Burning Out Daddy
Burning Out Daddy
The other week, in one of my more uncharitable moods, I asked my husband about his appearance. My comment was not a reference to his good looks, but to find out why there had been an expression of utter exhaustion adorning his face for some time now. My frustration possibly stemmed from the fact that it was like looking into a mirror – I must be looking equally exhausted!
As if by divine inspiration, the answer to my question came not from my husband, but from a number of press articles which covered the story of a recent study commissioned by Working Families and Bright Horizons, the Modern Families Index 2016* – how working families balance work and family time.
The findings clearly demonstrated that fathers, generation by generation, are becoming more involved in family life. As a result, they are experiencing some of the very same problems that working women have been experiencing for generations, including resentment felt towards employers, burn-out, and need for more flexibility at work. However, somehow, the plight of the working father seems different and not so well understood – let alone talked about. Here are a few ways in which the working father seems to be worse off compared to the working mother:
Even though the numbers of men working flexibly is on the increase, the figure is still a drop in the ocean compared to working mothers. While working flexibly may have a number of downsides in terms of career progression, it still affords the luxury of being able to respond to family emergencies more nimbly, without impacting on the working arrangement. It also allows more time to get household chores done and (the dirty secret) it allows more “me-time”. As fewer men have flexible working arrangements, but yet are taking up more responsibilities in the home, their me-time is squeezed or non-existent.
Women have very successfully created support groups for themselves. These include coffee mornings where they can compare notes on levels of exhaustion, or calling up a friend when in need of someone to do the school run for you. For the men who are on daddy-duty, it is not so simple to draw upon the support group’s (mostly female) resources. When my husband was off for four months on Additional Paternity Leave, all mothers were supportive of his choice and presence at the school, but he did not feel comfortable inserting himself into the coffee-scene as I had done whilst I was on maternity leave. Hence a lack of invaluable peer-support when normal care arrangements break down.
Lack of networks
There are hundreds of groups aimed at women, but many fewer aimed at working fathers. It was interesting to note that when the Citymothers network launched in 2012, there was such demand from fathers for their events that in late 2015 they rebranded to CityParents. More of these types of networks are needed which make childcare a family issue, rather than just a women’s issue.
Asking for help when it all gets too much
It seems that women have a more open attitude towards seeking help from third parties. At a recent conference on Wellbeing at Work, a speaker from the company who developed the Headspace app said that most men shy away from seeking help for psychological problems, but prefer to seek help online – hence the almost equal popularity of the app among men and women. I see this in my coaching work as well. Men are usually sent for coaching rather than being proactive about asking for it.
More difficulty in asking for time off from employers
The above-mentioned study also found that men are more likely to ask for a sick day rather than time off to attend to family emergencies. We have experienced this in our family, where it somehow feels easier for me to ask for flexibility from my employer rather than my husband. In the name of fairness, we have often split the damage, taking a half day off each, which has eased the burden on both of us.
So, no wonder my husband looks exhausted: he works nearly a full working week, he shares half of the household chores, he spends every free moment that he can with the kids, he feels like his employer would penalise him for asking for more flexibility, he still wants to exercise but has had to find ways to minimise the time spent on it, he does not have a wide circle of working dads with whom he could share experiences, he is not great at asking for help, and he has a wife who cannot understand why he is looking exhausted. Burn-out Central!
But wait, there is hope! By addressing the five areas of difficulty mentioned above, it is possible to carve out a sustainable path for working fathers. My husband reduced his working week to 4.5 days; he joined CityParents and now attends their seminars at lunchtimes, learning essential parenting skills as well as networking with like-minded people; he has from time to time sought external help (see his most popular blog for Womanthology on “Making Sense and Tuning In”); and, despite feeling awkward at times doing so, he has asked for additional flexibility from his employer when things go wrong at home.
We sometimes think that some of our friends who have resolved this dilemma in a different, more traditional, way (one partner working, the other being a full-time parent at home) really are onto something. But then we think about the benefits of us both working and being at home and it gives us energy to plough on. We will learn to love our panda eyes.
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