It feels for many like the darkest hour of lockdown. But through the power of our example working dads can make a difference.
First came the articles claiming the third Monday in January is the most miserable day of the year. Then came the articles debunking that claim and pointing out that it’s just an unsubstantiated puff dreamt up by an enterprising public relations person. But if the person who first coined the term Blue Monday was on commission they’d have had a thin year in 2021.
No-one needed to engage with made up misery this year. There’s plenty of the real thing to go round. As Morrissey didn’t sing: Everyday is like Blue Monday.
It feels as if a lot of people hit the lockdown wall this week. Boredom and hopelessness have set in. There’s good reason for that. The human brain is just doing its thing.
Many of us have got to grips with homeschooling again and settled into a rhythm on that front. Schools are certainly more switched on to remote learning. But it’s not the practical side that’s the issue. It’s the mental. The feeling that we’re three weeks in to homeschool and there’s no end in sight.
Lots of dads will surely be like me, fostering growing concern about how all this impacts my children’s wellbeing. My children seem to cope with all the weirdness thrown at them. Maybe it’s because children are adaptable. Maybe it’s because they are storing up problems for later.
And the clock ticks on their childhood. They’re missing out on time with their friends which is vital to their development and happiness. And they’re missing out on time with their grandparents which they won’t be able to make back.
It’s understandable to seek reassurance in information. But as has been the situation since before the Brexit referendum: too much news is bad for your mental health. Leaks and rumours escape from Westminster. You may scan social media for a hint that lockdown will end sooner rather than later. But all you get is conflicting information and confusion.
Given all that, it’s OK not to be OK. An Oxford Uni study this week revealed that parents are stressed by lockdown. (Quite the big brains at Oxford huh?) Feeling the strain is normal, and buckling under it is inevitable. The only variable is how bad the buckle is.
It’s another reason that communication is key. There’s a snappy catchphrase in there somewhere: Communication is Key with Covid. Write CKC on the back of your hand or something to remember.
For it’s clear that you’re not the only one. Many, if not most, working dads are feeling the strain. Many, if not most, are waiting for someone else to speak up about it first.
Interesting data from Zurich insurance this week, a firm that’s committed to equal parenting. They’ve been doling out free counselling to claimants. Policyholders get five free short term counselling sessions if they want them. Lockdown’s a test of resilience. Toss an insurance claim into that mix and it’s going to take a further toll. So it’s a nice initiative. Yet most of those taking up the offer are women over 30. Very likely mothers. Men are sticking to the stoic stereotype and spurning the sessions. Further evidence that stereotypes hurt men and fathers.
As working dads we need to embrace the art of communication. It might be on you to start the conversation about feeling overwhelmed. Not over a pint in the pub but there’s other ways. A text message to a friend, drop some truth into a lads WhatsApp chat, arrange a virtual pub session over Zoom. I can just about guarantee you’ll be heard, and others will admit not just that they feel the same but that they feel better for talking about it.
And it’s not just about you feeling better.
There was a line in Joe Biden’s inaugural address this week that spoke to me direct as a working dad. He was referring to America when he said ‘we lead not by the example of our power but by the power of our example’.
Dads have power. We tell our kids what to do. Most working dads are the main breadwinner in their household giving them economic power. But true power comes from setting a good example. True strength comes from confronting vulnerability. Admitting that you’ve ragged edges physically and/or mentally is the only way to get help and the best way to help your children.
Working dads are struggling through this lockdown. If we admit it we can confront it and ultimately salve that trouble.
Vaccines are rolling out. We are going to get through this. If we set an example now, speak up and help ourselves and others by doing so we’ll emerge into a better world for working dads.