, dads reported closer relationships with their children and spouses and a real desire to stay involved.

— Alyssa Walters, Director of Research and Analysis at Pearson

Joe Wiggins, a father of one, took on schooling and child care responsibilities during the pandemic because he was working from home. "Before the pandemic, I left home before she awoke and by the time I came home, she was in dance class," says Wiggins. "Since I was at home, it allowed me to do more and in turn, freed up my spouse to take on other things. With tasks and homework completed in the afternoon, it opened up more family time at night."

The majority of dads said they now want to maintain their involvement with their kids once things return to some sense of normal because they realize how much they missed prior to the pandemic. "[Dads] revealed that they believe they had been 'missing out' by not being as involved before," Walters says.

Wiggins says he hopes to keep up with the responsibilities he assumed during the pandemic as they helped him learn more about his daughter. "I feel that I have a better understanding of how our daughter learns and the unique ways she recaps her experiences. I’ve discovered the types of questions that prompt her to open to us about her school day. I am excited to take what I have learned about her to foster a stronger bond as she starts the next grade," he says.

Mom’s Perspective

Dads may feel as if they stepped up to the plate during the pandemic, but what about moms? Brielle Valle, MSL, a leadership consultant at Brielle Valle Consulting, conducted ethnographic research on a mother's default to responsibility in childcare during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Valle spoke to mothers who were working from home in a full-time capacity who also had partners who worked from home. She found that in these families, mothers report that much of the childcare responsibility load is “invisible.”

She describes invisible work as work that gets done but is never discussed. This means that the person doing the work notices it, but that it's not recognized by people who aren't involved.

Caring for children is not just about helping with schoolwork and play-based learning—it also involves washing dishes, doing laundry, shopping for groceries, cleaning the house, and cooking meals. One of the most invisible of all child care responsibilities is planning. If dads are to step up and take on some of these “invisible” roles, they need to know they exist. The invisible needs to become visible.

Brielle Valle, MSL

[Men] learned how hard parenting is and they learned how much work domestic labor is.

— Brielle Valle, MSL

Valle suggests the best way to achieve this is to tell your partner everything you are doing. “When you actually call out, ‘I took out the trash’, ‘I did the recyclables’, ‘I went grocery shopping,' ‘I made dinner’, ‘I put the kids in bed’, ‘I had to then go back to work’—we [are] starting to make that all visible.”

Through her research, Valle also found that when both parents were working from home, children routinely went to mom for help which meant that moms were frequently interrupted when trying to fulfill the requirements of their full-time jobs. Dads usually had a dedicated space to work away from the noise. Even if dad was close by and not on a business call, children would still go to mom first and dads often did not interject or try to help.

“Nine times out of 10, those fathers had dedicated spaces to work in a closed-off area…[mom] did not. So she was sitting next to her kids. They were screaming adjacent to her. She was making sure they were fed. She was working full time,” Valle says.

Going Forward

As we start to emerge from the pandemic, we know that many dads have a newfound understanding of the amount of work it takes to raise children and run a household. “[Men] learned how hard parenting is and they learned how much work domestic labor is,” Valle says.

With this realization, dads can choose to step forward, lift some of the load from mom's shoulders, and carry the responsibility of childcare equally with mom. They can set an example for their children that being a dad is so much more than the outdated concept of being the 'breadwinner.'

What This Means For You

Together, parents can teach their kids that having a family is about dual responsibility and everyone pulling their weight. Not only will this lighten the load on mom, but the kids may also start taking on more responsibility. Furthermore, dads get to experience the joy of their kids and start to understand them on a deeper level than they did before.

A deeper understanding of who your kids are can help you develop a deeper connection. And if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the value of human connection, relationships, and the people in our life is worth the investment of our time and effort.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Petts RJ, Carlson DL, Pepin JR. A gendered pandemic: Childcare, homeschooling, and parents’ employment during COVID-19. Gend Work Organ. 2021;1–20. doi:10.1111/gwao.12614

  2. Biroli P, Bosworth S, Della Giusta M, Di Girolamo A, Jaworska S, Vollen J. Family life in lockdown. IZA discussion paper No. 13398. SSRN.

  3. Connections Academy by Pearson. Pearson and Connections Academy survey of American dads—June 2021.

Additional Reading