27 September 2023

Dads in demand: Will increased visibility help working fathers step up?

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Samantha Schmidt* says fatherhood is more visible than ever, but will dads working from home actually step up more?

Photo: Geber86

Steve Centrella’s video conference calls from his Washington home are now held to the sound of shuffling Lego and his four-year-old son singing.

Prithvi Raj, a father of three in Manhattan, leads meetings while bouncing a two-month-old on his lap.

Levi Coldiron, in North Carolina, has become used to talking to his boss while his four-year-old daughter swings from the fireplace mantle and shrieks, “The floor is lava!”

As millions of people work from home with their children nearby because of the coronavirus pandemic, parents everywhere have become “the BBC Dad” — the father whose live broadcast interview went viral three years ago when his daughter strutted into the room.

Zoom calls now begin with disclaimers about the kids crying in the background.

Meetings are scheduled around nap time.

The wall between work life and family life has crumbled.

And, as a result, fatherhood is more visible than ever before.

“The fact that men are now plopping their babies in their laps while taking conference calls, showing that men, too, do this work, is really important,” said Caitlyn Collins, a Washington University sociologist focused on gender and families.

The heaviest burden of the pandemic is undoubtedly falling on women, who, studies show, still spend more of their day than men caring for children, doing the laundry, cleaning the house and preparing meals.

But some sociologists have begun to wonder whether men will use this extra time at home to step up and take on more of the childcare and household chores.

With fatherhood quite literally on display in the virtual workplace, will dads invest more time in taking care of their children?

And will they be applauded by their colleagues for doing the same work that women have been doing forever?

“Maybe this pandemic can help normalise the fact that, yes indeed, men are caregivers,” Collins said.

“There’s nothing extraordinary about it.”

Fathers today are far more involved in their children’s lives than the generations before them, said Scott Coltrane, Professor Emeritus in Sociology at the University of Oregon.

But women still carry out more of the responsibilities at home.

Studies have shown that women do more of the housework even when they make more money than their husbands, and even when their husbands are unemployed.

“This might be an opportunity for men to own up to how much they’re doing,” Coltrane said.

“But they have to actually do the work.”

Before the pandemic, Scott Lathrop’s employer gave him the option of working from home once a week.

But the 37-year-old father of two almost never did.

It’s just too difficult to work remotely, he said, especially with his two young daughters around.

Now, he has no choice but to answer client phone calls while watching two-year-old Ella and five-year-old Samantha playing.

He has become used to apologising to his colleagues for the sound of the children.

“This is the life I live now, sorry guys,” he tells them.

But this is what his colleagues don’t see or hear: his wife, Jessica Lathrop, gave up the home office where she usually works.

She set up in the kitchen instead, where she could help keep an eye on the girls during the day.

Her job is more flexible, she said, and her colleagues are used to seeing her taking care of her kids while working.

“People are used to seeing more mums juggling it,” she said.

Her husband takes shifts watching the girls and tries to keep them distracted while she’s on important calls.

“I try to help as much as I can, but at the end of the day, the girls want their mum,” Scott said.

“I don’t know how to make that switch,” Jessica said.

Instead, Jessica ends up doing most of her work in the middle of the night — something she had been looking forward to not doing since the girls were getting older.

But she feels lucky that her husband makes an effort to help, and that they’re both getting more time with the girls.

She thinks it’s a positive step to see so many parents, especially fathers in leadership roles, allowing their children to interrupt work conference calls.

Prithvi Raj, the father of three in Manhattan, has made a point of letting his daughters enter his video conference meetings when they need him.

Raj was recently leading a company meeting with 70 people when his daughter came to him to complain about her younger sister.

“Why don’t you sit on my lap?” Raj said.

He introduced her to his colleagues as she waved at the camera.

Raj hopes that moments like these set an example for other parents at the company, showing them it’s okay to let your home life into your work life, and that it’s possible to be productive while working from home.

Since Steve Centrella started working from home, some of his colleagues have complimented him for spending so much time with his son.

But Centrella doesn’t think he’s doing anything extraordinary.

Before the pandemic, Centrella said he was “one of those people that needed a little reminder” to do certain chores around the house.

But with him and his wife working from home, he’s tried to be more proactive, using down time between calls to empty the dishwasher or do a load of laundry.

Before, four-year-old Oliver was more likely to go to his mother, Lauren, to ask for help.

But the parents have noticed that Oliver has started calling on his dad more — even at the most inconvenient times.

During a recent work conference call, Oliver shouted out for his father.

“I’m in the bathroom!” Oliver said, drawing laughs from Steve’s colleagues.

With the quick-draw reflexes of all parents now working from home, the father pressed the mute button and rushed to the bathroom to assess the crisis.

* Samantha Schmidt is gender and family issues reporter for The Washington Post. She tweets at @schmidtsam7.

This article first appeared at www.washingtonpost.com.

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