The data is in! Research shows that children of present, engaged fathers are less likely to drop out of school, go to jail, and avoid high risk behaviors later in their lives, such as smoking, underage drinking, or teen pregnancy. This is great news, especially as cultural roles are shifting and many families are choosing to share parenting more equally between caregivers.
As important as that is, many fathers struggle to balance work life and being an active, involved parent. While this is a struggle that many moms face, with cultural expectations that women take the primary role in parenting, as well as trying to have a career, dads may experience unexpected challenges today that their parenting partners may not. In this article, we look at some specific challenges of modern fatherhood and ways to cope positively with the stresses of work-family life.
The challenges of modern fatherhood
A study by the Pew Research Center found that 50 percent of working dads find it “very or somewhat difficult” to balance all their responsibilities at work and home. Issues that arise include:
While more and more workplaces are starting to grant paternity leave, many do not or the time is very limited. Extremely few worksites offer paid leave. Families are often in a bind with the financial impact of using paternity leave, particularly if the father is the parent primarily responsible for family income.
Having a new baby means added financial stress – from hospital, doctor or midwifery fees to diapers and more. With societal pressure for men to be the “providers,” dads may feel more stress about finances.
Parenting means not really clocking out at the end of the day. Instead, there are dirty dishes, laundry, diapers that need changing… It can be tempting to revert back to being the “fun” parent, and leave the chores to your partner, or let them pile up for the weekend. Keep reading for suggestions about how everyone can get their needs met.
All new parents are sleep deprived. For working partners, particularly in a job that requires a high level of physical or mental effort, having sleep disturbed can create stress on the job and at home.
Less Social Time
After your baby is born, partners simply don’t have the time together they had before.
Single dads often struggle to find time for friends.
While postpartum depression happens to some mothers, dads can also experience depression and/or anxiety after a new baby. And because it’s less common, sometimes it goes unnoticed and/or untreated.
So what’s a dad to do?
There are lots of challenges to finding a proper work-family balance, but there are also many things you can do to help you walk the tightrope!
Before the Baby
- Go to prenatal classes to get information about newborns.
- Think about what kind of father you want to be. Talk with your partner about how you see each of your roles.
- Talk about all the responsibilities in running your household and how you will share them.
- Discuss nighttime parenting, and make a plan for responding when baby needs you in the night. Be creative together to find ways to support each of your needs. For example, if mom is breastfeeding baby, dad can retrieve, change, burp, and/or return baby to their sleeping space.
Plan for support
- Family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors often want to support you; don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.
- When friends visit the new baby, let them do your dishes or put in a load of laundry around your visit. They are more than happy to pitch in to help everyone adjust.
- Consider starting an online meal train for family, friends, coworkers to sign up on.
- Can a family member be “on call” to be with the baby if you have a sudden work issue you need to deal with at home?
- Calls, texts or video chatting with far-away friends can provide emotional support or new parenting tips.
- Talk with your supervisor or union representative to give them notice and ask for support.
- Is paternity or Family Medical leave available? How does it work at your workplace?
- Can you use vacation time when the baby comes?
- Can your schedule change to be more adaptable to your needs?
- Is working at home part time an option
- Let coworkers know what’s happening – they might offer all sorts of support in and outside of work.
The baby’s here!
- Take turns holding, cuddling, and caring for your baby.
- If mom is breastfeeding, you can bottle-feed the baby with expressed milk after breastfeeding is well-established, at least two weeks after birth.
- Make sure mom has something to eat and drink next to her every time she feeds the baby.
- As we said earlier, nighttime parenting is a big topic. Working out who gets up, when, and does what with baby is a delicate balance for a two-parent household, let alone if you are a single parent. We encourage open communication and creative solutions. This can be a special time, and we encourage you to navigate the ups and downs together.
Leave work at work and home at home
It’s not always possible or desirable to separate work and family life. Who doesn’t want to show photos of their baby to co-workers? How tempting is it to check that one email from your boss when you’re at home? But it’s important most of the time keep your focus where you are. Transitioning from work to home can be challenging, especially since you likely missed your baby and partner. Here are a few suggestions that have worked for other parents:
- If you drive to work, give yourself five minutes in the car when you get home.
- Create a meditation that helps you let go of work before you walk in the house.
- Change out of work clothes as soon as you get home to physically mark the transition from work to home.
- When you get home, turn off your phone and computer, or put on silent.
- Greet both your partner and your baby. Partners can feel left with all the focus on baby.
Self-care is for dads, too!
Moms and dads are better parents when you take good care of yourselves. It’s challenging with a new baby, but eating healthy, exercising, getting adequate sleep, and making space in your schedule for time with friends will all make a positive impact on your mood, energy level, relationship with your spouse and baby, and outlook on life.
If you are feeling overwhelmed with stress, depressed, or overly anxious, get outside help – support groups, counseling or talking with your family doctor can provide the support.
Build your support network
Parenting can be a lonely journey without good friendships, and moms aren’t the only ones who benefit from having friends with similar-aged children. Whether you are a working dad or stay-at-home dad, consider making dad friends to schedule playdates or other outings with. WellMama currently offers a Meetup for Dads & Partners every second Wednesday of the month at Hop Valley Brewing in Eugene. This is a low-pressure monthly social gathering for new and expectant fathers and partners of birth parents to swap stories and tips and learn how to be a supportive partner during the journey of parenting.
Joys of fatherhood
Balancing work and family is hard for everyone and fathers have some particular challenges. But times are changing to support men who have healthy work lives and are active dads. It may be hard to walk that tightrope, but you can do it and the rewards will be worth all the effort. Both you and your parenting partner can get your needs met with open communication and creative strategies.
This article is brought to you by Parenting Now Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com).