Survey Results: Dads & Pandemic Challenges

“What barriers or obstacles have you faced in your fathering as a result of the pandemic?”

Some of you will remember that question from our recent survey (conducted this past summer) about fathers and the pandemic. (And for those who participated, we greatly appreciate it.) We’re still working through all the results from the survey, but here are a few nuggets to help challenge and encourage you in your role.

What obstacles have you faced? The responses we received reflect the variety of situations and complexities that characterize today’s fathers in general. For some dads, the new routines and social distancing have magnified their frustrations. Other dads have seen positive outcomes: more time at home with their kids has allowed them to strengthen those connections.

Here’s a sampling of the responses we received about the barriers and obstacles dads are dealing with:

“Helping my kids understand why they can’t have a birthday party, have playdates, etc.”

“Emotionally spent by work and too tired to engage with children afterwards.”

“Not becoming anxious when my kids are acting anxious.”

“Had to be more creative with ‘dad dates.’”

“Communication with their mother was tough and we didn’t see eye to eye on safety measures as this pandemic broke out.”

“Little to no ability to take a break so I can calm down and get back in a peaceful mindset.”

“Stress due to being pulled in too many directions (work, chores, helping with schoolwork, economic uncertainty).”

“Trying to explain why people are doing the things they are.”

“I don’t get to see my son anymore.”

“Getting used to being around more. Children sure are energetic.”

“General balance of using the home as an office, family space, gym, and where we eat, sleep, and spend all of our time.”

As we scanned through the responses to this open-ended question about fathering barriers due to the pandemic, no less than 11 common themes surfaced that are worth mentioning—which, again, reflects the wide variety of situations and challenges experienced by today’s dads. Few of these will be surprising, but you’ll probably see yourself in at least a few—with links for further reading on many of these topics:

Dads are limited in the activities they can do with their kids. Although many stores and restaurants are gradually opening again, there have been fewer places to go to hang out together. Larger gatherings, social events, sports and other pursuits were canceled or drastically changed. The summer vacations that we always look forward to, with the positive family time included, had to be postponed.

Work/life balance challenges have changed—and often grown. Many dads are putting in the same number of hours, but now many more of them are working at home, where kids have needs and there are the ever-present distractions of home life. Quite a few dads mentioned being exhausted by the constant need to switch back and forth between work and family responsibilities. We want to do our best in our jobs, but also be accessible to our children and really tune in to what they need from us. That can be difficult when it seems like we’re with them nearly all the time.

Financial stress & job loss. With the unstable economy, stores closing, and companies laying off workers, many dads are understandably concerned about their ability to get or keep a good job and provide for their families—not the most vital fathering role, but a very important one for sure.

Many divorced dads are frustrated. Fathers who already don’t get enough access to their children have been seeing them even less. Some of that is due to fewer activities they can do together, but much of the frustration comes from disagreements with the children’s mother. For some moms, fear of children catching or spreading COVID-19 has become one more reason to keep them from seeing their dads very often—or at all.

Parenting routines and roles have changed. With more dads spending more days at home, they’re naturally more involved in day-to-day parenting issues and decisions. And that’s good … but it’s likely to surface differences in parenting styles and approaches. All parent couples would be wise to keep communicating and make some adjustments to make sure they’re on the same page and working as a team to benefit their children.

Marriage routines have changed. How can you continue to nurture a strong marriage when it’s much more challenging to get away together—and to make sure a babysitter isn’t positive for COVID-19? It’s definitely still possible, but it’s requiring us to be more intentional and creative.

It’s hard to keep kids occupied without using screens all the time. There are positive, active pursuits to get them involved in, but many of us used those up the first few weeks. It seems like a never-ending challenge and can be an ongoing source of frustration. Sometimes it’s good to put the decision back on our kids for how they spend their time. Often unstructured time is fertile ground for invention and creativity.

Our patience is tested a lot. Being together so much, family members get on each other’s nerves. The kids have behavior issues and sibling squabbles. Even more than usual, we need to work with our kids’ mom to use a parenting plan that will effectively train and shape them into responsible, caring people.

Online learning is no fun—for the kids or for us. If you never wanted to be a homeschooler, that’s okay. But we know our kids’ education is important, so we have to figure out a way to make it work for everyone.

How do we explain this crazy world to our kids? There’s COVID-19 and masks everywhere we look, but then senseless deaths and tragedies, often followed by protests. And then there are celebrities, politicians and Internet commentators providing their perspective. How is a dad to handle it? Calmly, patiently, and persistently. Our children need us to help them make sense of things that don’t make much sense, and much of that will happen as they see us staying positive and steadfast despite the uncertainties.

A surprising number of dads answered: “None.” The pandemic hasn’t caused any obstacles to their fathering, or they have been able to take the challenges in stride. This group surely also includes dads for whom the change in routine was a positive, eye-opening experience; it helped them shift their priorities and focus more on their children than they had been, and they have grown closer to their kids despite the challenges.

So, dad, if you’re struggling and stressed out during this time, hang in there. Do your best with the opportunities you have, and find positive ways to unwind and recharge when you need to. We don’t know how long this will last, and we don’t know what the “new normal” will look like exactly. Stay committed to doing what’s best for your family and being resourceful with everyday activities and challenges. 

And especially for those who don’t feel especially challenged as dads right now, be a resource and an encourager for dads you know who are struggling. How can you help lighten another dad’s load right now? (Maybe get your kids involved in that, too.)

Which of these themes best describes where you are during the pandemic? Join the discussion with other dads at our Facebook page.

Watch the replay of the Fathering Breakthrough Event

Join Dr. Ken Canfield and a handful of friends and partners as we give an update about our efforts to inspire and equip fathers all over the world.

There may be no more important work than turning the hearts of fathers to their children, and that’s what this is all about. We’re seeking to repair, rebuild and restore effective fathering for the benefit of children and families everywhere.