A pair of new studies reveals a silver lining amid the COVID gloom: Many fathers feel closer to their kids during the pandemic, and want to create a new normal going forward.
The studies, released last week as part of Canadian Men’s Health Week, were conducted in May on behalf of the nonprofit Canadian Men’s Health Foundation (CMHF). The first survey asked 1,019 Canadian fathers about the impact of the COVID lockdown on their roles as fathers.
“Even though families have faced stressors and challenges with COVID-19, we recognize that fathers have been granted a golden opportunity to take time to slow down and connect with their children,” said Canadian Health Minister Adrian Dix.
“Many parents work full time and commute, and when that is taken away, they have more opportunities for togetherness, like a game of catch or going for a hike. Men’s health is impacted by their living situations, and getting a little more physical activity with their kids is a little thing that makes a big difference. We can learn from this pandemic in more ways than we think.”
During lockdown, 40% of the respondents felt COVID-19 has had a positive impact on their role as a father, 52% are more aware of their importance as a father, and 60% felt closer to their children. Half of those surveyed have already decided to be more engaged as a father in the future.
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According to the study, almost two thirds of fathers have been providing companionship to their children more often during lockdown, and almost half plan to continue doing so as restrictions are lifted. Likewise, 56% have been providing guidance to their children more often, with 46% planning to continue doing that as well.
“I’ve been off work since March and it’s been stressful, but the upside is I’ve been able to spend a lot more time with my daughters,” said Dal Watson of Burnaby, B.C. “I’m a professional chef and I’ve been spending time in the kitchen at home teaching my kids how to cook. We’re also sitting down as a family and eating together, which was something that couldn’t happen very often when I was working. I’m grateful for the extra time I have with my family.”pandemic in more ways than we think.”
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Nick Black, Managing Partner at Intensions Consulting, said fathers’ increased engagement can take many forms. One tangible way the study sees dads engaging is that 64% are eating more meals with their children.
“Sharing meals can provide an important opportunity for family connection,” says Black. “There is considerable evidence that eating meals together can have a positive impact on kids mental health, nutritional choices, school performance, and can even reduce the incidence of drug and alcohol use.”
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As a follow up to the online survey, The Men’s Initiative (TMI) at UBC conducted virtual focus groups with 45 fathers from across Canada. Many fathers described a hectic family dynamic prior to COVID with busy lives focused on long work days with commuting, eating on the run, and catering to children’s schedules. With the sports, extracurricular, and social activities, the family members experienced lives that were lived in parallel with each other.
As the pandemic evolves, fathers have expressed concern that they will experience a tension between shifting back to the “old normal,” and a desire to create a new normal going forward.
“We know the active and positive presence of fathers in their children’s lives has a positive effect on those children’s mental and physical wellbeing and reduces the frequency of their negative behaviors,” noted Dr. David Kuhl, a UBC Professor of Medicine and a co-founder of TMI.
“If the COVID-19 lockdown accelerates the movement of dads to be more engaged with their children, that could be a lasting benefit from a tragic public health crisis,”said Dr. Larry Goldenberg, the Founding Chair of CMHF. “It is clear, however, that men realize it will be a challenge to continue spending quality time with their families once the daily stresses of commuting and working long hours are reintroduced to their lives.”
CMHF has some easy ‘Dad Tips’ to help fathers find a better work-life balance at DontChangeMuch.ca.
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