I was talking to good friend of mine on the challenges of homeschooling. He is the father of a 2 and a 4-year-old, respectively, and he spoke about the challenges of working while teaching and playing with his kids all hours of the day due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many parents, he’s used to teaching and playing with his kids during non-school hours.
On my Facebook timeline, I saw a post from a frustrated mother. She was flustered that the father of her child couldn’t figure out how to get the child to sit down and do their work. Whether or not he tried and could not or if he simply wouldn’t do it and expected her to, I don’t know. What I do know is that this is a challenging time for all of us, especially parents navigating working from home and homeschooling their children. It is a challenge for my wife and I.
This time can also be challenging for all fathers no matter their circumstance. But, let me make mention of some truths.
I know plenty of fathers who are thriving with their children under the imposed conditions of social distancing due to this pandemic. I am also not highlighting any specific race of fathers. Fatherhood is a challenge for all men, regardless of race or any other social marker.
I am aware that there are stay at home dads; many are in my age bracket or younger. I have no doubt that some of them homeschool their children. There are single parent fathers and there are also dads (like me) who work 40-hour a week jobs and are in the lives of their children; providing love, affection and correction.
But there are fathers who don’t have access to their children as much as they’d like to due to work demands or because of the relationship circumstances with their child’s mother. There are some who believe in delegating parenting to moms because the children aren’t older yet or others who believe fathering is primarily about providing financially.
It’s easy to pile on fathers who are struggling to meet the demands of these challenging times. However, we must keep in mind that these times are challenging all of us. As a father, I am used to being with my kids regularly, but I’ve never had all three of them (8, 5, & 3) everyday all day, while trying to work (as does my wife), where they need to be engaged constantly. Its exhausting for any parent.
But the demands of fatherhood, while somewhat similar to those of motherhood, are different.
Like moms, dad’s wear many hats. We serve as provider, protector, promoter, disciplinarian, teacher and advisor. However, our make up as men along with how society interacts with us, impacts how we see our role with our children. Of the many hats that wear, we may highlight certain responsibilities over others as being central to fatherhood. Times like these challenge us to see all the hats as equal functions of a father.
Some men have slightly skewed view of what a father is supposed to be. Maybe the example of fatherhood for a man was a dad who went to work daily and brought his paycheck home but interacted more with the television and his friends than with his kids. Or, maybe dad was highly engaged when the children stepped out of line, played sports or were doing poorly in school. Or, maybe dad was cool but didn’t show affection to sons beyond a certain age. Maybe, dad was abusive or maybe there was no dad at all.
This isn’t to make excuses, but it is to say while we all want to be the father our children need us to be, the road to becoming that isn’t easy when things are “normal” – especially without a good point of reference. Now, COVID-19 has us entering a brave new world where we don’t speak the language, but we have to navigate the space.
Throw in the fact that sports like the NBA, MLB and NHL are suspended right now, many dads are going through it.
So how do we manage fatherhood while quarantined from these Coronavirus streets? I am no father of the year (believe me), but here are some things that have worked for myself and my father friends that all fathers can try if they haven’t already.
- Consult with the Experts. Talk with Mom for insight on your children to help you interact better. It’s not that they know more or love them better. Rather it’s about gaining insight to make you that much better of a dad. Also, consult with other fathers about what they’re doing with their children during this time. These conversations will provide both insight and practical strategies to help you as you engage with your children. It’s not that fathers don’t know, but the more you know…
- Study Your Children. Pay attention to your children and learn by watching them. Observe their likes, dislikes, their interests and their passions. Store that knowledge and use it to build on the relationships you have. Like anyone great at their craft, fathers must do their homework. Part of that includes observing your kids and applying that knowledge to grow with them.
- Incorporate Your Kids with Your Duties Around the House. Make meals with your kids, fold clothes with your kids (or teach them how), do arts and crafts with your children and hang them up around the house with your kids. If you have to fix something in the house, show them how. I am not talking about putting kids to work on chores per se. I mean actually teaching your children skills that you learned.
- Engage with Your Child as they Learn. For younger children, it means sitting with them when they are completing their schoolwork and assisting when needed. Minimize the distractions and be present. For older children, it means asking about what they are learning, offering context to their lessons and even quizzing them to make sure the learning sticks. Regardless of the age, be patient with them, assist in love and remember what learning was like for you at their age. Let those things guide you as you engage.
- Create Intimate Spaces for You and Your Children to Connect. For me, this is bedtime. This is time for me to sing to my daughters before bed, tuck them in and give them kisses. This is also the time for me to pour into my son; show him affection, tell him that I love him and listen to him as he opens his heart to me. Sometimes its not about the amount of time you spend with your kids but the quality of the time you spend with them. Make the most of the time you get where you can be intimate with your kids. See them and let them see you.
Now, this isn’t an expansive list, but it’s a few things that can help fathers get started immediately. I don’t assume that men don’t know how to be fathers. But these are unprecedented times requiring more of us than we ever thought we were capable of. We can’t give up on each other. We must support each other and give each other the space to meet the demands of the times. This is our time and our moment. However, we will only be as successful as we bring out the best in each other, in love.
Let’s continue to press towards the mark!