Mental health and fatherhood is an important issue, but it doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. Postpartum depression is of course physiologically totally different for men, but it would be wrong to conclude from this that it isn’t a problem. Being a dad can be tough; 25% of dads will experience some degree of postpartum depression. The challenges of working, sleepless nights and around-the-clock childcare are enough to test anybody. In our latest OH blog, our Managing Director Trevor Pill shares his personal experience of becoming a dad for the first time and the challenges of juggling parenting with co-running a creative healthcare agency.
Like many new dads, I had no preconceived ideas about fatherhood. It is something no one can prepare you for. For me, the run-up to Alfie (my first child) being born was generally one of excitement. Of course, I did the usual things, like reading books and blogs to try and get myself up to speed. My wife and I tried to support and be there for each other as best as we could, but naturally, you have anxieties about such a big change in your life. The ‘what if’ questions go through your mind, and you just have to keep telling yourself it’ll be fine.
Thankfully the pregnancy was relatively straightforward. As we got nearer to the due date, my mind became more occupied with thoughts. The expectation of receiving a phone call at any moment was constantly at the back of my mind. When working full-time, remaining focused on my job and work became trickier to manage, but I got through it.
Having open and honest communication with my employer at the time helped, we had planned for my paternity leave well in advance, and they were very accommodating. When Alfie was just six months old, I made a major change in my career, joining Onyx Health as a Client Campaign Manager. Starting a family was one of the things that spurred me on in my career to provide for my new family. My wife Abi is a stay-at-home mum, and I was the only breadwinner, so I needed to make a success of things. However, this, too, came with challenges, the sleep deprivation that comes with starting a new family made trying to juggle being a dad with work difficult.
Not getting enough sleep is one of the hardest parts of having a young family. You read stories about sleepless nights, but there is no way of preparing for them. The first couple of weeks were very intense. The first time around, you are learning on the job. A newborn baby doesn’t come with a manual. It’s hard to switch off, and you tend to grab some sleep when you can, but the adrenaline is flowing, and the enjoyment of showing off the new arrival to family and friends is a reminder of how great this is.
Before long, you find yourself in a routine and things settle down, however, the days of a solid block of 8 hours sleep were gone. As your baby begins to grow and develop there’s a range of milestones that often leave you baffled. My wife and I often laugh about this because if our kids are seemingly unsettled on an evening my reaction is ‘it’s probably a sleep regression’, what on earth is a sleep regression you say? Read a baby book to find out! This only gets harder when you add more children into the mix. When you have three children under seven years old as I do now, sleep disruption is something I’ve learned to live with. As they become toddlers, this brings up a new set of challenges; they become magnets for germs catching viruses and sick bugs. On average I’d say I usually get six to seven hours at best, but it’s usually broken into 2-3 blocks.
I’ve found that sleep deprivation directly impacts stress levels at home and at work. Your brain wants to function, but it can’t. You can get more irritable and anxious that you’re not performing to the best of your ability, and you feel like you’re failing in both work and home life. It can be tough, but you have to learn to be less hard on yourself.
My wife has been absolutely amazing with the kids, but parenting has changed a lot in more recent years, and fathers are far more involved, and rightly so. I want to be involved but balancing a full-time job whilst being sleep-deprived and providing emotional support to the family is mentally draining. I’m lucky to have a supportive employer in Onyx Health that recognises the importance of striking the right work-life balance.
Finding the right work-life balance is the ultimate goal, but it isn’t easy. Everyone’s situation is different, and we made the decision that my wife would be a full-time mum while the kids were young. Financially this is tough, especially with the cost of living increase, but things would be much harder for me if Abi weren’t a full-time mum. It allows me more time to focus on my work and career. That said, there have been multiple situations in which I’ve been torn between the two. I need to focus on work to do a good job for the business and my clients, but I know the family need me too.
Making time for myself is something I often struggle with. Before having kids, I was very much socially minded. I’d be playing sports, meeting friends, setting goals like doing the Three Peaks Challenge, walking the full length of Hadrian’s Wall and running The Great North Run. All that has pretty much come to a standstill for me now. I feel like my role is to support my family while I’m home, so doing household chores, getting the kids to bed and preparing for the next day all take time in the evenings. When it comes to weekends, we manage the kids between us, but, now that they’re of school age, we have birthday parties and clubs to attend, so ‘me’ time is pretty limited.
I pack as much into my working day as possible, starting early and working slightly late, because I know when I get home, my attention turns to other things. By doing this, I have my weekends to spend with the family and time doing some nice things together. We’re also very lucky at Onyx Health to have a hybrid working model, enabling me to do the school run and pick-up a couple of times a week. This has helped me strike a better balance between my work life and home life and enabled me to enjoy the best of both worlds. Now the both of us need to find a bit of ‘me’ time.
Having a supportive employer makes things a lot easier, however, it’s important that we have an open and honest conversation as a nation about how being a dad can impact your mental health. There’s still a lot of stigma surrounding men’s mental health that needs to be challenged. Becoming a parent for the first time is a major life change, it’s only natural that you’ll feel overwhelmed at times and it’s okay to say so. Sometimes we all just need someone to talk to, we can all do our bit by being a listening ear and creating a space where emotional openness feels possible. It’s something I’ll encourage my colleagues who are about to start the journey into fatherhood to do. Being a father is just the best, and I feel very lucky to be in this position, all be it with bags under my eyes.