Becoming a new dad is challenging men's mental health like never before. My Family Care founder, Ben, explains why they need equality of support as much as new mums
There's a lot about mental health these days - rightfully so. Brexit, climate change, 24/7 jobs, social media and a load of rain all add to the pressures of modern living. But want to know who the most stressed members of pretty much any workforce are? It's new dads. Have a look at this recent report from the Beeb and the NCT to see just how much pressure they're under.
Before I look at the why, let me make a couple of observations.
My own journey to becoming a feminist started about 30 years ago when I realised the female intake at my big City law firm was just a bit better than the male one. It carried on when I married a woman who was better than me at almost everything; including divorce as it transpired. And it concluded when I saw how my boy-girl twins tackled the early challenges of childhood and adolescence. It's inconceivable, based on their academic efforts to date, that she wouldn't get the same career opportunities as him. Since then I have spent 10 years building businesses underpinned by the knowledge that the world would be a whole lot fairer and richer if there was true equality between the sexes.
A huge part of that conversation is about knocking down the barriers that make careers more difficult for women. Fighting the battle have been swathes of impressive, sometimes slightly scary women starting with Emeline Pankhurst and Florence Nightingale. They've been helped by a few enlightened men along the way but working mothers have been the most effective campaign lobby of the last 50 years - although they're only part of the story. It's only ever going to be possible for women to run half the world if men do a heap more of the caring. And that's where it gets complicated.
I built up Tinies which runs 30 creches and nurseries around the UK. I now work for Bright Horizons, the world's biggest and best childcare business. Recruitment is a huge challenge made doubly difficult by the almost negligible number of men willing (or permitted) to work in childcare.
The law is no better. It doesn't make sense that law firms continue talking about the number of female partners they have without also looking at the number of male secretaries supporting them.
Firstly, it's motherhood. Having a baby turns women into control freaks and men into macho workaholics. You start off in an equal couple, doing similar careers and doing the same amount of domestic chores. Then a baby arrives and the mother, for all kinds of reasons - biological (understandable) and societal (wrong) - often assumes control of the parenting. And the man - because he's 'manly' - buries himself in his high-pressured job and says, "I'm a man, bring it on" possibly beating his chest at the same time. I generalise and stereotype of course, but you get the gist and, wrongly, this is still too often the scenario.
Secondly, it's about when many of us now have children. People with higher-earning, high-pressure careers have children later - typically between 30 and 40. It's middle management level when you're senior enough to know some stuff and be trusted with important work. But when you're not senior enough to delegate it to someone else. You're going to be working harder, with more responsibility than at any other time.
And finally, as the BBC report highlights, no-one recognises new fathers. Employers bend over backwards to look after the female talent that is known as 'working mothers' while it virtually ignores the talent that is 'working fathers'.
So, you're working harder than ever before; your homelife is less fun; your parenting skills are questioned; and at work everyone heaps praise on your female peers. Of course, new dads are feeling stressed, marginalised and under-supported!
Is there any good news for dads? Well. It's not all bad. I mean, mothers still have it worse. They go through nine months of pregnancy, birth, breast-pumping and all manner of other hurdles before then having to contend with the old boys' club mentality still present in too many workplaces.
But there is a need to recognise the plight of new fathers too - their isolation and the lack of support provided them which is exacerbated by traditional societal pressures and expectations.
Of course, this doesn't negate the need to support new mothers, more it's a clarion call to support new parents equally across the board, so no one feels marginalised or left out in the cold.
This is surely the goal we should all be working towards.
If you're a new dad struggling to cope or wanting a little extra support, give our Speak to an Expert service a try. All our coaches are highly trained and specialise in helping working parents.