When the Coronavirus pandemic started, little did people know that it will change them in ways they did not envisage. For many fathers, they nursed the fear of losing their jobs, watch the walls of their business crumble one brick at a time, and having to watch their families starve. They were also saddled with the responsibility of not just ensuring their family is safe and healthy during the pandemic, but also ensure that their family does not drown in the storm of the virus that was flooding the world, and the economic meltdown that was sure to follow swiftly.
But there was one thing they did not envisage would change much – their parenting style.
“I have discovered far greater levels of patience, even I am shocked.”
Before the pandemic, Ayo Bankole, 33-year-old Strategy professional, Convener of The #LagosSMEbootCamp, and a father of one, bonded with his son in the mornings and mostly during weekends. “I prepare him for school practically every morning or most mornings. Bath, brush, food, dress up, and all the horrors that come with it. Then I do the mornings school runs on weekdays. He is usually asleep most times before I get home at night, so I hold our morning bonding very dearly. For weekends, we are inseparable.”
But with the spread of the pandemic and the closure of schools, Ayo has been faced with greater ‘horrors’ – being with his son every single minute, having to learn the new dynamics of parenting and making efforts to be a better parent.
“The pandemic and shelter in place have helped enhance our bonding time. We spend almost the whole day together alone (since his mom resumed work after the lockdown was eased, while I am still working from home) and it has helped me understand him more, and that understanding has then helped further fine-tune my parenting style. Though we now have more fall out moments because of his mischief, but we are quick to reconcile and agree on the way forward.”
Before the pandemic, many parents need not really worry about having a routine for their kids; it was the usual pattern of waking up early in the morning, getting the kids ready for school, expecting them by evening, and having a nice family time. But the pandemic not only gave fathers 24 hours, 7 days a week to be with their kids, it also placed the responsibility of creating a daily routine for them and ensuring that this routine is well followed. This is a task they were hitherto not saddled with, a task that once fell on the shoulders of school teachers.
“Before the pandemic, during the week, the children would wake up around 6 am and leave for school by 6.45 and not get back till around 4.30 pm or later, depending on school clubs. When they get back they tend to crash and sleep for an hour or so. They will eat dinner around 6 pm and be in bed by 9 pm On weekdays, they are not allowed on games and while we try to enforce this mores the mum, I know the various devices they use mean it is not always 100% effective. Between 6-9 we try to get them to complete any homework and also complete their assigned house chores. Weekends are more relaxed, we do try and insist all homework is completed by Saturday end. But they get loads of time to play and mess about”, says Dapo.
For Dapo Olasiyan, a 53-year-old Business Analyst, who is also a father of two teenagers, it is different now.
“My daily routine has indeed been affected because I am now home 24/7 with them. The school has helped a lot with setting work but gradually the sleep patterns have become eroded. The ‘brotherly fights’ have escalated due to the increased and enforced time spent together.”
On the other hand, the ‘Tiger Dad’, 39-year old Jason Njoku, founder of Iroko TV and a father to two girls and a boy had a routine for his kids long before the pandemic started.
“Before the pandemic, my wife and I used to travel over 60% of the time so when we were at home, we gave our kids 100% of our time. Our house isn’t obsessed with academics and we are trying to teach our kids to be super competitive (in sports) and independent creative builders (in everything else). So (being having read Chemistry at undergrad) my preference is to focus their development on puzzle-solving, Math, Science, and Coding/Robotics. I buy different styles of child development programmes (Kumon vs Collins) and (Drones + Robotics kits vs Lego + Puzzles) and coding (CodeCombat vs Grasshopper). The idea is to try and teach my kids to solve their own issues. My kids swim (6-year-old competitively, whilst the 4-year-old can easily swim in a 50m pool). They are training to be competitive in Taekwondo and can play the piano. I set a pretty robust system for them and monitored it relentlessly. My kids (6 and 4) had swimming practice (for my son, he trained 6-7 am 3 days a week before school and 5 days 4-6 pm after school). My other daughter trained 3 days a week, 3-4 pm. Both have private Taekwondo and Piano lessons 3 nights a week.”
For Jason, everything was going on smoothly until the pandemic swerved the routine in unexpected directions and he was forced to add teaching to his fatherly duties.
“On 14th March, they closed schools and we paused all activities (swimming, taekwondo, and piano stopped). We just started Taekwondo a few weeks ago. Right now, I am home teaching them myself. My focus is on using the resources I had available to me and extending with new online tools (IXL, Adaptedmind) with a focus on Math, Science, and English. Before, they never used to have the use of their own laptops but they do now. All the other activities are still there but I have shifted focus to evening walks or bike rides several times a week so they can get the chance to go outside”, Jason said.
Parenting, they say, is like dangling the carrot on one hand and wielding the stick on the other hand. For many African fathers, there’s a fear, or perhaps just a belief, that when you dangle the carrot too much, the child(ren) will eat the carrot and still do whatever they had planned to do. There is thus the constant temptation to use the stick – an autocratic method of ensuring that your kids obey instructions and follow the routine laid down for them.
For Dapo, handling two teenagers has not been a ride in the park. How do you ensure you are not authoritarian, yet still firm? “It has been hard to establish a routine that does not seem draconian, but I decided to be more firm on the sleep routine and not allow excuses”, he says.
There lies the answer: choose your battles.
Fortunately, in the process of enforcing a routine and teaching the kids life-long lessons, the fathers have ended up being schooled on parenting. Ayo is learning new lessons and making new resolves.
“I have discovered that there is literally nothing I can’t sacrifice for my child’s comfort. I used to think from more ambitious lenses before this crisis. Now a lot of things have had to chill and plans changed because doing them may not be the best for the child. I’ve also discovered far greater levels of patience”.
He continues, “this pandemic has really opened our (his wife and his) eyes and changed our perspectives towards very many angles of our social and health reality. I will definitely love to keep this increased bonding levels with my son going and hopeful to help get rid of his toddler stage bad habits.”
Handling the kids, for Jason, was a rude awakening that there was a key fatherly ingredient he was lacking.
“I lacked patience. I used to think I was pretty patient but I’m actually not. Teaching my kids, whilst trying to work in the same room has been really really tough. My wife has abandoned that role to me. So Monday to Friday, I am with them for 5-6 hours shepherding some kind of work output. It isn’t structured but the key is just to keep their young minds active. It has been difficult, but it has been a great experience.”
This pandemic, to Jason, is an eye-opener, and with this realisation comes a lot of resolution.
“The last 3 months or so has been the longest uninterrupted time I have spent with my kids in their lives. They are used to my wife and me traveling weekly but now they are used to us every day. I want to spend more time with them. I definitely won’t be traveling the same way I was before COVID-19. The great thing is the world has been forced to operate without being in person, which means my businesses globally can fit into this new approach. I never knew my father as he left my mum before I was born so it’s important to me they know who I am. I feel the last few months have definitely aided that. At least they see me at work every day, hear my phone calls, and have immediate access to me. I know they hated me traveling as they used to cry every time I left, so being around is a priority for me now.”
Dapo is wearing the hat of a teacher, but he has made up his mind never to take them off, not even after the pandemic. “I like helping my 13-year-old with his homework and I will be doing more of that.”
Fatherhood is a journey, one men never graduate from. An expedition of no return. A bumpy road that requires much perseverance and resilience. Yet, it is a journey filled with enthralling and soul-gripping love – abstruse, yet strong enough to fuel this journey and fill you with the required energy to keep pushing, not for yourself, but for your family.
Contrary to people’s belief, raising children is not the sole responsibility of a mother – or a woman generally.
Ayo explains it better when he says that “Fatherhood is a decision of sacrifice. Dads must go through a paradigm shift of seeing parenting as a primary duty of the mothers and secondary duty of the Dads. I have always advised via my social media platforms that fathers plan their full leave days towards their wife’s delivery date, and if not, they should save enough to take at least a month off without pay. Stay with your wife, use breast milk extractors to feed your baby at night while she sleeps, learn to bathe the baby, change diapers, and wash stuff. Yes, family may be there to help, but be intentional about participation. That period builds an everlasting bond and experience with your family that you will never forget. Then as they grow to toddlers, just be their friends and parent at the same time.”
Jason believes that ensuring that the bond between fathers and their kids remains unbroken should be the focus of many men.
“Try and work through the constant demands the kids place on your time. I suffered at first working in the same room as them as it required me to break up my day into 100 5-minute work sprints before they engaged with me on something. But now I am used to it. This is the time for people to really reinforce your relationships with family because so many things are uncertain. We still have 18 months with COVID-19 as a major health concern. We just have to love ourselves and embrace the new normal.
Dapo is a father who sometimes wears the shoes of his kids, and that is really important if fathers want to have that ultimate relationship with their children.