This article is based on findings from the Following Young Fathers Further study. Read the findings here.
Since the latest UK lockdown was imposed in early January 2021 to manage the second wave of the COVID-19 virus, many parents with primary and secondary school-aged children find themselves supporting remote learning again.
Much has been written about the impact of lockdowns on families since the first was enforced in March 2020. Both disruptions to and continuities of gendered divisions of labour in the household were exposed. Families had to reorganise their work and childcare in response to school closures and wider structural changes.
Research suggests that during the first lockdown, mothers spent more time on childcare and developmental activities with their children than fathers. However, shifts among fathers towards practices of caring masculinities and more egalitarian masculinities and gender-equal relations were also observed. Although no proof of the redressing of the gendered balance of work and care, the Fatherhood Institute reported that men’s childcare increased by up to 58% during the first lockdown. However, there are also ongoing concerns that for some of the poorest families, digital poverty and reduced access to resources are contributing to the widening of socioeconomic and educational inequalities.
Despite what has been learned from the first lockdown, the latest one has introduced new, additional pressures for families. The intensity of remote learning has increased for children and parents as schools have pivoted to online methods of teaching. Parents are now required to collect, supervise and complete more work with their children while also managing their own workloads. This requires more intensive time and emotional labour, as well as access to appropriate and functioning technology. The reasons for supporting this more intensive online work are important for children but they also bring to light inequalities both within and across households.
The UKRI-funded Following Young Fathers Further research team explored some of these experiences in our research with young fathers. The study commenced in January 2020, just three months before the first lockdown was enforced. As a qualitative longitudinal study examining structural and individual change through the biographies of young fathers, it was well placed to support our research on the impacts of the pandemic and the lockdown on their lived experiences, support needs and their children. The project Research Fellows, Laura Way and Linzi Ladlow, interviewed 17 young fathers, many of whom were experiencing social disadvantage before the first lockdown, between July and December 2020.
Our findings with young fathers presented a complex picture and were wide ranging. The dads described a range of challenges and opportunities. Levels of engagement or uptake of educational activities differed among our sample. While some fathers were able to engage actively with their children, others were limited by their residence status and/or limited access to resources. The extent of their involvement was therefore circumstantial and influenced by time, employment status, residence, access to reliable technology and gendered assumptions associated with parenting.
About technology, unemployed resident father Adam (aged 26) said:
[the laptop’s] not great. It’s terrible to be honest wi’ you…, that’s kinda why we stopped doing it because we was, me and my wife was arguing about what it… it’s a very, very old laptop but we can’t afford a newer model computer that’s gonna run more efficiently.
Trevor (aged 23) was furloughed, allowing him additional time and access to resources to devote to his daughter who was falling behind in her education:
she were falling behind apparently […] it got to the point where I got a projector…and I ended up doing like slides and stuff on ma work computer. […] I turned into t’ teacher for a little bit, it were quite fun.
Non-resident fathers were less able to engage with their children more generally and some reported that lockdown was used as a reason to reduce or even restrict their involvement. This compounded the loneliness and isolation some young men experienced. One of our study partners, an organisation that supports young dads, said:
There’s a particular case at the moment where we went into lockdown, so the young man’s contact completely stopped….he couldn’t arrange contact… we managed to organise to re-establish contact when it was safe to. That was quite a lot a’ work to be done there.
Overall, our findings indicate that the pandemic and first lockdown engendered significant changes in the organisation of work and family life for young fathers and their families. Notably, with the right resources, including time (through flexible work or furlough), reliable access to Wi-Fi and appropriate technology and software, fathers were able to be more involved in educating and supporting their children. However, a lack of one or more of these resources compounded their involvement.
As the lockdown continues, young parents and their children will benefit most from access to reliable technology, including laptops and Wi-Fi. This will also enable ongoing access and support from local services for those who benefit from it most.
Anna Tarrant is Associate Professor in Sociology, Linzi Ladlow is Research Fellow in Family Research, Laura Way is Research Fellow in Family Research, all at the University of Lincoln.
Fathering and Poverty: Uncovering Men’s Participation in Low-Income Family Life by Anna Tarrant is available on the Policy Press website. Pre-order here for £19.99.
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