New working parents – creating structure around the chaos
As I lay there restless after a long day of work and new dad duties, I’m unable to block out the ‘Please just go to sleep, I have an 8am meeting!’ thought that is spinning round my head on repeat to the soundtrack of a screaming baby. I’m sure new parents can easily picture the scene; and whilst my wife is gently padding around the room rocking our new-born, I find myself overcome with guilt for thinking about my 8am instead of being a dad in that moment. Bringing life into the world is easily the most incredible and life changing experience a person can go through, however balancing childcare with work is a highly challenging period especially for those, like me, who are new to the game.
So, what can you do to help overcome the chaos?
Well, 9 months after becoming a dad, I am now able to reflect on my own mental preparation leading up to the birth and adjusting to the “new norm” afterwards. As dads-to-be, we often find ourselves being “the rock” for our partner and tasked with creating a positive and relaxing atmosphere. However, my own worry and anxiety had already kicked in during the final few weeks before the new arrival, a lot of which I felt I had to internalise. The fear of the unknown, the waiting-game and emergency appointments all contributed to my feelings, and what’s more, my mental notes from attending NCT classes also seemed to have helpfully disappeared at the crucial moment. Despite all this, my daughter entered the world blissfully unaware of the internal battles happening inside my head, and this was the start of a new chapter for my wife and I as parents.
As paternity leave comes to an end, re-adjusting to working life presents a stern test, even for the most well-organised and patient individuals. As the tug of war between family and working life intensifies, priorities need to be re-assessed and fire-drills were no longer confined to the office. Trying to deliver on both fronts simultaneously in a sustained way can become overwhelming and lead to physical and mental exhaustion and even frustration, especially when your dedicated rest time is further disrupted by the glorious night-feeds.
Small admin tasks you would usually perform with your eyes closed, are now sometimes completed with… your eyes closed, which may result in lower standards of output and due diligence. Research suggests that “children do lead to lower productivity by their parents at work when the children are young”. Some individuals may also develop a sense of fear of falling behind at work, not being able to reach the levels of productivity that they were once so accustomed to. On many occasions it is the women who feel they lose out the most in their career, but admittedly I was starting to feel there could now be a personal restriction which would prevent me from achieving my full potential.
Should I be allowed to feel this way? Some working parents may often experience guilt in different forms; from not dedicating enough time to family life or to your work. The “Dad guilt” concept can creep in, where even your favourite hobby or working extended hours, now clashes with bath-time. Skipping a social after work becomes more frequent because you would much rather rest or spend time with your new-born, which as preferences go is a totally normal one to have and should not be frowned upon by colleagues.
It might seem like an impossible task whilst you are still grappling with the new reins of parenthood but I have found that a good starting point for new parents is to create a structure with the right balance that works for you. I wanted to share some of the main personal changes that I had adopted which have helped me:
- Create boundaries: separate work and home life, consider switching the phone off during play time and be present in the moment. During work, ensure you are fully focussed.
- Be patient: acknowledge that change and the new routine may take some time as you ‘learn to walk again’. There is no parent playbook, find a routine that works for you at your pace.
- Celebrate the small wins: your child’s first night of full sleep, their ability to balance and sit for 10 seconds. All are signs of successful parenting, so take a moment to celebrate them.
- Me-time: do not underestimate how important self-care is. It helps you to reset both mentally and physically, re-focus and maintain your identity. Reaching out to others for support or advice is not a sign of weakness or failure, but a sign of courage and bravery.
Employers can also take several steps to ensure the right support is available to employees to help with the transition into working parents. At Finyx, we have implemented the below to ensure that everyone feels supported regardless of where they are on their personal journey. These are:
- Mental Health Champions. Employers should offer safe environments and resources for employees to speak up and gain advice on sensitive matters. Finyx have several Mental Health Champions at all levels of the firm that are approachable and willing to help.
- Coaching and Mentors. At Finyx, employees are assignedCareer Coaches and Mentors. Conversations with their proteges are open and honest to identify difficult periods and create efficient ways of working to help manage challenging project circumstances.
- Work-life balance. At Finyx, there is no such thing as work life balance – there’s just life. No doubt work is very important, but family comes first. Our values underpin our views; We trust our employees to deliver real value for our clients while managing their lives and we provide the autonomy to do so. Remote working and flexible arrangements for most projects help provide reassurance to parents, and opportunities to attend important appointments around client commitments.
- Policy and Benefits. Employers must ensure competitive Maternity and Paternity policies are in place and reviewed frequently, while benefits are tailored to support families such as private healthcare. Finyx has recently enhanced such policies and benefits to ensure employees feel more secure and stable.
Whilst the transition to becoming a working parent is completely different for everyone, creating the right foundations at both a personal and work level will provide the working parent with the best chance of developing that structure and routine that works for them, allowing them to enjoy being a parent rather than simply getting through it.
Does Having Children Lower the Productivity of Professionals at Work (stlouisfed.org)
Why we suffer dad guilt (and how to shake it) (directadvicefordads.com.au)