Last week, after a long day of exploring, my two-year-old hopped on her dad’s shoulders and promptly fell asleep. That was adorable enough, but a few minutes later when she woke with a start, crying and disorientated, she reached for my husband, not me, for comfort.
That little moment spoke to me. While I love my dad a lot, I never remember reaching to him for comfort as a kid, and definitely not when my mom was around. She was the primary caregiver and the only one who was nurturing. But for my toddler, dad cuddles are just as good as those provided by mom.
It turns out, more and more kids are reaching for dad during the pandemic. A Harvard report found that 70% of dads say they feel closer to their kids than they did before COVID-19. The dads reported that they’re having more important conversations with their kids, bonding with them, and just generally building a stronger relationship than they had pre-pandemic, when many dads were working outside the home.
“Staying and working from home has greatly helped in improving my bond with my little girl,” one dad told the study authors. “It has brought us together closer than before. She freely shares her thoughts with me, what interests her, and what she wants from me. We play games together nearly every other day and I have become her partner in so many other things too. This is a remarkable improvement.”
One reason why dads are bonded with kids more is because they’re spending more time being caregivers. A study found that the number of couples saying that they share childcare duties rose more than 10%, from 45% pre-pandemic to 56% during the pandemic.
(We’ll gloss over how disheartening it is that only about half of U.S households are sharing childcare duties. It’s also interesting that more moms than dads report that it’s been difficult to handle childcare during the pandemic, possibly indicating that dads are getting to handle the more fun parts of parenting, while moms do the grunt work).
In my family, we’ve seen first-hand the difference that happens when dad is home more. When my first daughter was born, my husband was working a demanding job in law enforcement. He tried to be a good dad, but spending so little time with our daughter meant that he didn’t have the same relationship with her that I had.
By the time our second was born, things had changed drastically. My husband was staying home with the kids, while I worked from home. From the time our youngest arrived, she was just as likely to be cared for by dad as she was by mom. The difference was stark. Even as a baby she bonded with her dad in a way her sister hadn’t. Their relationship thrived from day one, rather than building slowly over time, like it had with her older sister.
A few times my husband has thought about going back to work (let’s be honest, what stay-at-home parent hasn’t fantasized about working outside the home). But each time we consider the benefits (like fulfillment and finances), we get hung up on how much him working outside the house would affect his relationship with the kids.
That’s not to say that being a stay-at-home parent is the only way to bond with kids. But in general, dads need more opportunity to be around their kids and be in caregiving roles. The pandemic has given dads a chance to see how wonderful (and exhausting) it is to be a caregiver who is at home the majority of the time. As the economy opens back up and more and more moms and dads return to the workforce, I hope we’ll have a conversation about how to get dads and their kids the time together that they deserve.