Aidan, Founder of TMFC
“I’m too busy.” “I don’t have the time, my wife doesn’t support me” or “Mate, I’m ok, I’ll get through it, it’ll pass, this is what I signed up for and this is the reality of modern parenting.”
I’ve heard them all and I’ve used them myself. When I faced my darkest moment, I couldn’t rely on my go to set of excuses. I need to scream for help! Had I pushed on any further I would have lost everything I love. I might not have gone through with that desperate last act, and I hope to never find myself in that position again. But I’m confident had my behaviour continued I can guarantee you my incredible wife would have questioned us staying together.
My go to excuse was “I’m fine. I’m just tired and it’s been a long day.” The excuses rolled off the tongue for months. The problem – I lacked the confidence to stay out of the shadow and because I lacked the confidence to make changes, I wasn’t accountable. It was easier to ignore the stress and push on. The go to excuses become your armour, but for some they choose to hide behind other things including drugs and alcohol. It’s easier to slam a few too many beers on a Friday to dull the pain. Some lack accountability – They know they need to change, myself included or some just fail to acknowledge their mistakes or fail to see the error in their ways.
I’m far from perfect and I’m definitely still prone to mistakes. I admire your willingness to plough, but your selflessness is somewhat misguided (That’s you too mum). The body and mind can only take so many hits. I managed the anxiety and depression for a long time before finally facing up to it. Even after several close calls I still considered myself to be indestructible, as a parent isn’t that part of your job? When I was supposed to be focused and connected, I was distant and lost in my own thoughts.
I faced up to my demons but only when it got too much, and I couldn’t cope. You will at some point come to a crossroads, she’ll either run out of patience or you will run out of road. That’s not to say she doesn’t need to potentially make changes too but that my friend, that’s not on you. That’s on her. This is simply about making sure you have the tools to perform at the level you expect of yourself. You already love them unconditionally, but if you’re reading this then perhaps something is holding you back. Perhaps you’re unable to move forward, connect with them on a deeper level and let them see the very best version of you.
If you’re a relatively new dad, I suspect you’ll have faced a range of challenges, from adjusting to the demands of parenthood to finding time for self-care and personal goals. For the record I didn’t set big goals or set a massive list of stuff to deliver. I sat my partner down and said here is what I need to do to get back on track. She didn’t question me. She didn’t offer an opinion or ultimatum, she sat and listened and recognised I owed to her to my kids and to myself to tackle this personal issue. She never questioned my willingness to work hard. To be fair I never gave her reason to, she has seen the benefit of having me focused, driven and clear on my role and the impact I have. Dare I say it some of the changes I’ve made along the way may have rubbed off on her too.
Here are a list of the challenges you’re likely to be facing as a new dad. If you’re a dad with plenty of miles on the clock I bet you’re facing some of these too.
Lack of time: One of the biggest challenges we face is finding time to balance all the demands of parenthood with work and personal goals. By focusing on small, consistent habits, you can make progress even when you have limited time. For example, you might commit to spending just 10 minutes a day engaging in a positive habit, like reading to your child or exercising. You can of course create more time, but that can conflict with other things, like making space for you as a couple or getting much needed shut eye.
Lack of sleep: Lack of sleep is a common challenge for new dads, which can make it difficult to stay motivated and focused on your goals. To combat this, focus on building habits that don't require a lot of energy or initial effort. For example, you might commit to spending 10 minutes each night before bed reading a book, which can help you wind down and improve your sleep. The biggest obstacle to your sleep is going to be your kids, however that will very much depend on the arrangement you have in the early days and the feeding choices you and your partner have made for baby.
This is where communication is key. You might want to help out or feel obligated to do so, but when your partner is breastfeeding you should be on hand to support but often, you’re limited in your role. That’s why you have to be honest with one another. I commuted for 1 1/2 hours each way every day after Henry was born. Sleep was critical to me driving long distances and my wife had reasonable expectations of me and my contribution during the night. That’s not to say I didn’t want to get involved and help out, and when the time came for me to take over, I got stuck in, but for safety reasons we agreed that I would get the benefit of some half decent sleep. At the weekend I’d take Henry downstairs for an hour or so in order to let Teri rest. My advice, communicate openly, be sensible, open, and honest and set realistic expectations of one another as a couple. Importantly understand and listen to what she needs from you.
If you’re sleep is poor and it’s not baby related, ask yourself what is the cause? Do you escape in the evening for a bit of you time? Perhaps some late-night gaming or a few beers to unwind. Now ask yourself… is that really the root cause of your poor sleep? You need to think about the obstacles you are creating to achieving the holy grail of ‘better sleep’. I like to watch a Netflix/Sky series before bed. Typically, it’s a comedy, why? Because it helps us unwind, the problem with streaming services is there is always another episode to get stuck into, and often it requires real discipline just to switch it off before the next episode starts. You’ll have your escape. The question you need to ask yourself is – is it conducive to good sleep? Think about your screen time – What’s the last thing you do before you head up the stairs or put your head on the pillow? That light emitted from your device, studies have shown that it keeps you alert, the exact opposite to what you need when you’re trying to settle down.
Lack of support: new dads may also feel isolated or unsupported, which can make it difficult to stay motivated and committed to positive changes. To combat this, seek out support from other fathers or a supportive community [The Modern Fatherhood Club]. Millions of dads turn to the internet for support and whilst there is a network of dads pulling together. Communities are failing to support dads and employers are missing a trick too. So why aren’t communities better equipped to support new and existing dads?
I think the problem sits with dad. I didn’t seek support because I wanted to get back on track and I felt I owed it to myself to do it on my own. But what if there was a community? Would I have been more open to talking or meeting others? I’m not sure, and therein lies the issue. If you’re facing an obstacle you need to seek support and talk it through. But you must first step aside and be more willing to open up and challenge the stigma attached to talking about personal challenges. If you choose to bottle it up, then communities won’t grow. Let’s face it, the easiest way to connect with another bloke is usually down the pub, over a beer or two you will share stories. By creating an open space, you encourage men, not just dads to talk, come together and help one another. Accountability is crucial to moving forward and that’s why The Modern Fatherhood Club exits, we bring dads together to talk, share war stories and seek advice. It’s about creating a level playing field, openly sharing a story, and actively listening to the stories of others. These spaces thrive in the right environment and with the right structure. You just need to know where to find your community and then attend a session, virtually or online.
Balancing work and family: Finding a balance between work and family can be a challenge for all dads, especially if you're also trying to pursue personal goals and focus on making a better impact on your kids. To tackle this, focus on building habits that integrate seamlessly into your routine. For example, you might commit to spending 10 minutes each day engaging in a hobby or pursuing a personal goal during your lunch break at work. If you’re commuting, put down the news, put down the endless scrolling or catching up on your latest Netflix show. Try a podcast or audio book. There are plenty of options, plenty of content that’s free and there is some really useful stuff that you can tap into.
One thing I’ve personally worked on is blocking out time in my diary to focus my attention at work and maximise my productivity. I’m flexible in my approach but I’m clear on the intention. A quick win if you’re struggling to make space in your calendar is fixing an hour at lunch. If it’s a private appointment in your calendar it puts others off trying to put meetings in during lunch. This gives you a moment to breathe. Plus, the automatic reminder prompts you to take a break. What you then do with it is entirely up to you. For those of you who work from home, take a break, I know if you’re like me you will if you’re focused on something or working toward a deadline, just work through your break and before you know it’s time to pick up the kids. The mistake when you are working from is failing to use it to your advantage – If you’re on the school run, use that ‘Dead Space’ to connect with your kids and on the return, leg grab a coffee (If you can) and listen to a Podcast or Audio book.
We are all desperately seeking the perfect work-life balance, the reality is, it doesn’t exist. You have to work hard at it, and you can’t let things slip or put things off in the hope you’ll pick it up again at a later date. If you’re both working, the biggest challenge to modern parents with school age kids or nursery age kids is finding time for schoolwork, extracurricular activities, wrap around care, half term holidays, play dates and of course the endless parties these modern kids get invited to. That’s why routine and clear communication between you and your partner are the key ingredients you cannot overlook.
At home you’ve got to be clear with your partner on why you’re trying to achieve whatever it is you’ve set as your target, and you need to return the favour. If you’ve nailed down a routine that creates that space to feel a little more balanced, then encourage her to do the same and together work out how to spend quality time as a couple.
Overcoming self-doubt: Finally, many new dads may struggle with self-doubt or imposter syndrome, especially if they're adjusting to a new role or trying to make significant changes. To overcome this, focus on building your confidence by setting small, achievable goals and celebrating your successes along the way. Use habit stacking and tracking to build momentum and reinforce positive changes. You’re doing your best and day in day out, remember every day you’re discovering something new about yourself and baby. My journal helps me nail this – A simple set of questions enables me to reset after a tough day or particularly difficult interaction with my kids and it helps me celebrate those moments that are unique to me.
We’re not all natural at this, our lack of preparation often throws us off early doors, but we grow into the role. Those early days are more about support than anything. Let’s face it, if you are out all day at work and get a few moments with baby before bedtime make the most of it, drop everything for those cuddles, including the stress of the day. Be aware of the pressure she’s under too and communicate with her and yourself with empathy. Together you’re creating something spectacular but against the backdrop of that never ending stress cycle you can lose sight of the small wins, the joy, the excitement at getting home for a cuddle. It’s your job to embrace and enjoy this role as best you can, that includes those moments where all hell breaks loose, there are little wins in those moments and too.
I never doubted my ability as a father until my youngest came along, but by then I was already consumed by an unrelenting hatred for who I’d become. It had nothing to do with being a dad – It’s just that I was lost, consumed by self-doubt and the way in which I’d managed that self-doubt was to neglect my health, both mental and physical. As a consequence, I was burned out before he even arrived. My advice, if you’re planning to grow your family, think about the choices you’ve made in the past, reflect on your progress a both a father and a man, celebrate the impact you’re having and if you’re looking to make real, meaningful change, invest in Atomic Habits and get clear on the why behind your need to change. That why will set you on your way and it will help you stay committed.
Making small changes as a new dad can have a significant impact on both your partner and your kids. By modelling positive habits and behaviours, you can teach your child valuable life skills and help them develop healthy habits from an early age. Your children will learn so much from you, and in today’s swipe and scroll culture they need a role model that’s capable of self-regulation, a father clear on the impact he has and is motivated by a clear statement of intention.
Whether it's reading together, exercising, drinking less, eating healthy meals, disconnecting from technology, or practicing gratitude, the habits you model as a father can have a lasting impact on your child's life. My kids see a better side of me when I’ve made space for me. They see the light-hearted, fun version of daddy because the stress has been put to one side. I know certain things set me off…. I know what I can and can’t control and therefore I’m navigating those trickier moments because I’m calmer. Why? Because I’ve taken pre-emptive action. For example, the morning is a challenging time. Not only do we face an uphill battle getting the kids up and ready for school, but we also need to get the schoolwork done too. We face a battle, but getting a child to do schoolwork before school vs doing it after school and wrap around care is the win in our book. The eldest is certainly more open to it, in part because he knows he’s getting TV after school and his evenings are set aside for family time. I face this challenge with confidence and most of the time I’m calm and that’s because I’ve got routine done. What’s left is focused attention on both kids, no distraction, only 4 simple objectives, eat, get dressed, do schoolwork, and leave the house as close to on time as possible.
Improved relationship with your partner: When you commit to spending more time with your child or taking on more responsibilities around the house, it can help ease the burden on your partner and improve your relationship. Show her that you're invested in your family and committed to making positive changes, you can strengthen your partnership and build a stronger foundation for your family. Show her that you understand the pressures she’s facing on a day-to-day basis. Let her know how incredible she is and how grateful you are that’s she’s fully focused on baby. Let her know she’s doing an amazing job. We tend to forget that encouragement, empathy, and compassion go a long way in the early days to build a stronger bond.
The changes you commit to, whatever they may be will demonstrate that you’re committed to supporting her on her journey and dedicating time to you and the kids. It’s ok to be selfish and if you’ve communicated to her why these changes are important and she’s seeing progress then she’ll have your back. Important message: Remember these changes are important to you and you’re clear on the reason. These changes are your changes and not hers. She might be in conflict with certain aspects of the change, but that doesn’t mean you should give up on whatever it is you’ve targeted.
For example: I’m sitting here writing this blog at 21:01 on a Tuesday. My writing is my escape in the evening, whilst my partner works. Her condense work schedule and nature of her job means we’re working late most nights. However, neither of us work at the weekend and I choose not to work on this project at the weekend to ensure that our family time and time together is not sacrificed. Now Teri isn’t in conflict with this approach and we’re pretty much in sync during the week, but if this encroached on time with the boys, she might have a different view. To improve your relationship you have to find the routine that works for you both, encourage on another along the way and be sure to talk about your progress and where you can, constructively stretch one another and ensure you demonstrate empathy and compassion through your journey.
Increased bonding with your kids: Spending more time with your kids, even just a few minutes a day, can have a significant impact on their development and your relationship with them. By building positive habits like reading to your child or engaging in playtime, you can strengthen your bond and help them feel more connected to you. The number one rule… get done being distracted. That’s your phone, the iPad, and the TV. Get down to their level and make the most of that quality time together.
I’m going to say it – I hate ‘Screen Time’. I see so many kids glued to their technology, flicking over and over. I’m now seeing kids with headphones on at the dinner table, totally closed off from the family environment. Yes, mum and dad need time to talk and yes, my boys are relentless, but you’ve got to get screen time right, otherwise you’re encouraging your kids to isolate and create barriers to the outside world. There is a time and a place and managed well I think they’re a great addition – I love playing Sonic from the early 90s on Henry’s pad, but I love to play Top Trumps, Chess and Uno or Chase the Ace whilst we wait for a dinner at a restaurant. I dislike shutting them off, but everyone needs a break from time to time. Just be sure to prioritise, real connections, creativity, games and harness the power of their imagination. If you’re disconnected from your technology, they’re less likely to want to use their tech.
Positive role modelling: As a father, you have a unique opportunity to model positive behaviours and habits for your children. This is how you speak, how you react under pressure, how you set the tone in the home, how you communicate with your partner and how you manage everything else that swirls around you.
That’s why small changes are important and tracking those changes helps you reflect on the positive impact you’re having. It’s hard but it’s necessary. By committing to making positive changes and showing them the importance of consistency and perseverance, you can set a strong example for your kids and help them build healthy habits for life.
Improved overall family dynamics: When everyone in the family is invested in making positive changes, it can improve the overall dynamics and atmosphere in the home. Invest in yourself and you reap the rewards, and they will too. Your partner will look at you differently, your kids will see you at your best.
The key is not to create pressure. Just because you’re looking to make changes doesn’t mean everyone else has to do so. Let them see the changes in you before you start to educate them. What you want is an environment where everyone is happy and healthy and understands what makes them tick. Be a role model that they choose to follow, not one that dictates the pace.
Overall, James Clear's book Atomic Habits is a must-read for new dads looking to make positive changes and adjust to their new role as a father. By working together and supporting each other's goals, you can create a positive and nurturing environment that the family can thrive in.
It’s crucial to understand your unique set of circumstances and how they can hinder your progress. Remember by focusing on small, consistent habits and tracking your progress over time, you can create a positive feedback loop that makes it easier to stick to your goals and create a better impact on your kids. With time and dedication, these habits can become second nature, helping you build a strong, positive relationship with your child that will last a lifetime. Whether you're a first-time dad or a seasoned pro, Atomic Habits is a valuable resource and provides a roadmap for making positive changes in your life, which can be especially valuable during this transition period.
I have gained so much from this book and many others, but it all started with finally accepting I needed to make changes. My advice from one dad to another is reflect on the impact you’re having and what triggers stress, anger, frustration, and anxiety. Think about the impact you want to have and be clear on what your kids need. By focusing on what they need, you’ll come to realise that what they need is much simpler than you first thought and provided you get the basics right, you’re doing a great job and you should celebrate that fact. I struggled because I lost sight of what was important to me and why. Atomic Habits helped me reconnect with the why behind my decision making and as a result I started to think clearly and today I feel more confident in myself, but importantly I believe I’m delivering for my kids and that’s what makes me tick.
Aidan, Founder of TMFC
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