From working at our dining tables to filling the ‘teacher’ role with our kids, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot for us parents. But, could it be enough to challenge the long-held views about ‘mum’ vs. ‘dad’ responsibilities?
We recently surveyed our readers to see which parent has been handling the homeschooling; mum, or dad? A whopping 88% said that they, the mums, have been the ones putting on the ‘teacher hat’ – and sadly, we weren’t all that surprised.
Anecdotally, us mums here at haven (and our fellow mum friends) wear almost all of the ‘hats’ on any given day. Alarm clock, calendar, chef, chauffeur, maid, nurse and, now, teacher, are just a handful of the roles we juggle.
We’re totally not complaining; being all of the things for our kids is one of the joys of parenthood. But sometimes, we wonder whether our other half feels the stress of the juggling act as acutely as we do – and we realise they probably don’t.
Do we have the archaic 1950’s stereotype of the ‘breadwinning’ father and the stay-at-home mother to thank? Experts think so – and they predict COVID-19 could change that.
While it’s still early days, global pandemic is beginning to prove that working from home can be just as viable as working in a traditional office environment, putting the option to work flexibly on the table for thousands of parents, and fathers in particular.
For many, it’s a welcome move. Dads who have always wanted to be more involved in caring for their children are finding the barriers to non-traditional working arrangements are being reduced, replaced with a more open-minded approach to the work-life balance.
“In Australia, most dads tend to work full-time, limiting the time they can spend with their families,” says University of South Australia researcher Dr Ashlee Borgkvist. “Now, as so many businesses have shifted to work-from-home scenarios the current norm is changing, with everyone – children, families and workplaces – realising the benefits.”
Dr Borgkvist says the working from home phenomenon is providing significant benefits for dads to play and engage with their families, while also delivering clear evidence for employers that it can work – and work well.
“Until now, most Australian fathers have not used flexible or part-time work arrangements, despite these options being available to them through their employer,” says Dr Borgkvist. “The reasons why are multifaceted, often linked to men’s perceptions of the ideal worker, workplace cultures, and long-held constructions of masculinity.”
But ideas of what comprises an ideal worker or good workplace culture are already being challenged by COVID-19, says Dr Borgkvist, as all tiers of workers – managers and executives alike – embrace social isolation measures.
“It’s now that fathers will be able to show how working from home can be as productive, if not more so, than working in an office,” says Dr Borgkvist. “In turn, this will boost confidence that working at home is an acceptable and possible workplace construct.”
There’s no denying that family employment patterns have shifted over the past few decades. The idea of the ‘breadwinning’ father and the stay-at-home mother has given way to increased female employment, though the view of the mother as the primary caregiver hasn’t changed as drastically – nor have the demands of male employment.
It’s why so many mums have automatically assumed the new ‘teacher’ role, despite the fact that their husbands are working reduced or more flexible hours.
Dr Borgkvist explains that gender imbalances can be seen in working hours and working arrangements. While most fathers are in full-time work, less than a third take advantage of any flexible work arrangements, and fewer than 10 per cent are on part-time work arrangements.
“Broader societal ideas that mothers should be responsible for caregiving in families continue to seep into the organisational context and can influence cultural support for men’s use of flexibility,” Dr Borgkvist says. “This can also influence how policies are discussed, offered, and implemented by supervisors and the organisation as a whole.”
Dr Ashlee Borgkvist researches fathers and flexibility with the Centre for Workplace Excellence, and she has noticed a significant change in the face of COVID-19.
“We’ve seen very little movement among Australian fathers to work more flexibly, with statistics showing barely any growth over the past 10 years,” says Dr Borgkvist. “COVID-19 might have been the catalyst for forced workplace flexibility, but the lessons we take from this unprecedented time could be extraordinarily positive.”
Dr Borgkvist hopes more organisations will begin modelling and supporting flexible working arrangements for dads, helping to build a positive culture for men – both in the workplace and at home.
“This change won’t just help balance work and family responsibilities, but it will also enable men and women to contribute more equally,” says Dr Borgkvist. “As research has shown time and time again, a good work-life balance delivers a more productive and efficient workforce. We need open communications and transparent workplace policies about flexible work for all; and we need dads to step up and challenge organisational and societal norms.”