Becoming a dad is one of life’s major milestones. But let’s be real, parenthood also comes with its own special set of stresses: sleepless nights, financial pressure and poo. A lot of poo.
Even though it may seem like the right thing to do, putting your own needs to one side for the next 18 years is almost guaranteed to have a negative impact on your health.
In other words, if you want to take better care of your family, you need to take better care of yourself.
Not sure where to begin? MindJournal spoke to five dads who have been there, done it and got the questionably stained T-shirt to find out how the experts stay on top of their wellbeing.
Find Your Tribe
Charlie Dark – Founder, Run Dem Crew
Whatever you do, don’t allow fatherhood to make you old before your time. It’s good to grow up eventually, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun. Reconnect with a teenage passion – it could be skateboarding, roller skating, shooting hoops, footie or whatever. They generally come with a tribe and a sense of belonging, be it in the physical or an online forum. It can be isolating being a dad and the pressure of responsibility can be overwhelming at times. I may not be able to ollie as high, but skating keeps me young and the smile stays beaming. A smiling and happy dad is a superhero dad.
Give Yourself Permission
Once you become a dad, it becomes hard to remember what life was like before kids. And even harder to imagine the day when they fly the nest. But that time will come. That's why it's even more important to have a life beyond kids. So take those Spanish lessons, attend that spin class, write that novel you always talked about.
Make It A Habit
Organised fun doesn't sound like much fun at all, but it's a smart way of making sure your free time doesn't get swallowed up by chores. Whether it's a non-negotiable 'Happy Hour' in the evening or joining a Sunday sports team, schedule regular time for you and your partner, and treat it like any other appointment.
Talk About The Tough Stuff
JC – Co-Founder, Movember Foundation
It’s really important to remember is that it’s okay to not be okay. Becoming a dad is one of the most life-changing things a man can go through, and it doesn’t come with a rulebook. You will make mistakes, probably more than your kids will, but be kind to yourself and always check in with your mates. Be honest, and don’t be afraid to talk about the tough stuff.
Don't Go It Alone
Feeling lonely and isolated is common among new dads and men in general, so know that you're not alone. The number of online groups, forums and comment threads proves that. If what you're after is in-person connections, look for social groups aimed at dads, or strike up a conversation with a fellow dad next time you do the drop-off. We're all in this together.
Too many guys think they have to put on a brave face because "that's just what dads do." But the fact is that it takes real strength to show sensitivity in your relationships. Just the act of acknowledging when you're wrong or asking for help can make a positive difference in your family dynamic and how you feel.
Look After Yourself
Jamie Millar – Contributing Editor, Men's Health
When my wife and I were going to NCT classes, the woman running them said something to the dads that's always stuck with me: "If you don't look after yourself then you can't look after anyone else." Remember that self-care isn't selfish. Don’t forget to fill up your own cup.
Do Your Bit
Sharing the load isn't always clear cut – whether one parent has to work more or you're co-parenting. Still, this doesn't mean that just one person should be changing the nappies or doing the school run. Have an honest conversation and come up with a system that's fair and works for you both. It'll mean less stress all round and more time for you both to relax.
Get Your Vitamin Z
Sleepless nights are part of parenting, but it's essential to be aware when you're feeling more than just a bit tired. Evidence suggests that our physical and mental health is closely related to how many ZZZs we get. The advice? Sleep whenever they sleep. Even a ten-minute power nap can sometimes be all you need to recharge.
Track Your Moods
Michael Townsend Williams – Founder, Do Breathe
Though it might not seem like it at times, there’s so much you can learn from your children and apply to your own inner child (trust me, we all have one). Children are very good at knowing how they feel and vocalising what they want from others. Parenting your inner child by paying attention to your moods and slowing down when you’re tired, will ultimately make you a better Dad. Ignoring your inner child won't.
Unload And Unwind
Most kids would rather have a happy, well-balanced dad than one who 'gets things done' but is always stressed to the max. The good news is you don't have to take up an elaborate meditation practice to chill out. Journaling is a simple way to take a deep breath and remind yourself that you don't have to run flat out all the time.
No good parent tries to screw up. But here's the thing, it happens. Some mistakes are minor. Others fill us with regret. Whatever the severity of your slip-up, allow yourself to be human. Because that's what you are. Admit your faults, own your mistakes and move on. You'll likely be a better dad for it.
Make Time To Move
Rob Kemp – Author, Dadding It! Landmark Moments In Your Life As A Father... And How To Survive Them
A useful physical tip for new fathers to employ – which will help stave off the ‘dad bod’ and prevent injuries is to do strength building exercises such as press-ups and deep squats every day. Just a few drills like this will build lower and upper body strength and work the core muscles – around the stomach and lower back. You will be engaging these muscles more as you lift and carry your new baby and all their accessories so it pays to ensure you're fit for fatherhood.
Be An Example
A great dad is a healthy dad, but it doesn't just come down to being able to use your twins for bicep curls. Remember that you're setting an example with everything you do – whether it's drinking, smoking or any other unhealthy behaviour. If not being good for you isn't enough motivation, remember it isn't good for them either.
Set The Bar Low
It's easy to justify skipping the gym to spend time with your kids or ordering takeout after a long day. But that won't do any good for your wallet or your waistline. Stick to basics: at the start of the week, batch cook a few meals loaded with protein, vegetables and carbs that you can fall back on. With the time saved selecting pizza toppings, you'll be able to fit in a quick home workout.