The singer talks to PEOPLE about the 'ups and downs' of balancing engaged life with both fatherhood and working from at home amid the COVID-19 pandemic

By Topher Gauk-Roger
December 30, 2020 12:50 PM
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Credit: Maya Henry/Instagram

Liam Payne is enjoying every moment of his engagement — even amid a global pandemic.

The singer popped the question to model Maya Henry in August, and the pair have had to adjust to life together as they work from home. "It's been a blessing, but we've had our ups and our downs," Payne tells PEOPLE exclusively. "This has been a very strange year and we were really living on top of each other at one point."

"It's also been one of the busiest times I've had in my life, and I'm super grateful and very fortunate for that," he adds. "But at the same time, it's really difficult if you're on the same floor as your spouse whilst you're working away on your Zooms and you're thinking, 'Oh my God, do I need to go make sure you're okay and give you a cuddle?'"

Payne, 27, and Henry, 20, were first romantically linked in August 2018, but he didn't confirm their relationship until September 2019. (That same month, Henry made the romance Instagram official.) And while the star's schedule remains just as busy at home, he couldn't be happier to have a partner by his side.

"It's a full-time job and sometimes it's really draining, but she's very understanding and we're getting on really really well and having a great time," Payne says.

Also keeping the former One Direction member busy is his 3½-year-old son Bear Grey, whom he shares with his ex Cheryl. According to Payne, it's been a bizarre experience seeing his child become a fully-formed human.

"It's been a difficult ride, but it's fantastic watching him grow into the person he's become," he says. "He's a really lovely boy and I feel like he's in the middle of settling into himself."

"He looks exactly like me, which is very strange. When family members see baby pictures of me now, they say, 'Oh wow, Bear looks really great there!'" Payne adds.

Fatherhood is something the star admits he's had "to learn" over time, but that it's become more natural as he gets older. "I had my son at a young age, and you think it will be a magical thing, that you're going to grow up one day into the person you're supposed to be," he confesses. "But it took a lot to find my footing. I figured, Dad takes care of everyone, that's what he does, so my thing was to cook."

"I recently received his school report, and I feel quite young for school reports, and spoke to the teacher over FaceTime, and I almost felt like I was the child that she was speaking about," he jokes.

With two musicians as parents, it's not surprising when Payne confesses Bear "has shown some singing ability," but that doesn't mean the star is eager for his son to follow in his footsteps.

"I am very frightened about the idea of him entering the world that I'm in," he says. "I will never ever take for granted the position I'm in, I love it very much and I've been doing it for 11 years, but it's a lot to enter it so young."

"I maybe missed out on different things, but I will never stop him from doing something that he wants to do," Payne adds. "I will say he has way more attitude than me on stage. He was wearing a cape the other day and mid-song, he just decided to rip it off! It's ridiculous. He doesn't get that from me. That is strictly from Mum [Cheryl]."

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As for Bear's taste in music, Payne says the toddler hasn't heard much One Direction music, but he does have one favorite in his dad's discography. "I think he's finally put two and two together. When he wants to request a song, he says, 'Alexa, play "Strip That Down." That's his favorite, which is amazing — and after about 20 plays, rather annoying," he says with a laugh.

Payne does reveal a very important One Direction memento he held out on experiencing to one day share with his child. "The one secret I've held to myself is that I've never seen the end of the One Direction film," he explains. "I knew I was going to have a child one day and I actually wanted to watch it with them without knowing how it ends."

"It's a decision I made when I was younger, but I feel like now it means more than ever," Payne adds.

Credit: Courtesy of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Payne has teamed up with the Wizarding World this holiday season for their "Deck the Great Hall" event, inviting Harry Potter fans from around the world to send holiday well wishes via floating candles that will light Hogwarts' Great Hall as well as to help decorate the impressive Hogwarts Christmas tree in their house colors.

As for Payne's hopes going into 2021, he says "finding himself" is on top of his list.

"I'm hoping to write some songs and rewrite my story a little bit, because I don't think that I got it right yet," he opens up. "The music I've been making has been a lot of fun for people, but they're momentary songs, they're not songs that made you think deeper thoughts about someone you really care about. I've really evaluated a lot about myself this year and I think I'm going to take a bit of a different path into 2021."