There’s a lot of talk about percentages these days. We’re often told people are “giving it 100%” whether it be at work, sport, or family life. Sometimes, it’s even higher: 110%, 200%, 1000%… there’s no limit to our level of commitment, regardless of whether it’s actually possible to give more than everything we’ve got.

The thing is, giving 100% is usually a fallacy, or worse, it’s the path to burnout and failure.

In our daily lives we have so many duties, and modern dads have more than any other men before us. We’re family men, successful colleagues and leaders, fit and competitive sportsmen, and social eagles. The motto is “work hard, play hard”, and men today have to do it all. If we’re always operating full-on, with nothing more to give, then we’re leaving ourselves very little space to recover.

There’s an expectation from society that men should have it all and do it all.

This constant pressure to always be “on” and “at the top of our game” has consequences. It’s believed that, at any one time, around 1 in 8 men are diagnosed with a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression. This could be anxiety born out from all the stresses heaped upon men, or depression that men feel they have nowhere to turn. But if you think about it for a moment, very few of us ever talk about those deep-seated feelings, so how many more men in our society are suffering mental anguish in silence?

New fathers feel more pressure than most and male post-natal depression is a real thing.

In today’s society, modern millennial dads are expected, and expect to take a full role in raising their children. This is great for dads, families, and society in general as I’ve posted about in other areas. But with this new empowered family dynamic comes an additional pressure that men need to measure up as dads, as well as colleagues in the work place. A recent survey by the National Childbirth Trust found that over a third of new dads were concerned about their mental health.  So what can we do about it?

A first step towards easing stress for dads is to take away the pressure.

It’s all too easy to get caught up in the excitement of everyday life, taking on more and more responsibility, and trying to do it all. Why? Because it’s expected from society. Look at this advert for a well-known razor blade (with amazing 80s soundtrack and video!) showing us that we can do it all, if only we buy their brand of hair removal.

You’re looking sharp, you’re looking good, you’ve come so far,
And we know how to make the most of who you are,
Father to son, it’s what we’ve always done,
Gillette, the best a man can get,
On so many faces it’s plain to see,
We give you all we have to give for all a man can be,
Where the race is run, you’re the champion,
Gillette, the best a man can get.

It’s time to stop believing that we have to be the champion all the time. Sometimes it’s ok to give less than 100%. For most runners, a marathon is about finishing and doing the best we can do for ourselves. It’s not about beating everyone else. Fatherhood should be like this, too. It’s not a constant sprint.

No man being honest with himself or with those around him can reasonably expect to operate at 100% all the time.

Bosses need to understand their employees will work hard, and will give it their all when necessary, but they can’t expect 100% all of the time. 80% is good enough. Partners and children should understand that dads are doing a good job but they can’t always be switched on and fully engaged with everything. Sometimes it’s ok to give 80% and watch something mindless on TV.

Men need to believe that whatever the pressures of society, they don’t have to conform to everything. They don’t have to say “yes” to every request. And if they give 80% to the world, then they can keep 20% for themselves.

There’s a quote from the first Bourne film when Matt Damon’s character is sat in a café and explains “at this altitude I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start to shake”. Elsewhere in the film, Jason Bourne switches in an instant from unassuming passer-by to deadly assassin. He knows when he needs to give it his all, when to dial it up to 100. Modern dads need to operate steadily most of the time, knowing when to step up and do what it takes when needed.

This is one of the best ways to look after ourselves and be the best dads we can be.

Today marks three months since my son was born. It sounds like a cliche, but the time really does fly. I had ideas of accomplishing so much with the Millennial Dad project, and having a new born baby was going to be the icing on the topical cake. Or so I thought.

Instead of being a dad blogger who capitalised on the arrival of a new baby, I did the complete opposite and withdrew from blogging almost entirely.

I’ve barely had any time to write a post, read other bloggers, or follow and contribute on Twitter. If you look at my profile, you would think I’ve gone off the grid.

I’ve failed at blogging… but that’s ok!

Despite becoming a dad for the second time, I’ve realised I definitely don’t know it all. This baby is different from the first one. And I’m different, too. It’s been a big adjustment going from 3 to 4 of us. And just as the oldest one was beginning to play by the rules: social graces, sleeping through the night, that kind of thing, along comes a new one with its own agenda that we have to fit around. Three hour sleep stints, anyone?

So, I may have failed to blog very much, if at all, but here’s three reasons why it’s ok not to do all those extra activities.

 

1. Family.

The arrival of a new baby takes every ounce of effort. From waking up every three hours to rocking to sleep, it’s not easy to get things done with a newborn. Accept help when it’s offered and try to get things done around the house. It’s never going to be perfectly tidy or clean for a while, but that doesn’t matter. Don’t forget to spend time with the other one so she doesn’t feel left out. And try to make time for each other as a couple. Yes, a newborn truly throws family life upside down and inside out.

In the idle moments when you’re not trying to catch up on sleep, you could try to be creative, if you have any capacity left. So, yes, blogging may have to take a back seat for a while.

 

2. Work.

The term “do you live to work, or work to live” may be a conundrum for some people, but those with families should know which side of the fence to sit on. Work should exist to support your family. Yes, do something that fulfils and excites you if you can. Actually this is a must. But don’t confuse work as a substitute for spending time with your family. Especially as man, it’s easy to get sucked back into the world of work after the standard two week paternity leave.

Work is important. It pays the bills. Work hard, go home, be with your family. For however long you’re working, blogging can’t really take precedence. Unless, of course, your job is blogging and social media. And you earn enough to make a significant difference in supporting your family.

 

3. Self-preservation.

Dads and mums can spend a lot of time together in the first few weeks of a new baby’s life. However, it’s not always time spent together in the normal sense of being a couple. You’re both employees, no, you’re unpaid labour solely to care for and grow a baby. Time for yourselves is pretty much non-existent. The time that you do get for yourselves quickly becomes sleep. Not deep, regenerative sleep, but only the light kind that you might snatch on an 8 hour coach journey in a stuffy old coach with sweaty leather seats.

Your body treats any free time that you do have as some form of self-preservation. Given half a minute it will shut down and convince you to rest. This doesn’t lend itself well to the creative arts of blogging. Sometimes you’re just too damned tired to blog. And that’s ok.

I enjoy reading and writing parent blogs. It’s a fun community and I’ve gained a lot of useful tips. I like to contribute when I can and I’ve still got some bigger plans for my blog. Right now is not necessarily the time to execute them. I know when to fight my battles and there’s no point trying to enforce something that’s not absolutely essential.

The key word in all of this is BALANCE.

Each new parent should try to find the right balance of what they want to do in their lives. Those crucial early weeks and months of a baby’s life are so special, you deserve to be at your best to enjoy them.

I want to talk about three C words: content; consume; create. 

Only 60 years ago the UK had just one BBC TV station. Channel 4 wasn’t launched until the early 1982 when the first of the millennials were being born. Some of us may remember the launch of Channel 5 in 1997 led by the Spice Girls, and for years afterwards the analogue signal was so bad most of the shows were covered in a snowy landscape. 

The rise of internet connectivity and its increasing speed means that access to online video and other content is quicker than ever before. Apparently 300 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute. Eric Schmidt said in 2010 that the world created as much information every two days as we did up to 2003. I’ve no idea what that figure would be now in 2017.

There’s an overwhelming amount of content in our day-to-day lives, more than any generation before us. This comes with opportunities and challenges. In one way, the world is open to explore in ways our predecessors never even dreamed possible. In another, it’s a dangerous world where a young child can access the most adult of content. None of this should be regulated in my opinion, but it should be used responsibly.

 

We are unprepared to deal with the level of content in our lives.

We are often prone to procrastination, and it can be easy to wile away the hours on social media simply scrolling through other people’s posts for news that really doesn’t matter to us. 

We consume a lot of stuff. Our world is all about information and millennials consume more than anyone else. The next generation after millennials are even more exposed to this content. Yet no one is teaching our children how to deal with the level of information available.

 

Millennial parents have a tough time, trying to weigh up all the responsibilities of parenting with achieving more in our professional and social lives.

The first thing to remember is that we should stop comparing ourselves to all the content in our lives. Content is simply someone’s point of view, whether it’s a blog post, a news item, Fake news, or Instagram posts. Content is merely a way for people to convey how they want to be. The more people consume their content the more popular those people become. 

It’s fun to consume, to sit for hours binge-watching a Netflix series or even reading a book. But if we want to achieve more in life we simply have to be aware of how much we consume. We need to follow a simple mantra:

 

Create more than you consume. 

If we’re to leave our own mark on the world we should create our own content, not just consume others. That means putting down the TV remote, or switching off the computer. When we want to do more we need to focus on the task at hand, and cut out all the content surrounding us. 

Sure it’s fine to consume. In fact, people who don’t consume are unenlightened and uninformed. I’m not just talking about the internet. We need and want to consume art, plays, concerts, books, there is so much out there from the oldest classical texts to the latest business thinking.

 

All prolific authors, painters, and bloggers, know when to stop consuming and start creating. 

Sometimes you will need to focus entirely on the task at hand and stop consuming altogether. Other times, when you’re trying to unwind on holiday all you want to do is read a good book. The choice is up to each individual how they spend their time. But the millennial parent knows that time is limited. If they want to be productive they need to create more than they consume. This is the way they can produce more, and be more in their day to day lives. 

 

Another upshot of creating more than you consume is that you start to “budget” your content.

You start to choose only the content that will make the greatest difference to your life. Therefore, you will only watch TV shows that you want to rather than idling flicking through channels. When you consume consciously you consume the best and enhance your life, better positioning you to create and achieve even more in the future. 

 

It’s a simple mantra: create more than you consume. It’s never been more important than in today’s world. 

I first started this post a month ago and then put it to one side. I didn’t consider a terrorist attack would be imminent. Of course, the threat has always been there but the longer that nothing happens the less likely it seems it will happen in our country, our city, on our street.

There’s much sadness about the senseless loss of life in Manchester. The month of May 2017 will be etched in our memories just as July 2005. We should remember those who lost their lives, support those whose lives have been shattered, and commend the bravery of so many people who tried to help.  

 

As the terror threat is raised to ‘Critical’ the question of how we protect our children is at the forefront of every parent’s mind. 

 

But how do we protect them against something as barbaric as a terrorist attack, designed to create the most hurt and carnage possible? 

The first thing to remember is that, while these things happen, they are fortunately quite rare. In fact, society is safer than at any time in our history. Read Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature for further background. And try to take some comfort that we live in a progressively peaceful world.

 

There are a few small precautions that may help protect our families and others around us if we are ever caught up in an incident.  

 

Be aware of your surroundings.

Our field of reference shrinks when we focus on things immediately in front of us, particularly phones. When we take pictures of friends or selfies, our view is limited to only the things closest to us. If you’re in a busy place or at an event, take a moment to be aware of what’s going on around you. Especially where our children are concerned. Where are they? Who are they talking to? Who else is around? Quite simply, is there anything out of the ordinary? We’re surprisingly well-attuned to the unusual, our brains subconsciously pick up on it. Of course, it may not be possible to spot danger, but at least being vaguely aware of what’s going on may help. If something doesn’t feel right, report it.

 

Learn about the place you are visiting. 

Try to take in some basic information about the place you are in. If it’s a big event, take a moment to read through the safety information. If it’s simply walking around a shop or eating at a restaurant, identify where the key officials are. Are you travelling on a train? Read those safety signs just in case. This is why the safety drill is repeated every time we take a plane journey. If we know what to do in a crisis we are better able to respond. 

 

Know your exits. 

If you are with your family and something terrible happens, your job is simply to get away where it’s safe to do so. Moving away from the affected area is the best option, and often you don’t have to go far to be in relative safety. Wherever you happen to be, it’s important to be mindful of your exits and how you can get out if you need to. For example, when walking through a shopping centre pay attention to the green fire exit signs that lead directly out of the main building. The same applies in a shop. Most fire exits are towards the back of a department store. If you know the exits you can help to direct other people, too. 

 

Check official advice. 

The emergency services often issue advice about how to respond in an emergency situation. You can read about it here. A lot of the advice pertains to getting to safety and staying out of the way to let the emergency services do their jobs. They are trained to respond to these situations and, if a crisis occurs, it’s important to follow their lead. 

 

Learn first aid. 

This may seem a simple one, but if we all had basic first aid training we would all be a lot safer in our day-to-day lives. Most first aid training isn’t designed around a terrorist attack, but the recent course I attended did include some additional points that were helpful. Can you get on a work first aid course for free? Or sign up to the Red Cross or St John’s Ambulance. Read more in my other post on this topic. If you are able to assist in delivering first aid to someone it may be the difference between life and death. 

 

None of these points may have made a difference in Manchester against the relentless determination of one person to hurt indiscriminately. There’s nothing anyone could have done to change things but there were so many examples of human courage and bravery in the moments afterwards.

These are just my observations and don’t represent official advice. In all cases refer to the official guidance and follow the lead of the authorities; and try to stay vigilant without letting fear rule our lives. 

 

 

 

Have you ever seen the movie Due Date with Robert Downey Jr and Zack Galifianakis? I did once. And to be honest I didn’t really like it and I even had to look up the name before writing about it here. It’s about an uptight businessman who needs to get across the country to be with his wife as she gives birth. He meets a no-hoper actor, who gets them kicked off the plane home, and they have to take a road trip across the country to get home as quickly as possible.

The scene that sticks in my mind is where their car overturns and crashes. The Robert Downey Jr character ends up breaking his bones but the Zach Galifianakis character is fine; he was relaxed and his body just went through the motions and didn’t get hurt.

I’m not sure of the science of that movie, but I think it teaches us all a lesson about how to survive on no sleep.

I’ve just had a second child. It’s great, wonderful, fantastic, all the superlatives you can think of. But of course, I haven’t slept properly since he was born. For one thing he wakes to feed every couple of hours and, even though my wife is breastfeeding him, I still keep involved as much as possible.

Too many of us suffer through those early months and years, struggling to maintain our day-to-day lives all the while getting no sleep. The best time for me was paternity leave when I could sleep during the day when the baby did. And then I had to go back to work.

I think the key to surviving on zero sleep is flexibility.

We try to get back to our normal lives but our sleep won’t return to normal, so we suffer. Just like the Robert Downey Jr character in that movie, we end up hurting ourselves through our tension and inflexibility. What we need to do is go with the flow, be more flexible, sleep when we need to sleep, rest when we can. It’s not forever, and eventually the baby will settle into a proper pattern.

It’s probably hard for most of us to be so flexible, given that we have jobs with shifts or standard working hours.

We can start by looking at our free time – do we need to make rigid commitments to friends, exercise, and fun stuff? What if we just exercised in the moments of free time that emerge rather than schedule things in? I’m a big advocate of productivity and scheduling but I’ve realised it’s not so easy with a child. Most of my scheduled activities end up being moved anyway.

Once we’ve gained some flexibility in our personal lives we can tackle our work lives.

Every employer in the UK is obligated to consider flexible working requests and I’m sure similar rights exist in other countries. If more of us start to request flexible working then we begin to break the mould of the 9-5 working day, which is based in the early industrial past and has no real relevance in today’s society.

If we accept that our sleep may be good one night, terrible the next, then we should also accept that we’re going to have good days and bad days, days when we can function and days when we barely get by. It’s ok and we shouldn’t give ourselves a hard time. And then all of a sudden it will become easier to get things done.

The secret to surviving on zero sleep is to relax, be flexible and go with it. It won’t be forever!