Although juggling remote learning and working from home hasn't been easy, being a dad during COVID-19 has included more time with family.
Being a parent is never easy, and it’s been even more challenging during COVID-19. Many mothers have borne the brunt of the changes caused by COVID-19, whether that has been coordinating remote-learning school schedules, finding new activities to entertain the kids, or allaying their children’s anxieties about the virus. But it also hasn’t been easy being a dad during COVID-19. Both mothers and fathers have shared the fear of contracting the virus and also the burden of socially distancing from friends, families and support networks. So I was surprised when my husband recently told me that he thought it had been a blessing that our daughter Ivy was born during the pandemic.
Like thousands of other working parents, Hong Kong dad Nico Guiridlian struggled to adapt to ‘working from home’. Lack of space, closed schools and uncertainty around changing rules didn’t help make the transition any easier. However, he has appreciated the opportunity to spend more time with his son Teo.
“The pandemic has offered us the rare and remarkable opportunity to spend a lot of quality time together. Precious moments throughout the day make for nice breaks from work.”
For Matt Ng, Hong Kong father of two, new family routines during the pandemic have been a joy. “In our family, the mornings have become a special family time. We eat together, sit and talk. With this new-found time to communicate, I feel as though I know more about my family. I have more chances to share and offer advice to my sons. I feel as though I am a better father.”
For my own husband, Danny, he feels incredibly lucky to have had more time at home with our daughter, Ivy, in the first six months of her life. Due to the newfound acceptance of flexible work arrangements, he was present (and responsible!), for her first giggle, first roll and home every night for bath and bedtime. “I would have missed all these milestones had I been working from the office,” says Danny.
What is perhaps most extraordinary, however, is how flexible work arrangements have enabled more dads to be more active and engaged parents, instead of parachuting in for nights and weekends. More time at home has meant rebalancing the distribution of parenting roles—allowing mums and dads to more equally share the tasks of teacher, counsellor, bedtime-story teller and ‘snuggler’.
Pre-pandemic, it wasn’t uncommon for Danny to pull 12-16-hour days. However, with no need to commute and the flexibility to move meetings around, Danny has picked up countless night feeds, co-piloted during projectile ‘poosplosions’, and been on-hand to hold the baby during inevitable moments of new-mum exhaustion.
Simon Wilson, managing director of The Grounds, also has enjoyed being a dad during COVID-19. For he and his wife Claire, they crammed multiple, significant life events into a single whirlwind of a year.
“Not only did we have to cancel our wedding back home, but I lost my job, we got married legally in Hong Kong, we started a new business, and we welcomed our first baby.”
Simon recognises the importance of being present as a father during the early days. “The first two weeks are incredibly difficult for the mother and it’s not talked about enough. This idea of the ‘baby blues’ trivialises it. Mums go through this huge hormonal shift once the baby is born. It is a really big deal.
“I think dads need to be more prepared for it and realise that’s probably your number one job – looking after mum while she looks after the baby. Those first two weeks are a stressful and emotional time and new mums need and deserve lots of support from their partners.”
As businesses in Hong Kong are only required to offer five days paternity leave, the flexible work arrangements that have resulted from COVID-19 have helped many new dads be more present to help out and bond with the baby. The good news is that, for some, this new flexibility may be here to stay. According to a survey of corporate leadership in Hong Kong, up to 65% said their companies are planning to redesign their office space to accommodate a ‘hybrid’ culture that combines in-office and work-from-home arrangements.
This is news that Matt welcomes.
“I’m determined to hold on to our new breakfast ritual, even as my work gets busy again. I can see that my whole family is happier when I spend more time at home.”
Now that is a blessing.