Key points in this blog:
1) Parenting emerged as the key challenge for midlife men aged between 40-55 in the Understanding Men in Midlife research.
2) Parenting can present us with difficulties and challenges. Each of us may find different aspects of parenting difficult.
3) Parenting in 2024 is a very different experience to our parents’ generation.
4) There is support available, but this can often be unknown and underutilised.
5) Reframing is a useful technique to think differently about what you find difficult.
6) Some coaching questions are included at the end of the article to help you reflect and make positive changes to your situation.
The Issue and Impact
‘No-one gives you a parenting rule book!’
‘No one tells you about that at NCT classes!’'
Hands up if you are a parent and have heard those (or similar) comments over the years?
From the Understanding Men in Midlife research that I undertook last year, the number 1 challenge for men aged between 40-55 was reported to be parenting. This is also a finding of the recent Workplace Health Report 2024 from Champion Health, which stated that 1 in 2 parents cite parenting as a cause of stress outside of work:
“An area often overlooked is the impact parenting has on people, with 1 in 2 parents citing parenting as a cause of stress. What’s more, it’s those with children between the ages of 1 and 5 years old that are struggling the most (74%).”
And, if not addressed positively, the impact of this can be felt not only by the parent themselves, but also amongst those closest to home (including the children), work colleagues and others in and around the workplace.
Just this weekend, Joe Wicks (aka the Body Coach) who has 3 young children posted a lengthy video on Instagram talking about this exact issue, stating:
“Every single day is a battle and it’s a struggle and I find it very hard being a good parent, being a calm, patient, understanding parent, being fully present and engaged. It’s not easy!”
Without doubt those early years are particularly difficult. The inevitable lack of sleep and grappling with new and different tasks and routines. If nothing else, just the sudden weight of this great responsibility for another human being. Of course, it will be different for mums and dads for a variety of reasons. Things change over time and the things that are difficult change and evolve. You seem to master one thing and then another new challenge comes along! This means that it never gets any easier but the challenges (as well as the sources of enjoyment) shift.
Each of us may find different things difficult. Speaking from my own experience, I am not parenting in a ‘nuclear family’. I co-parent and have my two children (now aged 12 and 9) 50% of the time. This instantly provides me with a slightly different set of challenges. My biggest challenge, really, is juggling the demands of self-employment and running my own business with my caring responsibilities. Another thing I have found hard over the years is school mornings although this is easier now that my son is in Year 7 and can do a lot for himself. The other difficulty I’ve faced is deciding and planning what activities to do at weekends – I have been very aware of the need to give them a great home life for the time that they are with me. But I have come to realise that this is just putting myself under more pressure.
I’ve taken inspiration from my own parents and how I was raised but in reality, parenting now is very different from the 1980’s! I’m proud of the relationship I have with both of my children and I love being a dad but it has not been an easy ride.
What Support is Out There?
So, yes, parenting is difficult. Fatherhood is challenging. Do we just accept that, or are there things we can do, to help us deal with the challenges more effectively? For some, the occasional chat with a friend might be sufficient, but for others they might need more than this.
Other than at the odd birthday party and occasionally at the school gates, I’ve had very little interaction with other dads about this. The NCT group I was part of still tries to meet up socially which is great, and I know of other school parent groups that get together but this can be opportunistic, you have to be in the right place at the right time, and it relies on someone taking the lead.
So if you don’t have a local network or 'buddies', what other help is out there? There are books of course (‘Raising Boys’, ‘Raising Girls’ and ‘501 Ways to Be a Good Parent’ are on my shelves), podcasts, coaching, counselling, workshops, speaking to other dads and to other parents.
We should never feel that we are the only ones finding it difficult. That in itself can be helpful.
Looking into it more deeply I’ve discovered that there is actually a lot of support out there for dads, and people doing some brilliant work not only to raise awareness of the everyday issues and pressures but to change things for the better – for example challenging current legislation on parental leave. Perhaps men don’t always look for it, get to know about it or take advantage of this support. It's not really been a 'thing' that society, or the mainstream media, have spoken about. Just get on and do. 'Be a man'! (Eyeroll).
Reframing Your Thoughts
The way we think about things can have a big impact. A simple technique I often try is ‘reframing’. So, instead of thinking – ‘I have to get my kids to school tomorrow’ and the dread that comes from those words, you could reframe this to ‘I get to take my kids to school tomorrow.’ Doesn’t that sound different! It positions things into a place of gratitude, rather than duty. As I remarked to a friend recently, these days won’t last forever and one day the children will flee the nest!
And as one comment on the Joe Wicks post stated:
“The moment I swapped parenting from being some difficult undesirable responsibility to an opportunity to become better at being a dad and a human, it all started to change.”
We all have our personal circumstances and there is no rule book. But if we can be more proactive, reflective, and talk about the challenges more, recognising that each of us have our own unique situations, there is a much greater chance that we will be the dads we hope to be, as well as more pleasant people to be around whether at home or at work.
I can’t give you a blueprint for parenting – there isn’t one. Plus I'm still learning every day. And what works for me may not work for you. So instead, here are some questions for consideration!
List 5 great things about being a dad. Keep them somewhere visible!
What kind of parent do you wish to be? How far away from being that person are you?
Which aspects of parenting do you find (or have you found) the most challenging?
What are the trigger points and what causes these?
What support would be useful to you?
Where have you got support from, or where/who could you go to for support?
What help does your employer/workplace provide for parents currently and/or what else would you like them to do/offer?
What else could you do to help you feel like you are coping better with the demands of parenting?
What one thing would make the biggest difference to you?
How can you reframe your thoughts about parenting?
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