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Philly dads are picking up the slack post-pandemic, but moms still do the most work

Twenty percent of fathers who got more involved in childcare during the pandemic have maintained that increased activity even after returning to work.

Eric and Carla Hailey with their children Isabella, 13, and E.J., 6, at their gym, Max Fitness in Mount Laurel Sunday. Dads like Eric are increasing the time they spend in childcare
Eric and Carla Hailey with their children Isabella, 13, and E.J., 6, at their gym, Max Fitness in Mount Laurel Sunday. Dads like Eric are increasing the time they spend in childcareRead moreTom Gralish / Staff Photographer

When the pandemic locked down America three years ago, Eric Hailey, 41, saw for the first time how much his wife, Carla, did to support their family.

“When she said before how busy she was with the house and the kids, I didn’t realize how much she did,” said Eric, who owns Max Fitness gym in Mount Laurel. “But when I stayed home from work for COVID, I got a lot of appreciation for it. And I tried to do more to take the burden off her.”

Since returning to work, Eric has continued his stepped-up contribution. “It was an awakening of roles and balance,” said Carla, also 41, the general operations manager of the gym, and a dispatcher for a transportation company in Pennsauken. “He’s definitely helping with the kids more. I didn’t even have to ask him.”

The Haileys’ transformation highlights a post-pandemic trend, according to survey data released earlier this month: Twenty percent of fathers who got more involved in childcare during the pandemic have maintained that increased activity even after returning to work. And, 25% have continued to do more housework than before COVID-19.

Both findings demonstrate movement toward equal division of labor and gender equality, according to an analysis of the survey, The Future of Gender Equality: What’s Happened and What Are We Learning from the COVID-19 Pandemic?

The data are from a survey of 1,000 married men and women with children conducted between April 2020 and October 2022.

“By working from home, fathers were more exposed to domestic labor and likely had more time to perform these tasks, reducing mothers’ burdens,” reads the analysis written by sociologists Daniel Carlson of the University of Utah, and Richard Petts of Ball State University.

Petts said in an interview that the pandemic provided a “silver lining” for fathers who otherwise would never have had time to be home and engage more fully with their children.

As a result, he added, “for many men, it really changed them.”

Local families interviewed for this article agreed that the pandemic had a significant effect on how kids and housework are addressed.

That’s certainly true for Eric Hailey.

“Before COVID, childcare was 90% Carla,” he said. “Now, I’ll go to school activities, pick them up, take them to sports. She still does the most work with the kids, though.”

“But now,” Carla added, “it’s better, with me doing 65% and Eric 35%.”

“And,” Eric concluded, “the great thing is, I don’t feel like I’m missing out on seeing my children.”

Restraints and norms

The notion of gender equality and the division of labor in the home have long preoccupied social scientists.

“We aren’t born inherently unequal,” Petts said, “and yet we impose restraints and norms on people about what we think men and women can do.”

Significantly, the survey tapped into what Petts termed “a new culture of fatherhood” — propagated primarily by millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, who have long expressed a desire to be more hands-on dads.

“With men, it’s gotten better,” said Janet Filante, a coordinator for Childspace Daycare Centers in Mount Airy and Germantown. “This generation doesn’t assume child care is just a woman’s job.”

Still, it’s no secret that women continue to bear the preponderance of family duties.

According to the Petts-Carlson study, before the pandemic, mothers performed 52% of childcare, while 43% of the responsibility was shared. Fathers reported doing the majority of childcare 5% of the time.

By last October, after living in lockdown, numbers changed: Mothers did 47% of childcare; 45% of it was shared equally; and fathers performed more than mothers a paltry 8% of the time. .

Regarding housework before the pandemic, mothers did the lion’s share 65% of the time; chores were shared equally 27% of the time; and fathers did more 8% of the time.

Last October, the numbers switched to 60% mothers; 32% shared; and 8% fathers doing the bulk of the work.

Other research shows even greater gaps between mothers and fathers.

“Divide and conquer”

Joannie Yeh, a Media pediatrician, said the best way couples can share childcare and housework is to “divide and conquer. Ask for help, divvy up the tasks, then be flexible and forgiving if they’re not done perfectly.”

In her own home, Yeh, 41, said she does most of the child care for her kids, ages 3, 7, and 10, as well as “100% of planning our activities.” But Yeh, who can’t be home for family dinner every night, said her husband, Kevin, 43, a university professor, will do school pickups, cook, and clean up.

“He’s doing the more robotic, automated stuff, and I’m doing the more emotional check-ins and development with the kids,” she said. “He’s more reserved and won’t be silly, from a culture where kids are quiet and obedient.”

Her colleague, Regina Vince, 39, also a pediatrician, has four children, ages 10, 8, 5, and 1.

She said her husband, Robert, a software engineer who’s also 39, switched to working from home during the pandemic, creating “a big change in our world: If someone is sick, he’s the caregiver now,” though the couple shares the housework.

Regarding her patients, she said, “I definitely feel like there are still more moms in the primary role with the responsibility.

“I’m hoping I’m raising my boys differently, but traditional roles are hard to overcome.”

Some people believe they don’t have to be.

“The pandemic changed nothing in our house,” said Tina Irwin, 45, a Burlington County mental-health caseworker.

“I’m still the primary caregiver. That’s what we’ve always decided. I’m from a large Irish family. That’s how we were, and it worked perfectly.”

Janay Hawthorne, 35, a public-health policy professor at Arcadia University who lives in West Oak Lane, said her husband, Clyde, was more hands-on with the children, 13 and 19, during the height of the pandemic.

Since then, however, Clyde, 39, a social worker, “leaves me to handle most things with the kids, 70% to 30%. But he’s on the housework, 80% to 20%, and I’m grateful.”

For Michael Handley, 46, a Fishtown visual artist, the ratios shake out differently.

“The pandemic happened and my wife and I reevaluated. I thought, ‘You’re a stay-at-home dad now.’ I manage the house, our lives, and our little guy, who’s 4.

“It cuts into my work day, and we’ve taken hits economically. Also, it’s the hardest job I ever had.”

But, Handley added, the arrangement makes sense.

“And,” he said, “let’s face it: I’m just extremely happy to spend so much time with him, every day.”