Effective co-parenting, i.e., when parents work well together in their parenting roles, has a protective effect that can help to buffer children under stressful conditions. Co-parenting relationships thus take on heightened significance in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has increased stress for communities worldwide and disproportionately burdened low-income and racial / ethnic minority communities. We sought to understand experiences of co-parenting during the pandemic from the perspective of low-income, Black fathers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, one of the most racially segregated cities in the U.S.
This study used focus groups to gain insight into fathers’ experiences with coparenting during the COVID-19 pandemic. We conducted six focus groups with a total of 38 fathers participating. Participants were recruited in partnership with the Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative. Inclusion criteria included being a current or expecting father, 18 years of age or older, and a resident of Milwaukee County. A large majority (89.4 %) of focus group participants identified as Black, 57.9 % reported highest educational attainment as some college education or less, and approximately half reported annual household income of less than $49,999. Focus groups addressed fathers’ experiences related to employment and financial stability, parenting and co-parenting during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here we present results of a focused thematic analysis to identify themes related to co-parenting during the COVID-19 pandemic. Transcripts were content coded in an iterative process, with multiple coders reviewing each transcripts multiple times to distinguish and refine definition of recurrent themes.
Results illuminate both co-parenting challenges and opportunities related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fathers described disagreements with co-parents over COVID-19 protocols (i.e., masking, social distancing, and vaccinations), leading to increased strain in their co-parenting relationships and increased distress for both parents and children. Concerns about increased risk of COVID-19 infection due to actions of co-parent and about co-parents’ level of support for children’s virtual learning caused distress as well. Increased conflict was more commonly discussed by fathers who reported adversarial co-parenting relationships prior to the pandemic. Conversely, some fathers reported that communication and trust with co-parents was improved by open communication about COVID-19 exposures and risk mitigation practices. Fathers also reported that mutual prioritization of children’s safety over other concerns allowed them to move past personal disagreements with co-parents. Among fathers currently in a romantic partnership, many fathers described ways that their partnership was strengthened during the pandemic. Fathers described increased empathy, emotional support, and willingness to help with childcare and household duties in response to challenges imposed by the pandemic.
Conclusions and Implications:
This study demonstrates the multifaceted impacts of the pandemic on low-income and noncustodial fathers. Notably, the pandemic led to both heightened challenges and positive enhancement to co-parenting relationships. Given that effective co-parenting is associated with positive outcomes for children, social work researchers should seek to better understand how some co-parents were able to reduce conflict and strengthen cooperation during the pandemic to inform interventions to support effective co-parenting.