Fatherhood

The fatherhood section takes a look at modern fatherhood, how it has changed over the years and what challenges dads face in the 21st Century.

In this guide:

 

Fatherhood

Fatherhood is without doubt the biggest change you’ll face in your life. And most likely the biggest challenge as the experience changes and evolves.

It’s frankly weird that more attention isn’t paid to the impact it has on men’s life.

There’s lots of reasons for that, from cultural to physical. Girls are encouraged to play with dolls from a young age, preparing them for life as a mother one day. Boys are encouraged to play with cars – not that useful for fatherhood. Except perhaps in preparing men for life as a taxi service ferrying kids from one club to another.

While women can’t escape the fact there’s a new life growing inside them for nine months prior to the big day, for fathers it can be a shock and a sudden adjustment when they are first handed their newborn.

It doesn’t have to be like that.

At workingdads.co.uk we understand that fatherhood will impact your approach to work. It ought to. There’s lots to consider before you become a dad and as your kids grow and their needs evolve.

Give a little thought to how you’ll fit work and life together and you’re already ahead of the pack and set to make the most of being a dad.

Becoming a dad

Without going into a biology lesson, becoming a dad is not as straightforward as you might have been led to believe.

Of course there is a chance it’ll happen by accident. It could be a happy accident. But either way it can require some thought and adjustment.

For some it’s much more difficult to conceive. Fertility issues can put great strain on couples. It’s important to support your partner if you’re on that path, but it’s crucial to look out for your own mental health and emotional needs.

Preparing for fatherhood

Once you know you’re going to be a dad it’s important to give it some thought. That doesn’t just mean googling the best buggy or plotting the fastest route to the maternity ward.

You might want to think about the sort of dad you want to be. Hopefully that means being as involved as possible with family life.

From that flows practical concerns. How much paternity leave are you going to take? Will you and your partner make use of Shared Parental Leave? When the parental leave period has ended what sort of childcare arrangements will you make? And if you want to be around for more than just the weekend will you need to change your hours or work from home more?

And you might need to think about how you’ll fund those sorts of changes. For example if you want to take three months of Shared Parental Leave you will have at least six months before the birth and probably six months afterwards to cut your cloth. Stop buying a coffee every day for example and the pounds will begin to pile up.

First you need to have these discussions with your partner. You’re having a baby with her, it shouldn’t be a problem to have an open and honest discussion about how you’re going to divvy the childcare.

Secondly you need to talk to your work. Truth is lots of line managers and HR departments aren’t as clued up as they ought to be about dads rights. That doesn’t mean they are anti, just that they might need some time to get to grips with what you’re entitled to and what your employers might be open to on top of that. So the sooner you start a dialogue with them the better.

Benefits of fatherhood

It’s very much worth taking the time and effort to get involved in your child’s life from the start.

There’s a range of benefits to involved parenting, for everyone. Your partner’s likely to enjoy better mental and physical health in the immediate aftermath of the birth. And they’ll earn more over their lifetime if you take up some of the childcare so they can get back to work sooner – if that’s what they want to do.

Your children will be happier, healthier and smarter.

And you too are likely to be more content at home, more productive at work, you’ll be in line for a better relationship with your partner and your kids and you can expect to live longer.

And these wins don’t require wholesale change (unless that’s how you want to play it). Just a few days or weeks of extra paternity leave or Shared Parental Leave bring the benefits.

So get involved!

Mental health for dads

When your partner has just squeezed out a baby it’s tempting to put her needs first. That’s fine. But it’s important not to do so at the expense of your own mental health.

Becoming a dad can be traumatic if it’s a tricky birth. It’s a shock to the system no matter how your child comes into the world. And then there’s the lack of sleep.

So it’s OK not to feel OK as a new dad. But it’s vital to talk to your friends or family about how you feel and get help if necessary.

Advice for new dads

When I was about to become a dad for the first time I asked an older friend for his one piece of advice. “Get help,” he replied. So for the first time in our lives we hired a cleaner to take some pressure off.

When friends came round to visit our baby we asked that they bring a meal with them. It really helped not having to think about feeding ourselves when worrying about feeding the baby.

And on that point, breastfeeding is NOT straightforward. It’s one of the biggest stresses that they don’t tell you about. It can be hard for men to watch their partners struggle with something that is sold as natural. Support is vital.

When people ask me about becoming a father now my main piece of advice is “good enough is good enough”. Don’t beat yourself up about it or aim to be the best dad ever. Just by being around and trying your best you’re already ahead of the pack.

Childcare

There’s two sorts of childcare – the sort you provide, and the sort you pay for.

It’s easy for fathers to back off from getting involved in the nitty gritty of childcare. They have to go back to work sooner as a rule. So the mum gets more practice that inevitably breeds confidence.

But the benefits to the whole family when dad has a go are immense. It doesn’t really matter if you get the nappy wrong (but try really hard not to), what matters is making the effort. The more you do the nappies, the feeds, the bedtime routine and soothing the better you’ll get at it.

If you and your partner are both going to return to work you’ll need to do something with the baby while you’re out. That can be nursery, nanny, au pair, or even both reducing your hours to split it between you.

Key is to look into the childcare options, decide together what you want and give it a try. Any new arrangement is likely to need a few tweaks. That might mean working from home more, it might mean changing nursery but everyone gets there in the end.

Older kids

As your children grow and start school the childcare conundrum changes. School holidays can be a double edged sword. A great opportunity to spend two weeks of quality time with your family. A bit of a nightmare filling the rest of the time school is shut.

But things are changing here for dads.

There’s a plethora of apps and websites offering tons of tips on what to do with the kids. Many of them are aimed directly at dads.

Many, many workplaces are waking up to the demands on dads. And more fathers are embracing their roles as role models. If you’ve got childcare issues, open up about them at work and other parents will feel comfortable doing the same. Don’t schedule mystery off site meetings in the shared diary, admit that it’s parents night or the school nativity play you’re going to.

Working dads

Most dads are working dads. But there is a challenge in drawing the line between the two where you want it.

Give some thought in advance to what fatherhood will mean – practically, emotionally and professionally – and it’ll be an easier (though never easy!) process.

As a working dad you have rights – to paternity leave, to ask for flexible working – and you’ll be faced with opportunities – mainly to be a huge and positive influence in your child’s life.

At workingdads.co.uk we’ve got the practical information on how to make fatherhood work for you, the advice from other dads on what to look out for, and lots of resources from fathers who’ve been there and are still working their way through it. There’s something for everyone.

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