Sunday, March 1, 2020

When You Wonder if Fatherhood is Worth It

I remember vividly a time when I wondered if all the effort at parenting was worth it.  I was trying to cover work and parenting once when my wife was out of town.  I was cutting my work hours short so I could take care of kids before and after school, and I was burning the candle at both ends.  One of my children was in junior high school, and was the last one to head out the door to school, and this particular day there was no way he was going.  He hated school. He hated me.  He was mad that his Mom was gone.  In the midst of a big blow up about school he ran into the back yard and climbed a big willow tree higher than I could get and dared me to come get him down.

I was late for work, and I was really tempted to just leave him up there and hoist his meals up with a rope until his mom came home.  But I took a deep breath, got myself calmed down and decided to take the time to listen rather than just yell.  It took about 15 minutes, but he finally did come down and we got him to school just barely in time.

Every parent has days when they wonder if parenting is worth it.  We may have fantasies of sitting on the beach in Aruba - if only we didn’t have kids.  We may long for the day when we could just sit down and read - or write - or do anything else we love doing for more than 30 minutes at a time.  Especially after three nights in a row of 4 hours of sleep or less, we get discouraged about this parenting adventure and wonder if it will ever end.

Truth be told, parenting is a lifelong commitment, and we are never quite done with the role.  Certainly the intensity of the effort can diminish when our kids are all adults, but we are still and always will be parents.  But when the intensity does get to us, and we wish that we could just check out for a few weeks and get a meaningful break, what is it that we should do?  What strategies work best for dealing with parental burnout, and, more particularly, what should dads do when they feel this way.

Take ten.  There is almost never a situation when you couldn’t take ten minutes away from the pressure and have a little daddy time-out.  Settle the older kids in with a video game or a movie, put the little guys in a crib with some toys (even if they are crying) and retreat into your bedroom, back yard or man cave.  Plug in some noise-cancelling headphones, set a timer and meditate, listen to music or just vegetate.  It is amazing how refreshing a ten-minute time-out can be.  Then take a deep breath and jump back into the fray.

Release some endorphins.  Throw on your sweats and lace up your shoes.  Put the kids in a stroller and head out on a brisk walk.  Chat with the kids as you go, but keep your pace up.  Moderate exercise can release those magical hormones called endorphins that elevate your mood, help you feel hopeful and convince you that there is still good in the world.  It may not feel as good as a 10K run or an hour on the treadmill or elliptical trainer, but it is physical activity and it will help you feel better.

Plug in a podcast.  I have discovered the value of listening to podcasts in the last few years while I exercise, commute or just putter around the house.  There are some great fatherhood podcasts that I really like and that are really entertaining as well as informative.  I know in my profession when I am feeling a bit overwhelmed, spending some time in professional development and recharge my workplace batteries.  Think of listening to podcasts as professional development for parents.

Talk with other parents.  It is good for us to interact with other parents.  Most of our fathering friends are not discouraged on the same day as we are (and vice versa), so picking up the phone, setting up a playdate, or just going out to dinner or having friends over for a barbeque can be really therapeutic.  

Focus on the long term vision.  I know that it can be hard to believe at times, but kids do grow up.  The years go by faster and faster and when they are all adults and out of the house, you will be amazed at how quickly the time seems to have passed.  Remind yourself that you are raising the next generation of people and contributing to their good and to the good of society.  You are making a difference in the world and the effort is worth it.

So, the next time you feel overwhelmed, stressed and have doubts about whether what you are doing matters, take a deep breath, get some perspective and seek out support.  In the long run, you will recognize that you indeed made a difference in the lives of the children in your family and improved all of society in the process.