Dear Maxine,

I love being a dad, it’s brilliant. I love my son and my partner and I want to be there for them as much as possible. But I am exhausted. I have our baby in the morning, go to work, come home, relieve my partner and then it’s bedtime/tidying time and I’m wiped out by 8pm (really, if we’re honest, I’m done by 5pm). Our parents are around and do help out a bit but nothing ever feels like enough and it’s hard to co-ordinate a lot of the time.

I want to be there for my partner and my son but I feel like I’m fading fast and I don’t know what to do. I feel like I’m constantly disappointing someone and can never do enough.

Thanks for your time.

Dear Follower,

Thanks for getting in touch. I’m not surprised you’re exhausted – you’re doing so much! And I think this is one of the real challenges of parenting at the moment. We can be the most involved and supportive couple ever, but that’s still not enough of a ‘village’ to have the energy we need to be all the things we want to be. I guess to things I’m wondering about can be broadly split into the following:

How are you feeling?

What do you need?

How to ease expectations

How can you ask for what you need?

How are you feeling?

Globally, so much has happened in the past 18 months, plus, at some point relatively recently, you’ve become a father. That is a huge amount to adjust to.

So I don’t imagine ‘how are you feeling?’ has a simple or single answer. I imagine ‘exhausted’ seems like a very obvious catch all. And it probably is the overarching experience you’re having at the moment.

And yet, if we can separate out and identify some of our feelings more of the time, it can help with the overwhelm.

So, how are you feeling at each point in your day? When you’re spending time with your child. When you’re at work. When you’re at home with your partner. Which parts bring you joy? Which parts bring you other feelings? Can you acknowledge those feelings? Do you know where they come from?

This can be a really challenging thing to ask you to do, so take your time. We spend a lot of our lives avoiding our feelings for all kinds of reasons. So go slowly, stop if you need to, breathe out and come back when you’re ready.

Feeling like you’re constantly disappointing people

This really struck me in your message. It sounds as though you have so many expectations of yourself and they are getting higher and higher. Where do you think these expectations come from? Have you always had these or has something shifted since becoming a dad or at some other point?

These questions, and the next few, might be particularly challenging so please do take care of yourself as you read them.

What’s your own experience of dads and partners/husbands (or mums and partners/wives, this is as relevant to all kinds of parents)? How do you think that might be affecting what you’re expecting of yourself now? Do you think your expectations are realistic and fair or is there a chance that they might be based on the fantasy of what the ‘perfect’ dad or partner looks like?

Is there a way to find a middle ground? What would it be like to let go of some of your expectations? What comes up for you when you think about this?

Is there a way you can talk to your partner about this?

Remember, keep breathing out as you read this. It’s challenging stuff and not necessarily something to think about all in one go. Make sure you have people around you who can be kind to you, particularly if you find it hard to be kind to yourself.

What do you need?

Once we know what we’re feeling, we can then start to identify what it is we need.

Again, I really hear the exhaustion and so I’m guessing one of the priorities for you is a break. If we can understand what our feelings are, then we can know what that break might need to look like – would sleep be the most revitalising thing for you? Or would connecting with your loved ones be more energising? Doing some exercise? Taking some time out on your own?

What we need to restore and revive us will vary, so the more aware of ourselves we can be, the more easily we can identify our needs.

It also sounds like you need someone to help ease your expectations of yourself and the demands you place upon yourself. Where could you find that? What could you compromise on to allow some ‘lower’ standards?

Easing expectations

One option for beginning to ease expectations is to look at what you demand of yourself in each area of your life. Making a list might help.

Then go through the list. Would you expect this of everyone or just yourself?

Would you expect it of everyone all of the time or would you allow them some leeway sometimes?

Where do you think these expectations come from? Are they realistic and fair? Or are they demands that you will never meet and so always be disappointed in yourself?

Which could you let go of? If not wholly then partially? How would that feel? How could you reassure yourself that it’s OK?

How can you ask for what you need?

Does it feel easy to ask for what you need? If so, what makes it easy?

If not, why not? What do you fear will happen? Do you think you are allowed the time and space that you require to function?

I know very well how full on it is being a parent, especially at the moment, and so can really understand how difficult it feels to take that time – because it can feel as though you’re dumping on someone else.

And yet, what difference do you think it would make to you if you had, for example, a morning of ‘freedom’, to do what you needed? What difference do you think that would make to the people around you?

How could you get it? Are there other people around you you could more explicitly ask for more help from?

How would it feel to ask parents for more help and support? Do they seem open to this or do you feel as though you’re asking for too much? Is your perception reality? What do they say about helping you out? Does what they say match what you see? If not, why do you think that might be?

What comes up for you when you think about taking time out for yourself? For many people, guilt can creep in, is that what happens for you? Where do you think that comes from? How can you be kind to yourself in response to that? Could you be a good enough father and take time for yourself?

Is there any chance that taking time for you could liberate your partner into feeling as though she could take time for herself too?

Often, I find couples get stuck in a cycle of knowing how hard the other is working and how much they are sacrificing, so feeling as though they have to sacrifice the same.

Could this be happening in your relationship?

How could you break that?

How do you feel now you’ve read this?

What’s come up for you?

What fits? What doesn’t?

I’d love to know what you think so please share on comments below or Facebook or Instagram.