The COVID-19 stay at home orders were one of the most important social experiments ever made in parenting. Schools moved to online learning. Daycares closed. Many working parents found themselves side-by-side conducting Zoom meetings in their closets, while their children started kindergarten on a computer. While essential workers such as health care professionals, grocery store employees, or other healthcare workers were still able to show up at work, they had to scramble to find child care arrangements.
Some people's relationship roles changed dramatically as their parents navigated changes in domestic dynamics. "Being a father-daughter family, I noticed that we started filling certain roles that we weren't used to. For example, my husband became the nurse, and I was the one that our son turned to for education guidance, prep work, and general organizational advice," Ariel Owens Barnham, a Portland stay-at-home dad, told SELF.
Although the world is slowly opening up, we suspect that fathers have learned important lessons over the past two-plus decades that will be with them long after the pandemic (hopefully). SELF interviewed 12 fathers, from first-time dads to dads of grown children, about their experiences with pandemic parenting. This is what they discovered when #dadlife was turned upside down.
Our youngest son, James Madison University, was our first child. We dropped him off at James Madison University in fall 2019. My wife Betsy asked me, "Are we ready for just us?" And then COVID struck. After spring break, our son decided not to return to college and instead began taking classes online. Our adult twins then decided to return home to have their meals prepared and their laundry done for them. The nest was full again quickly became second nature. Although we were both concerned about how it would work with five of us working from home and schooling remotely, we managed to make it work.
Each person took over a different area of the house. Everyone was respectful of each other's space, and their noise levels for Zoom calls and suchlike. While we stayed up later than usual with our children at home, we still enjoyed the time with them. Because of school, work and sports schedules, we had more family meals together that any other time. Ken Zeng, an accounting executive and father to twin boys aged 25 and 21 years respectively.
Zoom learning isn't for everyone. It's not the best method of instruction for many kids, especially neurotypical ones. I discovered that children are far more resilient and determined than they think. They can adapt to any situation and find a way to succeed. Teachers are angels disguised and they don't get enough compensation for what they do.
I also learned that there's no perfect parent and that you can do your best, even when you doubt your ability or make poor decisions (like during a pandemic). I was proud of my father's resilience and the pandemic served as a reminder that you can overcome any obstacle with love, patience, and alcohol (kidding, kind of). Ariel Owens-Barham is a stay-at-home dad to a nine-year-old boy.
My daughter was born in the pandemic. I had to stay at home so that I could spend as much time as possible with her during her first months. Although I was grateful for the bonding time, my daughter would cry and I would become stressed. I tried to solve the problem by trying to understand why. Problem was me. Babies cry, and that's perfectly normal. I needed to be able to understand her cues better and determine if she really needed something. This was especially important for my wife. My wife was more stressed than my daughter. --Arthur Mats (strategic projects director), father to a 2-year old daughter
It was like I used go into work mode every day when I was at work and then put on blinders for my family until I got home. My work is now at home, and my family is there for most of it. I have learned that I can be a father one minute, and then shift back to co-worker the next. I am more flexible than I thought I was. I find it refreshing to have a mental break and talk with my kids or my wife every now and again throughout the day. My relationship with my wife was also improved by it. I realized that I had been leaving her with more emotional labor than she did when it came down to the children and home, despite my best intentions. We had to come up with creative solutions together quickly during lockdown. This helped me to see how much she was doing on her own and make changes to balance the workload. --Brendan Hay is a television executive producer and father to 6-year-old twins.
Sebastian, my son was my greatest teacher throughout the pandemic. His quick thinking and McGuyver-like skills helped me see what was possible in lockdown. He produced two albums of original music while working in a messy studio using borrowed instruments. He also collaborated through different platforms and apps with 60 musicians around the globe (in seven languages he found via Google Translate). It sounds like bragging, but it was really impressive.
Your children are not your kids. It's true. It's true. They do their own thing. They are independent thinkers and have their own paths. They may be in your home, but they are not your house. Freelance writer David Hochman, father to a 18-year-old son
We had many conversations with our children about how we felt about being restricted to our home with little travel and outings. We created an end-of the-day sharing circle, which we still do. It is a place where you can freely express your feelings and what happened during your day. --Demond Jordan is a digital marketer and father to a 7-year old daughter and a 5-year-old son.
They are equally happy to read a book or dance to the same songs over and over as when they're on a big adventure. In reality, however, I felt like I had learned more about myself as a father from my children than I did about their capabilities and strength. This was truly amazing and inspiring. They were uncomfortable living alone, away from their friends, and having to deal with mask protocols at first. They adapted and moved past these issues in a way that makes me optimistic about their future. --Elliott Kalan is a television writer and father to a 3-year-old son and an 8-year old daughter.
My job used to require a lot of attention, focus, energy, and effort. My relationship with my children changed dramatically during the pandemic. When everything was slower and our health and mortality were in question, it was a major paradigm shift. It became clear to me that my children are my world, my purpose and my legacy. They are also my greatest source of joy. Joel Santos is an environmental engineer and father to a 6-year old daughter and a 9 year-old son.
Each day was a new challenge. One of my children was mad at not being able see her friends, or the remote-learning technology didn't work. I made sure that the girls had a plan every day during summers. Our adventures were a hit with them. We live in Sonoma County near the Russian River, California. Despite having lived in the area for 15 years, we had never been. In 2020, we went more than 40 times to the river. It was our playground and the children loved it. Matt Villano is a freelance writer and single father to three daughters, ages 13-10 and 6.
I used to see all my clients at my gym before the pandemic. To give my children the life I wanted, I had to leave at 4:30 a.m. to get home around 9 p.m. The result was that my children would be asleep at work, and then fall asleep at home when I returned. It was a blessing that I switched from an in-person business into a virtual one after the pandemic. This allowed me to be more involved in my children's lives, and learn their routines. They could see what dad does away from home. It's important that kids see the joy in hard work. But they also deserve my presence. Ngo Okafor is the father of Iconoclast Fitness' 7-year-old son, and 3-year-old daughter.
My wife and me share parenting duties. We often have to tag along with each other so that we can accomplish our respective tasks and meet our needs. This often extends into the evening. Writing has been easier for me during these times, and my therapist believes that productivity is part of my coping mechanisms. Because I don't have the distraction of others, writing at night has helped me to relieve stress. It's crucial to ensure that everyone is keeping an eye on their mental health, especially if your family finds themselves in prolonged and difficult situations. People need to have the time they need, whether it's sleep, food, or solitude. Emotional collapse and burnout are real. Mike Chen, NYT Best-Seller and Tech Marketer, father to a 7-year old daughter.
The pandemic caused a major shift in my work habits, where I almost exclusively work from home. I used to work from home but I now realize how far I was behind. Even if I had to go to work, I would not be able see my son besides breakfast. That thought terrifies and terrorizes me. Working from home for me means that I am there for my son at all times, making sure he is fed and watered, not being distracted by my phone while we play or eat, changing diapers whenever possible and taking him outside so that we can give his mother, a hardworking mother, a little break. Will Znidaric is a documentary film editor and father to a 17-month old son.