This is the first in a series of blogs, which looks at the juggling act between working professionally and becoming a parent. Accompanying the transition to parenthood requires a change in assumptions, beliefs, behaviour and motivations on the part of the parents concerned.
For a woman, it is probably one of the most challenging and exciting transitions; amplified by a great deal of mental and physical changes and unknowns, with associated fears; especially with the 1st child.
Fathers however, are often overlooked during this transition period; despite their conflicting desires to spend more time with family, whilst upholding professional aspirations. So, in Part 1 of this blog, I am going to start with how Fathers can better balance parenthood and professional work.
I remember when my first daughter was several months old, my Mother commented about my husband, “John is good. He is often home to do the bath and bedtime routine and is a very hands-on Dad.” My Mother’s comments highlighted the changes just between our generation; her perception that John was “good” and our perception that John wouldn’t have had it any other way – he wanted to be “hands-on”! That said, it was a challenging time and changes had to be made.
There may have been these social changes, but how is this shift in the role of a Father accommodated by organisations? What is the impact on Fathers’ lives and at work? One client captured a typically consistent message we hear from male Professionals, who are also Fathers:
“There was a lot of guilt in our home….I felt guilty at work when I had to leave the team so that I could be home in time to do bath and bed-time; guilty at home when I couldn’t leave a key meeting and I knew my wife really needed me at home; guilty that I had gained weight and could not allow myself the luxury of playing sports to stay fit, guilty if I said “yes” to a spontaneous social event after work ……all stressful and at times, overwhelming…..”
Often, there is less of a support network for Fathers and these feelings of overwhelm or guilt are not typically shared. So, how can you juggle effectively and feel like you are winning in all areas of your life? Below are some practical strategies:
Understand your own values:
What is important to you as a Father? If you did have all the time and resources, what are you doing and who are you being as a Father? Make a note of these values and look at them regularly, so that you do not lose sight of them when life is especially busy. Ask yourself, how much am I honouring these values? Most of us don’t want to look back with regrets and “should-haves”.
Hands-on Father – quality v quantity?
Everyone says “if only I had more time”…Rather than focus on creating more time, stop and consider how you are spending time today with your children. In that period post work/pre-bedtime, how fully present are you?
If you know that your phone is close by and each time you hear a ring or a beep, you become distracted, then turn it off. If by being in a suit, you can’t race around the garden/be a horse/rugby tackle…then get changed straight away (also great for helping you “switch off”). Make some changes so that you are truly focused on the family, create some memories and then, even if it was for a total of 30 minutes, you will feel that you have had quality time together and guilt quickly diminishes.
Conversations at work
Allow yourself the luxury to consider this question: “if I had the best balance, what would that look like?”. Identify some clear changes, however small, that you know would make a difference. Label each change as “x”. Then, complete this sentence: “I am not asking for “x” because I am assuming “y”.
Challenge the assumption “y”- do you really know this is true? How much is fear/pride holding you back from asking? What is the cost of that? One of the reasons I love my job, is that people never cease to surprise and amaze me. Take a leap of faith and ask for what you need; be it from your team or your seniors Managers – you may be pleasantly surprised and you could even help re-shape the culture at work!
What energises you?
Pre-parenthood, it may have been sports, evenings out with friends/partner, days out playing golf/sailing, reading, writing…….Often, this area of our life is the first thing that disappears when we are juggling professional life and parenthood. “No time” excuse again. Yet, for all of you who are parents, you know that you need a lot of energy to enjoy parenthood, you need a “full battery”. If you come home with a full battery, everyone wins!
Stand back and work out how you can bring some of your “energisers” back; albeit with some potential amendments and self-discipline! Can you cycle to work, read a book in green space/do a run/swim/gym session at lunchtime?
Communicate with your partner:
I wonder how many of your conversations centre around lack of sleep, a stage your child is going through, food shopping/dinner ideas, work, house jobs, fitting in visiting family…….and then you wonder why you feel rather emotionally disconnected from your partner!
Often, both parties feel the same yet nothing changes- both too tired! So, take the lead here and create a moment to remember what you like doing together that makes you feel connected. Having remembered those things, what practical strategies do you need to come up with to reconnect? Could be finding a babysitter for some time out, doing a walk/water sports/theatre/comedy club together, having a late breakfast/lunch without the children….
My challenge is to reflect on some of the ideas above and then ask yourself:
What new strategies (actions & behaviours) do I want to commit to; so that I can effectively reconcile my professional and personal obligations; to ensure high performance at work, feel energised and have a healthy balance?