Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, parenting has had to be seriously adapted. As parents juggled new ways of working, along with a lack of childcare, well-being began to suffer. But, new research demonstrates that there are better and worse ways of managing parenting responsibilities when working from home. This research focused on members of heterosexual couples who had at least one child under the age of 6. So, if that pertains to you, keep reading to find out ways to manage your parenting more effectively. Even when we return to “normal”, couples can remember parenting lessons learned during this time. These strategies have the potential to impact your parenting in the long-term!
Gender Predicts Parenting Patterns
First, women are still expected to spend more hours on childcare than men. In a variety of ways, this impacts how heterosexual couples divide parenting labor. For example, there is a stronger expectation that women should reduce the time they spend working to accommodate childcare. This is true even when both partners in a couple are working full-time. As a result, women have a harder time advancing their careers and lower lifetime earnings compared to men.
However, couples had the opportunity re-negotiate the way they were handling childcare during the pandemic. Both members of many couples were working from home, while in-person childcare and school was suspended. Fathers and mothers were adjusting together to new schedules and norms. But, not all parents handled this the same way. As you’ll see parents fit several different profiles for the way they split parenting during the pandemic.
Different Parenting Profiles Emerged
Researchers found that several different parenting patterns emerged during the pandemic. Many couples continued to split parenting in a more gendered way. For example, in some couples, wives continued to do all of the childcare. In others, husbands only pitched in to help now and again. We have talked about challenges that working mothers face on our podcast before. However, in close to half of the couples, more egalitarian patterns emerged.
Some couples decided to alternate which days they worked and which days they didn’t. They each reduced working hours and solely focused on work some days, and parenting on others. In other couples, they set up a “shiftwork” schedule where they would alternate between chunks of working and chunks of parenting time throughout the day. These shifts stayed stable across workweeks (e.g., one person would always work 8am-12pm, while their partner did childcare, and they switched on and off in this pattern throughout the day). Finally, others varied their schedules based on their work needs each day. So, each day they had a different schedule depending on what each person had going on at work. Each of these strategies had a different impact on well-being!
How the Strategies Impact Well-Being
First, the gendered strategies tended to have the most negative impact, especially on women. Relationship tension was higher, family cohesion was lower, and job performance decreased – for both partners. In other words, everyone suffered, as mounting stress grew for working moms who were expected to “do it all”. When men pitched in a bit, that alleviated some of the effects. But those who found fairer ways of splitting childcare still had better outcomes. So, one takeaway for heterosexual men with children – help your partners with childcare!
With regard to the more equal strategies, reducing work hours and alternating days was the most positive. This may be because both partners were able to work less. But, it may also be because there were clear boundaries between work and life. In situations where your work and your life are overlapping in extreme ways, separation might be key. If you aren’t able to reduce your work hours, it seems that being responsive to each work day’s schedule was best. Instead of having a rigid schedule, couples who were more responsive to each others’ needs fared better. They may also have been communicating better or more frequently.
That’s all – how does your parenting strategy add up? Let us know if you have other tips or advice for working parents managing their childcare responsibilities!