Becoming a parent is without doubt one of the most challenging roles that we can take on in our lives. Every child is different, everyone’s circumstances vary, and the obstacles that we have to overcome along the way are numerous. Yet the majority of us see it as one of the greatest things we have done in our lives. So how come there is such a common occurrence of dads feeling unfulfilled in their lives since having children?
Firstly, it’s important to remember that there is no single cause for that feeling, even though it is common. And just because it is common it doesn’t mean you have to accept it as an inescapable part of fatherhood. To start understanding why we might be feeling this way, it can be helpful to look at what areas of our life are bringing us challenges. Let’s break this down…
These certainly feel inescapable, with no breaks from the 24/7 pace of it all and no handbook or manual to guide you through it. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and with that comes a sense of failure. A good exercise is to make a list of the personal successes you have achieved over your journey so far, no matter how little those wins might feel. We all forget the times when we did something well as the pressures of family life distract us. While life demands that we focus on the things that we have to do going forward, do what you can to keep track of the things you got right. A journal can really help with this, reflecting on a daily or weekly basis with bullet points to remind us to records the good points so we can look back on them when things might seem too much in the future.
Most parents encounter those moments when their day job gets interrupted or sidetracked by the demands of parenting. Whether it is having to take a call from the school about a forgotten PE kit or rushing home from work to look after a poorly kid, it often feels like our career trajectory can suffer because of these distractions. But all of this is rooted in the same desire – to provide for our family. Our jobs are what provide the financial means to keep the food & shelter in place that our family needs, and we can often see them as paramount to achieving that security that is needed. Don’t forget, however, that providing the emotional support and interpersonal connections with our family members is also important for our kids, as well as ourselves. Having open and honest conversations with our employers and colleagues about how we can find a good balance between life and work is key to relieving that pressures and setting out a way to how our careers can still progress without impeding on our family commitments.
It isn’t uncommon to hear dads say things like “I would love to do that… but I’ve got kids!” Now that might make a trip to the North Pole or climbing Mount Everest more inconvenient if you’re also doing the school run, but that doesn’t mean that all of our personal aspirations should be set aside. This mindset can even be what leads us to unintentionally drop other things that bring us a sense of joy or fulfilment. While Everest might be off the cards for now, you can still get out in the hills nearby or include a UK summit as part of a family holiday to a National Park. A career change to becoming a Premier League footballer could prove challenging, but you can join your local Sunday League or pub football team and benefit from the camaraderie of that group. Other hobbies can bring us fulfilment too, whether that’s gaming, arts & crafts, dance, photography, or joining a community group. In fact, showing our children that we are more than just parents and workers is a great way to inspire them to live a fulfilling life through their own personal interests outside of school and home – and that inspiration can help us to feel like we’re doing a good job as parents too.
Don’t forget that you don’t have to be going through this alone. Whether you are a single parent, co-parent, step-parent or in a nuclear family, there is always support to be found around us to help us to achieve what we need to. Don’t think that your personal fulfilment is entirely down to you alone. Reach out to friends, family or community connections where you can if you need advice, guidance or help. Our Dadsnet Community includes local meet-ups where you can build friendships with other dads in your area, as well as connecting online through our private Dadsnet Community Group and local Facebook groups.
If you do feel like you are at crisis point, we encourage you to connect with the amazing frontline charities that understand how best to help us out of the darkness. With understanding and no judgment, you can reach out to Mind or The Samaritans who can help, or you can speak to your GP or local NHS service.