COVID and Emotional Support for Fathers

The pandemic has revealed some inconvenient truths about parenting in America. Among those truths is the fact that parents are struggling, perhaps more so than ever.

It’s hard to believe it has been over two years since March 2020–the month when COVID-19 officially shutdown the world. The shutdown impacted countless ways of life, however, it seemed to particularly disrupt the lives of parents. Especially parents to younger children.

Last year the American Psychological Association issued a survey with findings related to pandemic health concerns called Stress in America: One Year Later, A New Wave of Pandemic Health Concerns. The report highlighted that prolonged stressed caused by the pandemic brought with it serious health consequences, including weight gain, changes in sleep behavior, and increased alcohol consumption.

Importantly, the report also surveyed mental and physical declines in parents, particularity those with children under 18. According to the article, “[n]ot only have they [parents] had to deal with the universal pandemic disruptions on their work and social lives, but also grapple with the pandemic’s impact on their children. Nearly half of parents (48%) said the level of stress in their life has increased compared with before the pandemic.”

The report showed that parents have faced serious mental health challenges as they grappled with the virus, related worries, and disruptions in work and school schedules. With regards to issues particularly impacting fathers, the survey found that fathers were significantly more likely to say they could have used more emotional support than mothers. Fathers were also more likely to seek mental health treatment or diagnosed with a mental health disorder since the genesis of the pandemic. Fathers also reported slightly higher rates of weight gain, reports of less sleep, and higher rates of alcohol consumption (compared to mothers).

As someone who became a father during the pandemic, none of the results surprise me. Though I can’t speak to the difference between parenting before versus after the pandemic, I can attest to the challenges faced by both me and my wife. Though it could be a product of having a newborn in each year of the pandemic, we have not slept much for much of the pandemic. (If you want to hear more about my pandemic parenting journey, check my Defacto Dad podcast.)

Also, our lives as new parents were seemingly placed on hold: meeting new family members, traveling, hanging out with new parents (or family)–all removed for months (and altered for years) after the world shutdown. There were nights I would be up late worrying about what the next wave of the pandemic would bring; and for the first time I was worrying not only about myself, but about my child. Because we were locked down, in a state far from our family members, we were faced with an additional layer of isolation. And it was then that I realized that any sort of emotional support likely would have been helpful. Without the ability to forge new relationships with other new parents in-person, we were left to shoulder much of the mental load alone–in silence.

The report offered the following tips for how parents could stay healthy:

  •  Practice self-care in 15- or 30-minute increments throughout the day and help your kids to do the same. This can include taking a short walk, calling a friend or watching a funny show.
  • Stay connected with each other, your friends and family. This will help you build emotional resilience so you can support the needs of your children.
  • Try hosting device-free time for the whole family, where you make and eat dinner together or play a board game. Children are more likely to talk about their experiences while engaging in an activity.

I agree with these recommendations, as much as they apply to those of us parenting with smaller children. Towards the end of 2020 I had to take steps to pull myself away from my phone and the news, to be active, to take walks outside, to be conscious each day to find support–in other parents, family, or friends– and also be a source of support for others. And this is something I, like many fathers, continue to work on each day.

Did you become parent during the pandemic? Did you notice changes in your parenting journey once the pandemic hit? Let me know in the comments—and don’t forget to checkout the DeFacto Dad podcast.

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