Ask a Therapist: How Can New Fathers Manage the Exhaustion of Parenting?
Being a father is exhausting (to put it mildly). Nevertheless, I meet many men who feel a tension to "not be selfish" and thus deny themselves the self-care that is necessary to survive the journey of fatherhood. I like to reframe the concept of "selfishness" to include the alternative possibility of being "self-interested." Being "selfish" says "no one else's needs matter but yours," whereas "self-interested" means "others' needs matter INCLUDING your own." To be self-interested is to pursue an optimal balance between working to serve the ones who depend on us, while ensuring we have the emotional and physical resources to continue serving. If you have ever been on an airplane, you might have heard instructions on what to do if the cabin pressure changes, which requires everyone to wear oxygen masks. Flight attendants instruct parents to put THEIR OWN mask on first prior to assisting children. Why would we choose to help ourselves first in such a situation? Because if we pass out from lack of oxygen before we finish helping our children, who will be available to them in a time of need? Our children will only get the best of us if we ensure we have our best to give.
Better Self Care for a Better You
Fathers, reflect on how your parenting will improve if you were even slightly more rested. Consider how your patience with your children and partner would improve if you were even slightly less tense. Your time and opportunities for self-care are limited in new ways once fatherhood begins. You may not have as many three hour windows of time where you could go to a movie or get together with friends or even play a round of golf. Your coping window might have shrunk to 20 minutes in between feedings, diaper changes, bath-time, doctors appointments, etc. Modify your preferred relaxation activity/hobby to fit into these smaller periods of time. Swing a golf club in the back yard for a few minutes while breathing the outdoor air deeply. Play your favorite music albums, audiobooks, or stand-up comedy routines with headphones while taking care of household chores. Consider a new way to relax that does not take much time. These ways might include brief exercise routines, walking outside, or enjoying a brief Youtube video that can help you laugh or "get away" for a moment. You will be amazed how much further your patience, tolerance, and energy will go if you incorporate even slightly more self-care into your routine. Both you and other family members will benefit from your efforts to remain self-interested in the midst of new demands and responsibilities.
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