England & Wales, Scotland Communities and society, Education and children's services

Understanding Dad during the pandemic and beyond

Photo by Brittani Burns on Unsplash

Fathers Network Scotland has just released the results of our 2021 Dads’ Survey, which explores how fathers and families have been impacted by the pandemic. It is a repeat of the same survey that was run during the first lockdown, and it has been fascinating to compare the outcomes. The overwhelming feedback this year shows that dads have had enough of the strain of being pulled in all directions. Scotland uses GIRFEC, which stands for “Getting It Right For Every Child”, putting the best interests of children at the heart of all local and national services. Our survey shows that a fifth of dads feel their relationship with their children has suffered, double the number from last year. Dads and father-figures play a vital role and when services and employers fail to understand this, there is a negative impact on children’s and families’ lives.

Waseem is a member of our WhatsApp peer support group for dads. His baby son was born in October and he took three months of parental leave. But now, he’s back at work. “Home and work life just blur into one,” he says. “There really are no boundaries.” As a researcher at Stirling University, he is able to work remotely, but we all know how difficult that can be for any parent who has a child at home. More than half of the dads we surveyed told us they’re finding their work/life balance challenging or very challenging.

Nevertheless, dads want to spend more time with their children. During the most recent lockdown, 44%  spent more than 25 hours a week playing or homeschooling. Dads’ feedback shows they long for this to continue, with 67% saying the experience of living through the pandemic has changed the way they would like to parent in the future.

“I’m now able to do the school run every day and feel much more involved in my children’s lives,” one dad told us. “I’ve been able to plan homeschooling around my job. I very much hope there isn’t a return to “normal”.” Dads want to be there for school drop-offs and pick-ups, they want to be involved in their children’s education, they want to explore flexible working arrangements, and one dad even said that he is looking for a new job to enable him to do that.

Fathers Network Scotland recently held a virtual panel discussion about our survey results, with input from dads’ mental health campaigners, health visitors, midwives, academics, early years practitioners and advocates for flexible working. Everyone agreed that we need to challenge the structures that get in the way of dads’ ability to engage meaningfully with their children. If employers better understand that both mums and dads want to take an equal parenting role, wouldn’t we achieve better gender equity at work and at home?

I spoke to new dad Wasseem about why he thinks dads are struggling, he answered with passion: “My son was born six months ago and I’m still reeling. I was pretty much ignored by midwives during our antenatal appointments to the point that I felt irrelevant. It really affected my confidence. If dads are treated as if they’re unimportant to their children and families from day one, how can we expect them to confidently take an equal role at home?”

37% of dads tell us their mental health is bad or very bad. It’s a significant shift even from last year, when 23% of dads told us the same. We thought that number was shocking enough, but two national lockdowns later, and the situation is even worse.

Fathers Network Scotland trains services who engage with families to involve all parents and carers and to value motherhood and fatherhood in equal measure, and is campaigning for a clear mental health pathway of support for fathers. It is devastating that suicide is still the biggest killer of men under the age of 50 in Scotland and it is clear that dads are struggling now more than ever. Dads want to spend more time with their children, but don’t know how to make it happen. We need services and employers to work together to recognise the importance of fatherhood. When more than a third of dads are telling us they have poor mental health and a fifth have deteriorating relationships with their children, change is needed. Urgently.

As service providers and employers, local government has a responsibility to ensure that dads and father figures are enabled to be the parents they strive to be. Fathers Network Scotland values hugely the contribution of local government employees who have attended our DADx talks and invited us to train their teams. Please get in touch with us if you would like to join our community of professionals who believe in engaging dads and partners for the benefit of children across the UK.

Kirsty would love to hear from you if this article resonates with you. To find out about our training, the charity and what we offer servicers, employers and families, please email kirsty@fathersnetworkscotland.org.uk.

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