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As the school summer holidays get underway working dads face yet more challenges. It’s OK to ask for, and to expect, help.
As a parent, and this applies particularly to dads, it’s OK to ask for help.
Men are often raised to be self-sufficient, both emotionally and practically. Partly because that’s how previous generations were taught to behave. Partly because role models from popular culture, from cowboys to superheroes, are that way. Not knowing too often meant failure.
And parenting is such a fundamental part of our identity that to admit you don’t actually know what you’re doing, or at the very least you are struggling (as we all do from time to time), can be a hard step to take.
But times are changing. The current generation of dads are more switched on, demanding a richer and more fulfilling experience of fatherhood.
And older generations are recognising there’s room for improvement.
I well remember when my first child was due, I asked an older friend his advice re fatherhood. “Get help,” he shot back. He explained that could be practical help like hiring a cleaner so you don’t have to worry about the hoovering in those first few chaotic months of parenthood. Or it could mean seeing a therapist to help process the new and powerful thoughts and emotions that inevitably occur along the road when you’re a dad.
And never has parenting been more difficult both practically and emotionally than during a pandemic.
It’s entirely reasonable to ask for help, and indeed expect it from the government.
Now, Boris Johnson’s administration has mucked in through the coronavirus crisis. There’s no doubt the furlough scheme saved jobs in the spring. And, for those that are eligible, the self employed support scheme has been greatly appreciated.
However we still need help.
Some folk are returning to work, yet there’s mixed messages from government about where’s best to work and whether masks will be mandatory in the workplace.
We should stay at home as much as possible. But also go on holiday.
Social distancing has gone to the dogs.
It’s possible none of this matters because there’s very little coronavirus in circulation. Or maybe loosening lockdown is simply inviting another round of restrictions in a few weeks time. With conflicting evidence and no clear line from those in power it’s hard to make an accurate risk assessment. And this matters particularly to parents because we’ve got enough to be thinking about.
Working dads know that the summer holidays are anything but. When schools break up we step up and start muddling through six weeks of childcare. If we’re lucky there might be a week or two off in the middle of it somewhere. But mainly it’s a logistical nightmare. All of which is made more so this year by the absence of holiday clubs or even attractions. You can’t nip to the local museum on a rainy day, you’ll have to book weeks in advance. Want to drop the kids at art club so you can spend the day doing some big work? Ain’t gonna happen. You’re going to have to fit your work around squabbles and loud cartoons and you won’t even have BBC Bitesize to fall back on.
As one parent said in response to our survey on childcare, “I need a break”.
We all need some support. The return of schools in September looks like a kind of finishing line. But it’s still some way off.
It’s not OK to expect parents to yet again shoulder another stressful burden having taken on so much this year already.
The schools may be on holiday but we need respite too.
We must ask the government for more help. Firstly, clear advice and guidelines on health matters would be one less thing to worry about. Secondly, a recognition of the experience of being a parent would we welcome. Followed by some imaginative aid. For example, get the libraries open and host some socially distanced holiday activities there. Or insist museums hold back a certain number of visitor slots for families. These two are ideas off the top of my head. I’m sure the pointy heads of Whitehall could come up with more. I’m sure the great brains of the workingdads.co.uk community also have valuable contributions to make. Leave a comment with your own idea.
And if, after asking politely for help, it’s not forthcoming then we must demand it.