Take A Break
Fatherhood is not easy. Parenting is a full-contact sport that engages you physically and psychologically. It is an emotional rollercoaster. Sometimes you need to take a break.
If you base your perceptions of fatherhood on what other dads post on facebook, you miss all the hard work and emotional burn out that doesn’t appear in the pictures. Regardless of whether you are a stay-at-home or work-at-the-office parent, a single dad or co-parenting with your partner, you need to figure out how to make and have time for yourself.
If you are in a two-parent household you have easier opportunities to create space for each of you to take a break from the work of parenting. Co-parenting means that you can shift primary responsibility for the kids in whatever way works best for the two of you. You may shift back and forth and take turns with diaper changing or it may be by blocks of time.
As a single parent, it is more challenging to find opportunities to take breaks as needed. The simple answer is to say find a babysitter so that you can get out of the house from time to time. For many single parents it is not that easy since babysitters cost money and single parents tend to have less disposable income. Depending on custody arrangements you may have break time built into your week when your kids are with their other parent. It is also important to build a community of friends, families and neighbours who can help you out as needed. If you have reached a breaking point, it is helpful to ask someone who is close by and trusted to come over and hang out with your kids for an hour so you can get out of the house and decompress or so you can accomplish an important task.
When you work at home as a parent, especially if your kids are not yet school-age, it is hard to find time to breathe, let alone take a break. When you have an infant or a toddler who naps, you can take advantage of the time when they are sleeping to pause and have time to yourself. Of course that all changes if you have more than one kid or when they stop napping during the day. Taking a break might come from inviting a fellow stay-at-home parent or a friend over for a visit, a trip out for coffee or hiding out in the bathroom to read a book.
If you work outside the home and your partner works at home either as a stay-at-home parent or in a home-based office, you are likely to face a degree of desperation from your partner when you get home. Your partner will, on many days, want to hand off the parenting job to you for a while and take a break. You might not be ready to take over as soon as you walk in the door. If you have had a busy day at work or a frustrating commute you may need some transition time to change gears and switch from worker bee/commuter to parent. In our house we have a deal that after I say hello to everyone I take time to change out of my work clothes and then take over the primary parenting role. This brief transition time gives me time to get my head out of day job mode and into parent mode.
When you have work responsibilities outside the home, whether they are related to paid or volunteer work or other family responsibilities it is important to build time into your day to shift between those responsibilities and your job as a dad.
Friends & Community
If you are like most men, especially dads, you probably don’t have a lot of close friends. It is important to find ways to spend time with friends and adults outside of work and parenting. It is challenging to make friends and find the time to do the work of maintaining those friendships. Nonetheless, making that time and spending time with friends will help to re-energize you, whether you are participating in an activity together, like a sports team, or you are getting together for coffee every month. Creating space for friends is important for your longterm mental health.
Friends provide a valuable sounding board when you are struggling with a parenting issue, and friends provide an important distraction from the day-to-day life of being a father. Getting together with friends also gives you a space to celebrate your successes as a dad and milestones as your kids reach them. Plus, it is a good place to share your latest pictures of your kids…
You might remember what hobbies are. They are the things you did with your spare time before you had kids. If you have stopped doing these things, find time to resurrect them or find new passions to pursue. Dig out your world-class paper clip collection or take up bagpiping. Find something that you enjoy and that makes use of different parts of your brain. Hobbies can give you pleasure and provide a space to unwind.
My hobbies are wood-working and writing. Both give me space to be creative. They both also give me time to think about parenting and what I can do better. Woodworking is my go to refuge when my kids have pushed me over the edge and I need to tag out. An hour of sanding wood helps me to breathe and release the frustrations. It also gives me the opportunity to disengage from the issue – usually some sort of conflict – and let my brain work through how to resolve the issue or do it better next time.
Think about what you would do with your spare time if you had any. Investigate what you need in order to do that activity and talk with your partner about how to make time for each of you to pursue a hobby or activity that you enjoy.
Go for a Walk
Sometimes a walk is a ‘walk away’ from the situation and sometimes it is any kind of exercise. Exercise has many benefits, not the least of which is stress-release. You can also replicate the experience of repeatedly telling your child to stop throwing food at their sibling by running as fast as you can without going anywhere.
Taking a break from parenting to go for a run, bike ride, sweating to the oldies with Richard Simmons or just going for a walk will help you to relieve stress, stay healthy, boost your mood, recharge, get better sleep, etc.
Exercise not only provides all of the above benefits, it also allows you to let your brain wander free while your body is engaged in a physical task. You will discover that you will find answers to issues, develop new ideas and have time to process parenting experiences. You will explore things you’ve done well and things you’ve done poorly as a dad and you’ll have the time to learn from those experiences and do better next time.
These tips will help you find ways to take a break from parenting to recharge and be a better parent. Click To Tweet
Give Your Partner a Break
Your partner needs breaks just as much as you do. You are a dad and you are fully capable of parenting your kids. Kick your partner out of the house on a regular basis. Send them out with friends, to exercise and pursue hobbies. They will be a better parent for having the break, you will be a better dad for managing the kids and whatever comes up while your partner is out and together you will be better partners and parents as a result.
Taking breaks and asking for help is not an indication of weakness or of failure as a parent. Parenting can be and often is challenging work. It is important to make space for you as a person outside of your identity as a dad and as a worker. It is the breaks that give you space to recharge, refocus and jump back into parenting with energy and capacity for all the joy and exhaustion that comes with your life as a dad.