There’s no doubt that change can be exciting.
New opportunities bring with them hope for new rewards, better prospects, additional chances for success and happiness.
But there’s also no doubt that change can be challenging; the unknown can be frightening and the risk of failure, daunting.
So, imagine this. Your life changes overnight, profoundly and irreversibly, in the following ways:
- Sleep deprivation and exhaustion become the norm
- Your social life is almost completely obliterated
- Your ability to concentrate and function at work are seriously impaired
- Life purpose takes on a whole new meaning
- Time you previously spent exercising becomes lost
- The future looks so much brighter (whilst also looking incredibly difficult and stressful)
- And the definition of fun becomes something so beyond your comprehension you need a translator to even begin to understand
Welcome, my good friends, to fatherhood!
One of literature’s greatest writers in one of the greatest novels summed it up when he wrote, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” (Dickens in “A Tale of Two Cities”).
The context wasn’t but could easily have been the onset of fatherhood. Rarely in life is such joy and happiness married with feelings of uncertainty and of being overwhelmed. Rarely in life are we so quickly thrown new demands and expected to master them so fast. Parenting, it could be said, is the ultimate oxymoron!
At the same time, however, it’s important to remember that like almost everything else in life, this challenge can be met. It has been by millions of other dads before you; and it will be by you and millions more in the future. Stress is not all bad; in fact, challenges can and should be seen as opportunities to learn and grow, to mature and to become better.
With this in mind, I present to you my Top Ten Tips for managing stress as a new father:
- Remember, that this too shall pass! I’m referring, here, to the difficult aspects of new fatherhood; especially the tiredness and disruption to routine. Baby’s settle, grow, and life returns to normal (albeit a “new normal”).
- Focus on the positives. As challenging as the aforementioned changes can be, it should go without saying that there is also much that’s wonderful about becoming a dad. That being said, it’s easy to forget these on days you can barely tie your shoelaces or string a sentence together but the more you can find ways to keep perspective the better for all involved.
- Make fun of the negatives. It might be hard to imagine at times but there will come a day when you’ll look back on the dirty nappies and projectile vomits, on the early nights and the late nights, and find a way to smile. The sooner you can make light of these situations the less you’ll be overcome with stress.
- Don’t neglect your own self-care. Remember that you can’t be a good father (or husband/partner) if you’re sick and tired and miserable. So, although it’s easier said than done, try to make time for what you need to do for your own health and wellbeing.
- Which is another way of saying, prioritise! Take a minute to reflect on what’s really important. In all likelihood, you won’t be able to do everything you did before this new addition to your life. What, then, can you let go and what do you really want to hold on to?
- And don’t forget, you don’t have to do it all on your own. Help is almost always available. This includes professional help but also, friends and family. And most obviously…
- Work together with your partner as a team. Determine how you can best parent together. Discuss crucial issues such as discipline and health, ideally sooner rather than later, and where differences arise try to find some common ground.
- Do what you do best, and let others do the same. Not all parenting tasks need to be shared equally. There will undoubtedly be things that you will enjoy more and be better at, as there will be tasks your partner will perform more easily or efficiently. Work this out and review regularly.
- Learn from others. You’re not the first dad who’s found his new role stressful; and you won’t be the last! Talk to family and friends, colleagues and connections and glean any tips you can from those who’ve gone before.
- And ultimately, accept the reality of imperfection. No father (or, for that matter, mother) gets everything 100% right all the time. Accordingly, aim for “good enough” parenting and with realistic expectations you’ll find less pressure and stress.