Our lives have been radically changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. It has also been a time of stretching and testing for parents.
So much has changed from how we did life before the coronavirus. I would never have thought that for me as a father, it would change some things for the better.
Before the COVID-19 lockdown, my wife and I both worked full-time and our two sons spent their weekdays at school and aftercare. Our weeks were full with work and school admin, and our weekends were spent with family and friends.
We thought our kids would have a tough time understanding why we all had to suddenly stay home — but they just loved the fact that they didn’t have to go to school! We made it clear to them that mom and dad still had to work, and that they would need to play with each other most of the time, but that we would be together, no matter what. At my boys’ ages (four and six), staying at home with mom and dad all the time was probably the best thing that could have happened to them.
For me as a father, and for us as parents, it changed quite a few things.
Nice to be needed — sometimes
Since the start of the pandemic I have taken on more of the housework and childrearing, as my work has been more flexible than my wife’s. This has reinforced to both of us that I am just as capable of running the family as my wife is. My kids have stopped automatically calling for mom whenever they need something — if dad is here, he can help us too! That has been a blessing and a curse. It’s nice to be needed, but do they have to need me so much?
My wife and I have also been forced to take a far bigger interest in our children’s education. Before, we relied pretty heavily on their teachers to do the bulk of the educating, only bringing us into the mix when absolutely necessary. Now, we’ve had to think about how to keep our young sons mentally and physically stimulated. Some of the ideas that worked well were simple science experiments, Duplo building challenges (who can build the tallest tower?), and basic counting and spelling lessons.
What you learn from being together all the time
There have been some fantastic lessons in keeping our day-to-day life running smoothly, but the bigger lessons have truly been relational. No longer having an office to “escape” to, or a school to drop the kids off at has meant that I have to increase my levels of patience, while also teaching my boys that we don’t need to be constantly engaging with each other.
After all, they’ve grown up with the idea that time with mom and dad is always limited to a morning rush before work and school, a few hours before bedtime, and Saturday and Sunday. In that world, you have to capitalise on every moment, but now, since we’re always around, we’ve had to learn to enjoy our own space and to let others enjoy theirs too. I think this kind of empathy will be put to good use the rest of all our lives.
It’s easy to feel that being stuck in this situation with your kids is tough, and so it’s easy to get annoyed with them. But I found that as soon as I thought about what this must be like for them, my irritation subsided. This is a scary and frustrating time for us as adults. But imagine what it must be like as a child who already feels like the world they know is beyond their control? It’s amazing they don’t act out more!
Our family has been forced to slow down. Usually, Saturdays were filled with birthday parties and family events. We felt that we had to fill the day with lots of activities to make the best of our time together. Now, since our weekends are plan-free, we take things a lot slower. Breakfast is usually flap-jacks. Pyjamas only get changed later in the day, if ever.
I hope I can continue making our future Saturdays like that. It’s not just something to look forward to at the end of the week, it’s also creating a safe place for my family, where for a few hours there’s no stress, no discomfort and no responsibilities, except to each other.
I think Saturday flap-jacks will really help with that.
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