Being a working dad can lead to feelings of guilt and stress because of divided attention between work and family. It can be a bit of a balancing act.
As a busy working dad myself, I understand. I know what it’s like to feel exhausted. To be burdened down with guilt for going to work. To rush around, constantly behind with the chores.
Here are 10 ways to help you say goodbye to stress, guilt and pressure and say hello to doing what it takes to get balance, happiness and fulfilment back in your life. But don’t try to tackle them all; just choose a few. Because while we might think we can have it all, we can’t do it all.
1. Let go of guilt
Rather than feeling guilty about time you don’t spend with your children, think about how your career is benefiting your family. Perhaps you can afford certain toys or educational activities or you’re able to save money for their futures. You don’t have to spend every second of every day with your children to be a good dad. It’s actually okay to say, “Do you know what, I’m allowed to enjoy the time I spend away from my children. And that’s okay.”
Working fathers should know they are not alone and they should discuss their feelings of guilt with other dads and support groups. Local dad blogs, such as Working Dads against Guilt, are a great way to reach out to others. Make a pact with yourself today – no more daddy guilt.
2. Banish manic mornings
Banish manic mornings by getting yourself organised the night before. Pack the kids’ lunch boxes and lay out their clothes (plus your own and your wife’s) before you go to bed. “You should also get the breakfast things out, pack the nappy bag, rucksacks, manbag, or work bags to avoid last minute chaos,” suggests Paul Peach, the founder of Organised Dads UK. Knowing that a lot of the morning tasks are taken care of will allow you to spend time eating breakfast with the kids. Tactfully suggest to your wife that she could help by making her own sandwiches and ironing her own tops.
3. Create a family calendar
Put a family calendar in a place where everyone can see it, for example on a cork board in your kitchen. Include a chore chart for your wife and kids, a list of school and family events, reminders for your wife, evening activities, shopping lists, birthdays and to-do lists. Give your wife and kids different-coloured pens to encourage them to take ownership of their tasks. Paul Peach suggests setting aside 30 minutes each Sunday to prepare for the upcoming week. Get the whole family in front of the chart and discuss the week ahead together.
4. Communicate with your boss
Dads seeking paternity leave shouldn’t be afraid to ask their boss questions. The two most important are, “How much time can I take off?” and “How much of that time will be paid?” It’s also a good idea to discuss flexible working arrangements such as jobshare and part-time working in case you change your mind when the baby arrives. Remind your boss that many of the skills you learn as a dad are transferable to the workplace.
5. Create moments for yourself
Men are taught to be nurturers and to take care of everyone around them. This year, make sure to put yourself first occasionally. A refreshing break will help you to recharge your batteries. Take time every day (even if it’s just five minutes) for you to meditate, take a walk, listen to your favourite song, curl up with a good book or take a bubble bath – whatever makes you happy. Try to fit in time for exercise, take a Pilates class or focus on a craft such as card-making. Remember to eat well and get enough rest: simple things that even the smartest dads neglect.
Finding valuable “me time” is all about managing your schedule. “Because your time is divided between family and your career, manage your energy levels well,” says Peach. “You can’t be an effective father or husband if you’re tired and emotional, so take time to care for yourself to feel relaxed and effective.”
6. Ask for help
Ask your wife to babysit once every couple of weeks – even if you have nothing planned. It’s just nice not to have to rush home sometimes. Use the time to shop for store cupboard essentials, treat yourself to a haircut, have a coffee with another dad or go late-night shopping. Enjoy your free time and try not to feel too guilty about saying: “Actually, I can’t do everything and I’m not afraid to ask for help.”
7. Make-ahead meals
Do yourself a favour and tackle one of the biggest daily stresses by batch-cooking simple and nutritious family suppers in advance: it’s the secret weapon of every superdad.
Cooking ahead will reduce your food bill and save you time and energy. You’ll waste less food and save hours in the kitchen. Freezer meals are great because even your wife and kids can press reheat on the microwave, or turn on the oven. This means you can actually have a night (or two!) off from the kitchen.
8. Get smart with cleaning
Split the cleaning into chunks, and tackle one area per day so it doesn’t seem so daunting. Do the dishes as you go along and tidy the kids’ toys away at the end of the day. Try to get into the habit of doing the cleaning in the same order every time. This will help you to do it more quickly and efficiently. If you don’t enjoy cleaning, why not put your favourite track on and build aerobic exercise into your routine? If you’re feeling really cheeky, ask your wife to help. The worst she can say is no.
9. Don’t compare yourself with other dads
We’ve all been there. We see him at the school gates and wonder how he does it. The dad who has it all – perfect hair, a smile, happy kids, an amazing body and a bathroom that sparkles – and it’s hard not to get jealous. He even finds time to bake for the school fete. But do you know what? His life isn’t perfect. He has his off days just like the rest of us. However tempting it is, don’t compare your inside with another person’s outside.
Paul Peach thinks that the problem isn’t just with dads – it’s with all men. “We think we should do it all and have it all,” he says. “The expectations of being a good dad are unrealistic. We become so insecure that we end up judging other dads in the process. All of a sudden we’re competitive when we should be respecting and celebrating each other’s choices.”
10. Remember to stay hydrated
You get much more done when you are hydrated. Your mind is clearer and you make better decisions. However busy you are, you must remember to drink enough fluids. It’s so easy for the hours to whizz by and to completely forget about yourself. Many dads are guilty of this on a daily basis. If you don’t like water, put a slice of lemon in it.
- @manwhohasitall is a frazzled working dad with a wife and three kids. He spends his 'me time' on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook, giving other busy dads supportive lifestyle advice and sanity-saving tips