Daddy’s home: How remote working has changed family life

Being able to work from home has allowed many fathers to take on a greater share of childcare and other domestic responsibilities. They don’t want to give it up

Emily Bennett was born a week before the first lockdown. Her timing couldn’t have been better. Her dad Kevin Bennett stitched together leave to be at home for the first month of her life, and was about to return to work. Then widespread home-working was announced. Three years later, he doubts he will work in an office full-time again.

The hour commute from his home near Ashbourne to his employer, Vodafone based in Sandyford, disappeared. “That extra time in the morning where I didn’t have to get up to sit in traffic – it gave a little bit of respite for me to say to my wife Aisling, I’ll just take her off you and you go back to sleep.”

Aisling was breastfeeding and Kevin being at home made a huge difference. “To be able to bring her food when she is stuck on the couch with the baby feeding constantly... If I had a meeting, I was able to duck out and boil a kettle, drop a cup of tea and a sandwich into her and be back again. It didn’t disrupt my day and yet it was her being fed and not going without food with a baby sitting on top of her. That flexibility was priceless.”

Vodafone has a hybrid working policy now of two days in the office and three from home. When his youngest daughter Daisy was born last August, Kevin benefited from a new company policy of 16 weeks’ leave, fully paid, for any birthing partner.


With two young children and his older daughter Chloe (15) from a previous relationship doing her Junior Cycle exams, the company supports him to work from home full-time for now. “If Chloe is staying with us for a couple of nights, I can drop her to school,” says Kevin.

Seeing Emily in the middle of the day when she is home from Montessori, or I can pop out at lunch and pick her up – she loves that

—  Kevin Bennett

“I’ve always been a very hands-on dad and I get stuck in with the housework, but being at home just took it to a different level. The bond I have now with the girls, I know it’s better than it could have ever been.

“Seeing Emily in the middle of the day when she is home from Montessori, or I can pop out at lunch and pick her up – she loves that. Being able to say, I’ll take my lunch now, and just sitting out in the garden and blowing bubbles with them for 10 minutes. Then I’m back into work. It’s a constant for them in their lives, but also for me.”

Fathers like Kevin who are now working from home and spending more time with their children could be the pandemic’s silver lining. Irish dads have generally lagged behind their European counterparts on sharing childcare responsibilities, but those who can now work remotely – for companies which have embraced remote and hybrid arrangements for employees – are embracing the opportunity to even things up.

Home working dads are now renavigating fatherhood. “They never had permission to do this, and Covid, in some ways, forced this permission, and no one wants to give it up,” says Dr Anne Kehoe, president of the Psychological Society of Ireland.

Five years ago, people didn’t question why a dad worked full-time outside the home and was never really there, says Kehoe. Gender pay gaps, leave skewed towards women and expensive childcare all combine to support the male breadwinner model.

Women in Ireland have done much more of the childcare, with 95 per cent of them doing some on a daily basis compared to 78 per cent of men, according to Eurostat figures for 2016. Among Swedish, Slovenian, Portuguese, Finnish and Dutch parents, the men did more than Irish men, and the childcare was more evenly shared.

Uptake of paid and unpaid leave by new fathers here has been sluggish. Of fathers entitled to paternity benefit in 2018, almost half didn’t take it, according to the CSO.

The pandemic, however, forced many fathers to stay at home. They could still work and get paid, but being there has shown them what they have missed with their kids, says Kehoe.

The 2022 Census figures published earlier this month show that approximately one in three people work from home at least part of the week, rising to four in five for business, media and public service professionals. It’s the first time the question has been asked on the Census, but there is no doubt there has been a massive shift towards more flexible work arrangements.

A second parent will always bring a different energy. Dads sometimes bring a more physical energy, or a practical energy or a male energy. More rough and tumble play, more active play, more goal-directed play

—  Dr Anne Kehoe

“Many of the dads have been at home for three years now. They can’t go back, they don’t want to go back, because they themselves can feel the magic,” Kehoe says.

As well as increasing gender equality in the home and in the labour market, dads who do more at home benefit their kids too.

“A second parent will always bring a different energy. Dads sometimes bring a more physical energy, or a practical energy or a male energy. More rough and tumble play, more active play, more goal-directed play,” says Kehoe.

Research from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) published last year showed that fathers’ greater involvement in care during infancy also has a lasting positive effect on father-child relationships.

Not all fathers and children are able to reap the benefits of remote working. But for the many who can, it is transforming not only how they work, but also how they see their role as fathers.

‘I see a lot more of my children and I know a lot more about them’

Mornings in the Bowers household used to be a bit of a blur. Father of three Clive, who works in regulation with the ESB, worked from home a day a week now and then, and had frequent business travel. He did mornings with the children unless his wife Corinna was off.

Leaving his Knocklyon home at 7.15am, he dropped Hannah and Jacob to a childminder who would bring them to school. He then dropped Finn to creche. His wife was already at work at Crumlin hospital. If Clive cycled to his job with the ESB in East Wall Road, it took 45 minutes. On the bus, it was an hour and a half.

“They probably saw very little of us,” says Clive of his children. The same was true for hundreds of thousands of other families.

After three years of remote working, life has changed fundamentally. ”The idea of going back to it would be horrendous,” he says. “Both of us get a lot more time with the kids.”

Now he’s in the office just two days a week and there are days when both he and his wife work from home.

“We were rushing them out the door, getting them to someone else’s house. The kids are getting trucked around an awful lot less now. They are having breakfast in their own house every morning,” he says.

Clive can drop the children to school and be back at his home office by 8.45am. On Mondays and Tuesdays, he collects Hannah, (11) and Jacob (9) from school. He gets back to work, the kids do their homework themselves and can watch TV. Six-year-old Finn goes to afterschool.

Foregoing a commute gives him three extra hours in a day. He has more quality time with his children. “Before, I only saw them when you were dragging them out of bed, and when you got home they were getting ready for bed and they were tired. Now, I see an awful lot more of my children and I know a lot more about them,” he says.

“You get a much better understanding of how they are doing, you can pick up on things. . I have a much stronger relationship with my children for that reason.”

I don’t see it limiting my career. There are more parents talking about these issues

—  Clive Bowers

He can also do more of the housekeeping. “I’m not going to say I’m a fantastic person or it’s perfectly equal, but you can put on a wash, make a meal, you are not building up all this stuff for Saturday,” says Clive. “We are both cooking half and half now. It’s important the boys see their dad doing stuff in the house.

“The family eat together three evenings during the week, and there is less stress on the family overall. “ There is better harmony in the family.”

Client dinners, 5pm meetings, business travel over midterm – should you speak up about these issues or suck it up? Not so long ago, it was mostly mothers asking for – or biting their tongues around – work flexibility.

The ESB has embraced hybrid working, says Clive, and staff are more emboldened about speaking up. “There are some incredible women in here who are willing to speak up around that. They have inspired others.”

Dads who share childcare responsibilities are speaking up more now too. Clive recalls an instance where someone asked whether he could attend a late meeting.

“I said, actually I have to check with my wife. Somebody came up to me afterwards and said: ‘I’m so glad you spoke up there’. I recognise that I have an onus to speak up on these things because it’s not just for me, it’s for those behind me.”

“I don’t see it limiting my career,” he says. “There are more parents talking about these issues.”

‘For the first time, I am able to collect my kids from school’

“Remote work is not a perk, it’s not a nice to have, fringe benefit, it’s not working from home only in a crisis, it’s not something you grant and then withdraw, it is a new way of working that is changing lives around the world…” So read a recent LinkedIn post from Paul Byrne, a father of three who lives in Blackrock in Co Cork. He was astounded when it garnered 5.5 million impressions and 65,000 likes worldwide. It’s a topic close to his heart.

He was in the Naval Service when his oldest child daughter Katie was born. “I missed an awful lot of her early years. Her first steps – all of that stuff. I left the Navy mostly because of that.”

Katie is now 16. Paul went on to have Anthony (15) and Ava (7) with his partner Nina. In his subsequent job, a commute meant doing the school run wasn’t an option. He now works for sales and customer support company Otonomee. Everyone works remotely.

I missed out on everything with Katie and Anthony growing up. Now, I am standing around with all the other mothers and fathers, and I think it’s brilliant

—  Paul Byrne

“It has completely changed my life. It has changed my family’s life. For the first time, I am able to collect my daughters and my son from school,” says Paul. “My mother was sick last year and she was here with us and I was able to look after her. You are able to do the things that you traditionally would not be able to do.”

Parents are specifically choosing to work for the company because of the ability to work remotely. “Fathers and mothers intentionally want to take that commute piece away, that rushing around,” he says.

Nina works from home too, and the couple take turns with the school run. He can still be at his desk for 9am. He sees the biggest shift in the time he spends with Ava.

“Previously, I was always doing 10-12 hour days, I was travelling a lot. We collected Ava from the childminder at 6pm or 7pm and she would have been wrecked tired. I’d get home and she was gone to bed. Now, I can collect her from school. I can bring her home and give her lunch and sit with her and do her homework on my lunch. It’s a complete game-changer.”

The cost of €1,500 a month they were spending on childcare is gone too.

The blurring of work and home enriches work culture too, says Paul. “The people that report to me don’t just see me as a boss, they see me as a dad and as a person,” he says. “You are no longer seeing people in an office setting, you are seeing them at home. These people are in your home. My daughter has run on to sales calls. It brings a bit of humour, it lightens the mood.”

Being at home has opened his eyes to the so-called “second shift” put in by his partner, too. “It gave me an appreciation for what happens at home, what happened when I was out. Coming home and seeing the place clean, that doesn’t just happen. It’s brought us closer, without a shadow of a doubt.”

His relationship with his eldest daughter Katie has strengthened too. “She loves when I drop her to school, she loves when I collect her, coming out and seeing the car there. She never had that, and she never would have had that if I was [still] in an office.

“I missed out on everything with Katie and Anthony growing up. Now, I am standing around with all the other mothers and fathers, and I think it’s brilliant.”

‘While I’m working, my son comes in’

Gerard O’Carroll is father to sons Yann (22) and Lucca (18). He is a lecturer at Munster Technical University, and lives in Tralee with his wife Dominique. Yann has Down syndrome. When his sons were small, Gerard was fully office-based.

“Having a child with extra support needs, if I had been at home more often, that would have taken the pressure off my wife,” he says.

While he could work from home before the pandemic, he does it a lot more now. “Yann lives at home with us. He’s at home and I’m at home. While I’m working, he’s around the house, so he’ll come in and bring me a cup of coffee, as opposed to just seeing me after five or six in the evening,” says Gerard.

If I was out at work all day and was then out at meetings in the evenings, that probably wouldn’t go down very well in a relationship

—  Gerard O'Carroll

Someone working from home can enable a home carer to take breaks, he says. “There is always somebody there if they need to go out shopping or something. Even though he is independent, we might not feel comfortable about leaving him on his own for a long time. It definitely gives more freedom to the partner, often the mother.”

Gerard is national president of Down Syndrome Ireland, a volunteer role. Working from home gives the family space for him to volunteer. “If I was out at work all day and was then out at meetings in the evenings, that probably wouldn’t go down very well in a relationship.”

Dads of children with additional needs are no strangers to caring responsibilities, he says. “There was often a greater participation by fathers in that situation out of necessity, especially when children are younger and there might have been a lot of medical needs, appointments and logistics. Covid probably made it more mainstream,” says Gerard.

He is seeing more dads at Down Syndrome Ireland events. “When Yann was young, it would have been mostly mothers. That has significantly changed. Sometimes you might have as many dads as mothers, that’s new.”