Dads: it’s ok to give less than 100%

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.

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