My wife and I are arguing more and I don’t know what to do
I do a three-day week, while she works full-time. But I’m stressed at home and in work
It is all getting too much for this father – so what can he do?
Q I am a father with two boys aged three years and 18 months. My wife has just gone back to work full time and I have taken parental leave so I work three days a week – this means we can just about manage financially (my mother looks after the boys two days a week and we have a child minder one day a week). However, I find myself struggling with the new arrangement. My work seem to be still expecting me to do the work of a full-time person and I am under pressure at home with the kids getting everything done. My wife and I are arguing more (to be fair I think she is finding it hard to be back in work, though we have no choice as her salary is higher than mine).
It feels really stressful at the moment – I am not sure what to do.
Although parenting brings lots of happiness, it is inherently stressful and parents are among the most common group of people to suffer burnout. Many large-scale studies show a peaking in stress and mental health problems for both fathers and mothers around the time of the birth of a new baby and during the subsequent months.
The arrival of children, in particular, can stress the couple relationship and many parents report increased rows and conflict with their partners. Whereas there is some awareness of the stresses for mothers during this time (particularly postnatal depression), there is less awareness of the stressful impacts for fathers though they show the same rates of mental health problems in the studies. Whereas employers may have some sympathy for the needs of working mothers, they frequently have even less understanding of the needs of working fathers.
In addition, there can be particular challenges for fathers when they are in the primary role of caring for children who might find it hard to reach out for support and to access services which are usually targeted at mothers, for example mother and toddler groups.
So bearing in mind all that research, the important thing to realise is that you are not alone and that what you are experiencing is very common. The good news is that there is a lot you can do to address the stress you are experiencing as a working father and below are some suggestions.
Make a plan
Be proactive and make a plan as to how you are going to deal with the stresses. In particular, it can help to map out a good routine for when you are at home with the children. Simple things can make a difference such as planning a daily walk to the park, making regular visits to family and friends or going to services such as parent and toddler groups.
Make sure to include enjoyable times with the children in the routine as well as “wind-down” time for yourself every day. This can be as simple as taking 15 minutes to read while the children are napping or occupied or agreeing with your wife that you pop out for a 30-minute walk when she gets home.
Co-operate with your wife
Sadly, couples can let the stress of parenting come between them. It can be easy to blame the other person and to fight about problems, when it would work better to join forces and to fight the problems together. Can you and your wife take some time (perhaps with the aid of a baby-sitter) to sit down and talk this through.
Without blame, acknowledge all the different stresses and problems you are experiencing. Writing them on a list can help put them out there in front you so you can work together. Then on the same list, make a plan of the different things you can do to address each of the problems. It can be useful to have a daily listening time with your wife, when each of you can take turns to offload the stresses of the day while the other simply listens.
Attend to your relationship with your wife
In the stress of work and parenting, it is easy to neglect the important relationship with your wife. Whereas before children, happy and fun moments just happened naturally, now you have to plan them and work hard at making sure they occur in the day. Prioritise dates with your wife by arranging a baby-sitter when you can and even when you can’t try to integrate special times into your weekly routine. This can be creating a ritual of cooking a special meal together once a week when the kids are asleep or as simple as cuddling on the sofa each evening as you watch a favourite TV programme together.
Negotiate with your employer
Be proactive and communicate with your manager about the situation you are in. Commonly, employers expect the same amount of work out of part-time staff and you may need to remind him of your limited hours and how as a parent you need to be much more boundaried about your time. Once you take time to communicate, most employers (who may be parents themselves) are relatively understanding and there may be opportunities to negotiate how you take on your work and when it is done.
Some employers can be very “parent friendly” and allow flexible arrangements and even some working from home. If you feel your manager is less sympathetic you might want to check out with the HR department about what policies are in place for parents that you can drawn upon and do seek external advice as needed.
Finally, if you find your stress is continuing do seek support and counselling for yourself. You might want to start by consulting your GP about your options.
Dr John Sharry is a social worker, psychotherapist and codeveloper of the Parents Plus Programmes. He will be delivering a number of parenting workshops this autumn, including Parenting Young Children on the October 20th and Parenting Teenagerson the October 21st (both in Dublin) as well as Helping Anxious Children on the November 18th in Cork. solutiontalk.ie
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