When I am talking to pregnant women in my coaching practice just as they prepare to go off on maternity leave, I say to them “you don’t know what you don’t know”. Women often have limited, or no sense of the change that is to come and this is where maternity coaching can be so vitally important in supporting them through the transformation of becoming a working parent.
However, Dads have a very similar experience but it is not yet common practice for them to have access to the same level of support by their employers. The early stages of fatherhood are like those of motherhood; identity change, feelings of anxiety and highly charged emotions or overwhelm. Looking ahead to the return to work after paternity or shared parental leave, and again we can see a similar pattern.
Dads also want and need the ability to work flexibly
This enabled them to share the load at home and the responsibility of caring for their family. Their work also needs to be reviewed in light of the changes that have happened. For example, business travel may be difficult in the first few months back at work, sleepless nights, sickness brought home from nurseries and the new reality of needing to leave work on time to pick up children all combine to create stress, anxiety and guilt which can impact on performance at work.
Dads are also vulnerable to mental health challenges
1 in 10 men experience mental illness in the first months of their child’s life with younger dads being more susceptible. Furthermore, men tend to find it hard to seek help early enough and suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45. The signs of mental health may not be obvious, and when their partner is exhausted herself from feeding and caring for the baby, it may feel even harder for men to share how they are feeling.
Dads also experience trauma
The recent Neonatal Care Act will allow parents whose newborn baby is admitted to neonatal care to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave in addition to other entitlements such as maternity and paternity leave. The impact of this on those parents for whom it will apply is huge. Our first daughter was admitted to the neonatal unit for the first week of her life, and the shock that we experienced rippled throughout the duration of my maternity leave and beyond. Shared parental leave didn’t exist then, and my partner had to return to work after two weeks of paternity leave that was frankly, a traumatic blur. Torn between being anxious about our daughter and concerned for me, he was pulled back into the intensity of his job in advertising with no time to be able to process what had happened. Elliot Rae had a similar experience resulting in implications on his mental health, which you can read about here.
What support is your organisation offering to dads?
Whenever I am speaking with organisations about the support they offer from a maternity perspective, I always ask them what support they are providing for the dads. Yes there are differences in how mothers and fathers experience the transition to being working parents – such as the impact on their career – but many of the challenges they experience are similar.
Is your company culture supportive and inclusive?
Offering coaching to all new parents is crucial, but I’d also encourage organisations to give consideration to the wider system. A supportive and inclusive culture that proactively seeks to bring working parents together to share their learning and support each other, and a leadership team that understands the importance of the skills of the line manager in enabling a smooth transition back to work after parental leave is equally important. Otherwise, the coaching will just be a sticking plaster as parents grapple with trying to fit their new lives into an old way of working.
What support systems do you have in place for working parents?
Thinking more broadly still, ensuring that the mental health of all working parents is a priority by signposting employee assistance programmes, mental health first aiders and other forms of counselling and support is key. Normalising asking for help, encouraging supportive and inclusive practices that reflect all the different journeys to parenthood and policies designed to enable a smooth return to work after parental leave requires a systemic approach.
Get in touch with us if you’d like to find out more about how we partner with organisations to develop a bespoke solution for their working parents.
My colleague Sarah Turner and I have been busy creating content highlighting the importance of organisations providing support for working parents. As part of this, we created this video series exploring the entire journey of maternity leave, from before the leave starts, through to preparing to return and then the first few months back at work. If you or your organisation would like to understand more about how to support your employees as they take parental leave, please get in touch.