Des­per­ate dads... ... and mams. Can be­ing a par­ent burn you out?

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Front Page - John Sharry Send your queries to health@irish­times.com 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 Chil­dre

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.

A

lthough 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.

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

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