Between work, family and other daily obligations, it can be difficult for parents, especially fathers, to find the time for self-care. While dads may be more prone to ignore the signs that they need a break or may avoid expressing that need, it’s important for men to speak up when they need to recharge, and then actually take the time to look after themselves.
“Dads often feel like they have a lot of roles they are trying to fill and are not quite sure how to get it done,” says Brian W. Towers, a licensed marriage and family therapist with the Center for Family Counseling. “A pitcher can’t keep dumping out, a car has got to stop for gas. Pay attention to your gas tank. If it’s getting anywhere near empty, prioritize your self-care. It’s in your family’s best interest to have you at your best.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has also posed new challenges for fathers as they juggle work and family life while remaining at home. Trying to balance home and work can be just as stressful for dads as it is for moms, and dads may also feel guilty or like they aren’t giving enough to either. Towers often sees patients who struggle with the feeling of being pulled in multiple directions.
“COVID made that even worse with work-from-home blurring lines even further,” Towers says. “Self-care suffers, relationships suffer and vocations suffer.”
Towers suggests dads find an outlet to help them cope with daily stresses. Exercise or sports may relieve tension.
“Some dads make sure that they enjoy standard dad hobbies like golf, while others get off the beaten path with art or cooking,” Towers says.
For Matt Jones, a software engineer and father of a preschooler and a toddler, that outlet is working with stained glass.
“I think the kind of self-care that gets you the most bang for your buck is where you’re creating something,” Jones says. “Doing something artistic like drawing, or crafty like woodworking, can really help you focus and feel like you’re adding something to the world. I’ve been working on creating a stained-glass project at Bluebird Glass Studio. It’s a great creative outlet, and there’s a nice Zen to the cutting and grinding of the glass pieces.”
Making time to gather with friends as well as your partner without the kids is also important.
“Men sometimes find difficulty establishing and maintaining relationships because some don’t prioritize them,” Towers says. “Many men build their non-familial social groups around their interests. Likeminded people doing likeminded things.”
Jones also recommends time away from your children every now and then.
“When you are spending time with friends you are creating those interpersonal connections,” Jones says. “It’s important to keep your connections with your friends. They build you up and bring you joy. I also like to get date nights out with my wife. It is so important to get out and spend time with each other as adults and remind yourselves that you are not just dad and mom.”
Taylor Martin is an attorney with a 5-year-old daughter. Martin tries to find time for himself every day.
“I believe self-care is important because it allows you to recharge,” Martin says. “I try to find time to read, play a musical instrument or play video games every day. Admittedly, finding the free time can be difficult. I’m lucky in that I work from home, so I usually just get up early to allow for ‘me time’ before the workday.”
Self-care can take on many forms. It can be staying fit and eating right, meditating, going for a massage, spending time in nature, a game night or a night out. Dads should focus on all aspects of their well-being, including physical, mental and emotional health, and schedule time for self-care. Listening to your body and knowing when you are physically or mentally drained is also vital.
“If I stretch myself too thin, my energy and concentration suffer,” Martin says.
Turning to other fathers for support can also be beneficial. Playgroups and virtual groups can be sources of encouragement. Ask other dads how they are doing and really listen. Communication with your partner about the need for self-care is also key.
“Being a good parent is not just about focusing on your kids all the time,” Jones says. “You need to prioritize making time for yourself.”