Space & Time’s Steve Harrington explains why agencies should hold a little more patience for staff experiencing parenthood for the first time.
With November being the month of Movember and International Men’s Day, it feels like the ideal opportunity to reflect on my experience of joining dadland. My journey to fatherhood was pretty straightforward. I met my amazing wife Hannah in 2010, proposed in 2012, got married in 2013, had our first born, Ted, in 2014 and our daughter, Georgia, in 2017. Childbirth is the single most incredible thing I’d ever witnessed. It made me infinitely proud to be Hannah’s husband and appreciate just how remarkable people who give birth are.
A month before I became a dad for the first time, I was promoted to associate director at Space & Time. Following my paternity leave, I struggled to balance my new roles at work and at home. Nothing can prepare you for the lack of sleep. I had such a ‘foggy’ head, and it was taking me longer to pick things up and adjust to my new role. Then at home I was trying to get used to the fact that in terms of the pecking order I was no longer numero uno in Hannah’s mind. I was now a full-time tea-maker, dinner-cooker and household-cleaner (and quite rightly too).
Once the early few fuzzy weeks were over, reality started to sink in. At the time, friends, family and colleagues would say, “oh, you must be so happy!” To be completely honest, I didn’t feel what I thought I should be feeling. Instead, I was shattered, and I felt quite claustrophobic in the day-to-day of nappy changing, broken sleep, work and the dark days and nights. Having a baby is tough at any time of year, but slap bang in the middle of winter when you are already more inclined to stay in, eat more and exercise less? None of this was helping my state of mind.
It was a while before I felt anything like my previous self. I loved my boy more than anything, but I also started longing for the days Hannah and I could just drop everything and go out on a whim. I missed that time to myself, and our time as a couple, and I naively wasn’t ready for the wedge that looking after a little one would put between us.
I remember the feelings of guilt when I sometimes longed for our old life as a married couple. And this for me is the main crux of this piece. I don’t feel there’s enough out there from men about the reality of being a new dad. You see others (often on social media) seemingly managing to balance their job and their role as a husband and father. You think: why don’t I have my shit together like that?
I often think about what I would say to my younger self before having kids. I’d have benefited from someone sharing the reality of what you’ll experience as a new dad. No fabrication – the real side of it. I needed someone to tell me that it’s OK to miss the days when all you had to think about was yourself and your partner. That doesn’t make you a bad dad, a horrible person or a failure. It makes you human.
We joke about a TDC (Tired Dad’s Club) in the office. There’s a few of us now of similar ages, with similar challenges. It’s nice chewing the fat on our respective bad nights of sleep, and all the fun things young children put you through. The TDC often gets out at lunchtime for a stroll around the park. It’s been great for my health, both physically and mentally, and I’ve certainly benefited from hearing that we’re all in the same boat. I find our chats comically reassuring.
My advice for new dads isn’t revolutionary, it’s just to talk. If you know other dads, pick their brains. It’s amazing how much people will share when you sit down with them. Also remember that it’s all a phase, and things will get easier. The more we talk about the struggles that come with being a new dad, or anything for that matter, the more we normalize it and realise it’s not just us.
For many, the new hybrid way of working has meant that a quick coffee break can now be a nursery pick up or a chance to put a wash on. It has also taken away the need for a daily commute, which can only be helpful when you’re sleep deprived. There’s no doubt the pandemic made many things much harder for new parents, but it also opened the discussion around how we can build a better way of working.
Despite how your life is turned upside down, I have found nothing as gratifying as having my children. We’re now in a new phase, with different challenges, but through talking and opening up, I am in a much better place to handle all that is thrown at me as a father, husband and director at Space & Time.
Steve Harrington is executive director, agency development, Space & Time.