While we hear a lot about the struggles, juggles and joys of being a working mum, working dads can often be left out of the conversation. Research shows that dads have never been so valued or under so much pressure. In fact, 87% of men wished they could spend more time with their children while still feeling the pressure to be the breadwinner.
Here, we share some of the challenges faced by working dads and the new reality that can help balance work and home a little easier.
There is old-fashioned pressure to bring home the bacon.
While we have evolved a long way since the times where Mum stayed home with the children while Dad went out each day to make a living, our internal hard wiring may still be playing catch up. According to research, 47 per cent of working dads feel stressed about having to be 'the provider' or 'the rock' for their family.
Many working dads still associate their success and value as a parent with being a good provider for the family. These ingrained thinking patterns create a mental balancing act whereby; "If I take on more at work, I may be better positioned for a promotion, yet if I take on more work, I may see less of my family."
The reality is that many workplaces are evolving faster than our internal hard wiring, which is good news for working dads. Workplaces are recognising that longer hours don't necessarily correlate with higher performance - rather balance does. Many workplaces are very supportive of working parents regardless of gender in their leave policies, flexible hours, and supportive culture – it is a matter of finding the right fit for you.
In addition, blended families, extended families, same-sex families, and single dads all co-exist alongside traditional male and female structures, challenging our conventional breadwinner views.
"I would rather be playing with the kids than at work."
Before fatherhood, writing that report may have given you meaning, purpose, a sense of achievement and hunger to further your career. Now, writing that report feels unfulfilling when compared to playing Lego with the kids. What once seemed so important seems insignificant when it comes at the expense of family time.
The reality is that there are many things we would love to be doing instead of work – golf, travel, driving sports cars, fishing, drinks with mates, volunteer work or our side hustles though we can't do all these things instead of work. The secret is finding joy in both your home and working life.
If your job makes changing nappies seem like nirvana, then perhaps it is time to question what you would like your job, career, and workplace to look like in the future and start driving towards that outcome.
It is also helpful to think about what kind of role model you want to be. Perhaps, you'd like your children to know they need not feel stuck in a job they dislike and have the choice to change directions in their future. Children like to be proud of their parents and understand that sometimes work needs to come first. And, if they feel loved, secure, and connected at other times, they are likely to be your biggest supporters when work calls.
"I'll be in the firing line when I get home."
Your partner has been home all day with a toddler tear-away and your youngest's whaling lungs are in overdrive. If you've had a shocker day at work, then coming home to a warzone can feel like a double whammy. If you've had a great day, chances are you'll be playing it down out of respect for your other half. Either way, you're not quite sure what's on the other side of that front door, and it makes coming home at the end of a workday more stressful.
Every family has a different way of handling that transition from work to home. Some dads come home and quickly relieve their partner from parenting to give them a break. As a couple, they reconnect, relax, and unwind when the children are in bed. Other dads may shake off the day with a quick gym session on the way home so that they are pumped with endorphins to face the bedtime routine.
It may be that an adjustment to roles and routines is needed for a little while. Creating new home routines that work for the entire family can bring you closer to your partner and kids and open up a whole world of new experiences you never knew existed. Who knows – you may discover you have that special touch when it comes to calming a crying baby, or you might end up discovering a talent for cooking you never knew you had?
Doing chores as a family or helping with homework can also be a fantastic opportunity to spend quality time with the kids and connect, bond and build a long-lasting relationship – (you'll be grateful you did once they reach teenage years!).
The reality is that while you may feel like you are walking on eggshells at the moment, there are strategies you can put in place so that you are your partner find a routine that works for you - which is a great way to take the conflict and stress out of coming home.
Groundhog Day – Work, kids, sleep, repeat
So parenting isn't quite the joyous experience you imagined? Work, home, kids, sleep – repeat. Feeling stuck in a rut like Bill Murray's character in Groundhog Day (1993)?
The great news is that it doesn't have to feel this way. Start by thinking about some of those areas you control that are all about you and mix it up a bit. Try a different type of lunch, a different café, a different way to work, even a different bedtime routine.
As a family, you can also mix up the monotony by having things you can look forward to. Maybe you'll plan a short weekend getaway to the mountains for this winter and have a long-term plan to save up for a pool. Planning for the future motivates you to reach personal goals, which positively impacts your morale. Whether it be purchasing a house or saving for a holiday, working towards something can help you get through the toughest of days.
The reality is that life doesn't have to be work, kids, sleep, repeat; it may take a little more planning than your "pre-children days", though it doesn't make it any less rewarding.
Relaxing after work? I don't think so.
After a long day at work dealing with customers or working on big projects, it's important to find ways to recharge and reconnect, even when there are kids in the picture. Winding down after work is essential for your relationships, performance at work, and especially your mental health.
A little self-care may be in order, and while that does not seem like a blokey thing to consider, it can actually make you a better father, partner, colleague and employee. Getting in a quick cardio session before dinner, playing video games or watching a movie with your partner after the kids go to bed are all great ways to unwind and relax for the next busy day.
Being a working dad doesn't have to mean all you do is work and parent. It also doesn't have to result in your hobbies, routines and things that bring you joy being pushed aside.
The reality is there may be compromises – know it doesn't mean that your life entirely revolves around the family at the expense of your sanity and identity. Talk with your partner about how you can create time to do the things you both love, especially if your partner spends a lot of time with the kids.
Reports show 75 per cent of working dads want to be more involved in the caring and upbringing of their kids. Despite this, the same report shows very few working dads actually take time off.
"I feel guilty all the time."
We have all been caught up in a work project that consumes our time and thoughts around the clock. Many working dads will tell you that they've been stuck between a long-winded project and a dance recital at least once, and while sometimes work deadlines will take precedence, other times, the dance recital should.
The pressure to be a provider while maintaining presence in your child is a challenge and stressor for many working dads, with 48 per cent of employed fathers saying they spend too little time with their kids because of work commitments – it is evident dads feel the impact of what is coined working Dad guilt.
Psychologist Daniel B. Peters says that "Feeling guilty means you want the best and that you want to do more to be connected to your kids", which is an admirable quality of great dads.
The reality is that quality time with your family beats quantity anytime. Trying to make those moments with your kids and family really count is what will make all the difference. Experts suggest turning off your device notifications when you get home to be fully present when spending that quality time with your family. Another way to have quality time is to be interested in the things that matter to your children. Interested parents can form beautiful bonds with their children. The moments you spend with your kids' reading a story, kicking a ball around or watching a movie with them are the moments they remember and are perfect opportunities for bonding.
Remember, children also cherish having parents at their sports games, dance recitals and school events, so if there is a way to make them a priority, your children will really appreciate having you there.
"Being a working dad isn't what I expected."
Not only do 59 per cent of new dads feel that having a baby is more demanding than they thought, on top of this, adding the stress of work is enough to make a working dad feel like their world is shifting beneath their feet. Between relationship adjustments, drastic changes in routine, lack of sleep and extra responsibilities, it is normal to feel blind-sided by fatherhood.
A lack of information and awareness in the mental wellbeing of expectant and new fathers means that many dads can feel like they need to 'get on with it' and 'suck it up'.
Fortunately, there is more help available for parents than ever before, and many dads who once felt overwhelmed are now enjoying the joys of parenthood. It is perfectly normal to need or want a little help, and there are plenty of options available.
Consider creating an informal Dads group that catches up socially. Join a Mr Perfect BBQ. Find a social media group where you can share experiences. Speak to a health professional like a psychologist or family counsellor. The right type of support can make a world of difference to your health and happiness as a working dad.
Being a working dad presents a series of challenges for which most of us are unprepared. Working dads often feel like they are only surviving and sacrificing the time they wish they could spend with their family working to provide them with a better life.
As we've shown, the reality is that parenthood can be a joyous experience. Yes, it may require adjustments, compromise, and even some support, but, with a bit of planning, you can minimise the extra stress, pressure, and sleepless nights. There can be time for Lego, superheroes, nerf guns, ballet, footy and good times!
• Feeling overwhelmed as a working dad is not unusual, with 87% of fathers wishing they had more time with their kids.
• Nowadays, many workplaces are very supportive of working dads and recognise that work-life balance is important at all levels removing the perception that longer hours equal better performance.
• Working dads may question their career choices as their once-loved job now feels insignificant when compared to quality time with the family.
• Coming home after a long day doesn't have to feel like walking into a warzone; there are strategies you and your partner can put in place to create routines that work for the both of you.
• Being a working dad doesn't have to mean every day is Groundhog Day. Creating events to look forward to, will help give your work and life meaning and a sense of accomplishment.
• A little self-care is not selfish or emasculating – it can make you a better dad, partner and even employee.
• If you're struggling with parent guilt, think about what you can do to make the most of the time you do have. Quality beats quantity every time.
• There is a great deal of help and support if you feel overwhelmed as a working dad. It can be social support from your mates, help from your partner or assistance from a health professional.
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