You see, during my seven years of being a dad, I’ve experienced multiple bouts of emptiness, both physically and mentally, and although coffee has saved me on more than one (thousand) occasions, it’s merely just a brief boost, and often masks a bigger problem. Being a parent is hard. There’s no getting away from it. It’s bloody knackering. Mums often take the lion’s share of said knackering, but us dads can feel the strain too.
With both of my children, I recall returning to work after paternity leave and feeling like I’d been smacked in the face by a kamikaze stork, and I’m sure it’s the same for most parents. Two weeks of readjusting (literally) your whole life took its toll. The sleepless nights seem to last forever, the days become a slobbery mess and whilst life is quickly thrown upside down, you’re charged with keeping a bundle of joy happy and healthy.
Whilst those early weeks and months are well publicised as tiring, it’s the next stages that might come as a shock. Just as your mind and body adjusts to less sleep, suddenly they can crawl and they’re seemingly on a mission to find the most dangerous scenario possible in the house. The stairs appear to have a baby-attracting magnet on them, as in the blink of an eye, you can your baby will be scaling them before trying to find the one plug socket in the house you haven’t blocked off. You’ll be up and down more than West Bromwich Albion. It’s stressful.
Then comes walking, refusal to eat, tidying up after them, running a taxi service to help them keep up with their busy social life – ‘Music with Mummies’ (cough cough, er, what about us dads?), play dates and not to forget soft play. It takes its toll. And that’s only the physical exhaustion that can have you questioning if you’ve accidentally bought decaf coffee. Throw into the mix the emotional ups and downs and that cup (of decaf, it must be decaf) might feel half empty.
You’ll also hear things from helpful Susan like ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’, or ‘I’ll take the kids and you two go out and enjoy yourselves’. What about this, Susan? My baby doesn’t sleep. And you can take the kids, but I’ll be heading straight to bed. Whilst sleeping when the baby sleeps doesn’t apply that often to us dads, and the thought of a night on the tiles with your partner might sound more exhausting than running a marathon dressed as a nappy, it is important to unwind where possible. Do you really need to stay up with that glass of wine to catch that 11pm Family Guy re-run? Probably not. I know it’s nice to get some time to unwind in the evening, but just get to bed. And a night out might seem like a gargantuan amount of effort, but raising your spirits, smiling and laughing can be boost endorphins thus lifting your mood and energy.
If you can afford to take an hour lunch break, how about using that time to go to the gym? Sure, the thought of having to get lycra-ed up and getting sweaty when exhausted might not sound that appealing, but keeping fit is so important for our physical health plus out mental health too – a gym sesh’ and an opportunity to work on yourself might be the boost you need.
It’s also important to consider diet. For parents, as with anyone, eating well and drinking lots of coffee, sorry, water is vital. I remember during our early days of parenthood and being so exhausted we ordered takeaways for about three nights on the trot. Whilst they were quick wins, they weren’t long term solutions. A greasy, unhealthy and heavy pizza is guaranteed to make you feel worse than you did before you pressed that ‘place order’ button. So, if you manage to catch a break, how about some batch cooking? Just some simple pasta sauces, some homemade soup full of goodness, a lasagne, that kind of thing. Make it from scratch and whack it in the freezer to be heated up later in the week. I swear decent homecooked food can lift anyone’s energy and mood.
And finally, and possibly most importantly, one of the bravest things anyone who’s struggling can do is to ask for help. There is no shame in admitting you’re struggling. Help can come in multiple forms and might be just what you, as a father who’s running on empty, needs.
And if all else fails, COFFEE. *slams laptop shut*.