Life as a parent is busy. Research regarding child development, and an innate need to spend more time with our children than our parents spent with us, has led to an increased urgency to ensure our children’s lives are full of memories and laughter. Add to that partner, work and any other competing commitments we may have, and the risk for burnout is always lingering.
When I speak to my male friends about if and how they prioritize their needs, predominantly self-care, the responses I receive generally centre around the countless responsibilities they have at home, the limited time they have, or the fact that their partners do not take any time off despite working equally as hard. It is at this time that I remind them of two things:
1) Their self-care is an investment in the health and happiness of the whole family unit.
2) If they do not prioritize their needs, no one else will, nor are they obliged to.
The importance of self-care and the benefits derived from it are well documented. They include reduced stress, decreased risk of burnout, enhanced physical and mental state, being more present, positive role modelling for children and personal growth. The main reason why priority taking, and self-care are not more prevalent amongst fathers is the guilt they feel around doing so, as they associate it with selfishness. I know, as I was one of them. The distinction between the two, however, is that while self-care benefits everyone around us, selfish acts only serve to benefit the initiator.
Now that you know this, it may be tempting to run full steam ahead with your newfound self-care regime. However, the culture shock that may create in your family could make for a rough transition. Therefore, this should be a gradual process involving clear communication with those closest to you, and should include the following key elements:
Setting Clear Boundaries
This could be between your work and your personal life regarding when you will and will not use your cell phone, or what day or time of the week you would like for yourself. This will help you create healthier work/life and personal/family balance. This also works in relation to any other integrations that should be separated, ensuring there is quality time for your professional and personal commitments.
The ability to connect with others who share your life experiences is invaluable. Therefore, it is important to connect with other fathers to discuss common challenges, seek guidance and understand that some of the feelings and apprehensions you have are universal.
Involve your partner or family members in household responsibilities and tap other parents for childcare duties. By splitting up your responsibilities, you will be able to gain time. This will alleviate some of the pressure and create a supportive environment for both work and family life.
Nurture Your Health
Consistent exercise, eating healthy and ensuring you have enough sleep are the essentials for optimal health. Finding time to practice mindfulness or partaking in hobbies you enjoy will further allow for ways to unwind and relax. All these activities will foster and maintain a healthy mental state.
Since I started making my needs a priority, I found my life has been more structured and it has improved my decision making. By constantly assessing what activities provide value and focusing on them, I can confidently decline activities I do not deem beneficial, or that do not fit into my schedule without feeling guilt or fear of upsetting the host. It has aligned me with a more authentic version of myself as I use this newfound time to incorporate activities that provide joy in place of those that do not. It has led those close to me to understand me better to the extent that they know what type of events and activities I will attend, and those I won’t. Lastly, a dialogue has been created around this topic that I am able to have with my young children, in the hope that they will model this behaviour when they are adults.
As a modern dad, you need a modern, holistic approach to life. The act of prioritizing your needs is a necessity for a healthier, happier, more resilient you. You may have dependents in your family, and rightly their needs should come before yours. As Paulho Coelho wrote: “When you say ‘yes’ to others, make sure you’re not saying ‘no’ to yourself.” This was not written to ensure your needs come first, or at your partner’s expense, but to make sure they are not last.