In 1972, over a half century after Mother’s Day was formalized, Father’s Day became a national holiday. Sonora Smart Dodd conceptualized Father’s Day to honor her dad, who raised six children as a single parent after her mother died. In 2021, fathers can use the day to be actively involved with their children, which benefits parents and families. While the COVID pandemic has created unexpected difficulties for families, the government has been working towards increased focus on family-centered policies. During this Father’s Day, on June 20, 2021, fathers continue to provide nurturance and promote resilience for themselves and their families.
Over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of differences have emerged between fathers and mothers. While men have lower rates of contracting COVID, they experience a disproportionate percentage of deaths compared to women. In Illinois, data from the GenderSci COVID Project illustrates this pattern, with higher percentage of COVID cases in women (51%), but a higher percentage of COVID deaths in men (54%).
As of spring 2021, more women than men receive COVID vaccines, revealing significant gender differences in rates of vaccination. While some of these differences may be due to an older female population, as well as more female essential and health care workers, this also reflects historical trends with men receiving less preventative healthcare such as annual checkups. Among adults who do seek annual checkups, men are less likely to receive influenza (flu) vaccines (53% men; 63% women) independent of occupation. Men are also less likely (44%) to be included in vaccine trials, with men of color at particular risk due to underrepresentation in trials, higher rates of COVID complications and death based on race and gender, and lower rates of vaccination for Black men and other men of color. In addition to risks from COVID, rates of homicide, unintentional injury and drug overdoses also increased during the first few months of the pandemic, which are causes of mortality that men typically experience at higher rates compared to women.
Early in the COVID pandemic, nearly 70% of fathers across a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds reported closer relationships with their children since the onset of the pandemic. Nearly half the fathers reported “silver linings” of the pandemic, ranging from getting to know and appreciate their children better to learning more about their children's interests. However, while many existing fathers gained opportunity to strengthen relationships with their children, stricter hospital visitation rules limiting partners at births may have impacted the experience of new fatherhood.
The Pew Research Center found employment changes for parents with children at home due to COVID, with a decrease from January (89.4% fathers; 69% mothers) to March 2020, (77.1% fathers; 54.6% mothers) and near recovery by September (85.6% fathers; 63.4% mothers). Many of the seasonal trends usually seen in employment were eliminated by COVID.
Although more women than men took time off work for childcare reasons, fathers still experienced employment-related changes due to increased parenting obligations. Among fathers, 15% took on additional caregiving responsibilities, and 20% of men had to take time off work because their child’s school or daycare was closed due to COVID.
Now that vaccinations are available to most workers, many companies are transitioning back to in-person work. For parents, this shift back may reduce their flexibility compared to being remote; however, while schools and childcare centers closed last year, parents had to simultaneously juggle work and parenting.
As schools are expected to reopen in the fall, parents will once again be able to rely on childcare providers and schools to focus on work exclusively without that strenuous balancing act. In the United States, parenting and household responsibilities during COVID were still managed primarily by mothers, with some gender expectations reinforced. Of note, when fathers take on more household and parenting tasks, they experience greater anxiety and restlessness compared to mothers, but also help balance necessary responsibilities, help shift gender norms, reduce maternal burdens, and engage with their children.
While mothers reported worse mental health since the pandemic began, fathers report more health and behavioral changes. More fathers report they would have benefited from additional emotional support than what they received during the pandemic (82%), received a diagnosis for mental health disorder (29%), received mental health treatment (38%) and struggled with sleep (87%), weight (80%), and alcohol use (48%) compared to mothers. Research shows children of fathers with poor mental health are more likely to have poor physical health, supporting the need to examine health using a family-centered approach.
If you are experiencing depression or want to learn more about paternal mental health, find resources here.
FCHIP partnered with Voices of Child Health in Chicago (VOCHIC) to generate a May 2021 report which examined more closely the rates of everyday discrimination among 1500 Chicago parents, especially among fathers. Everyday discrimination is defined as chronic, routine, unfair treatment. Among Chicago parents included in the Parent Panel Survey with available data for this report, there were 452 fathers (42% white, non-Black, 17% Black, non-Hispanic, 31% Hispanic, and 10% other/multi-race) and 1045 mothers (22% white, non-Black, 25% Black, non-Hispanic, 45% Hispanic, 8% other/multi-race).
Among parents, fathers were more likely to report high levels of everyday discrimination compared to mothers (42% fathers vs 31% mothers) with mothers reporting more low levels ( 29% fathers vs 34% mothers) or no everyday discrimination (29% fathers vs. 35% mothers). White fathers were most likely to report having experienced no everyday discrimination (36%) compared to Black (24%) or Hispanic fathers (28%) [Figure 1].
Fathers most often reported being treated with less courtesy or respect than other people (55%) or receiving poorer service than others at restaurants or stores (54%). They were more likely to report people acting afraid (39%) and being threatened or harassed (30%) compared to mothers [Figure 2].
Play is essential in child development for language acquisition, physical & mental development, socialization, and strengthening relationships. Fathers engage in more physical play with their kids compared with mothers, making this relationship both unique and uniquely beneficial as a safe place to practice self-regulation. Father-child play is specifically linked to language development, illustrating that children benefit from play with their dads. As summer approaches, fathers should check the CDC website for safe outdoor activities and recommendations, including when visiting beaches and pools.
Explore new areas in your environment: Allow your child access to a corner of the home or outdoor area. Have a basement or garage? Let your child look around, find non-traditional toys, and watch their interests develop.
Be an observer: Go to a local park or forest preserve and watch your child find rocks, sticks, or new leaves. At a playground, try letting them direct the play and follow their lead to see what they want to do. Then allow them to do it!
Let your child be the boss: Allow yourself to be directed. Whatever your child imagines can become real with your involvement.
Turn obligations into play time: Watch or immerse yourself in play during bath time or bedtime. Tell a new story at night that you make up. Sing a new song.
Practice mindfulness to allow yourself to enjoy your parenting time: Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Focus on your senses. Snuggle an extra minute or two. Try to be in the moment.
Be silly: Play pretend with your children and try to make them laugh. Laugh together. Being a parent is exhausting, so don’t forget to enjoy those special silly moments.