Ask Nicole: Tips for Dads Adjusting After COVID
By Nicole M. Young, MSW
My oldest child recently graduated from college. I’m grateful he experienced his graduation ceremony in person, but it was surreal to be there with thousands of people. It made me realize how life is definitely different because of COVID but feels more “normal” with each passing day. I’ll admit there are times when I miss the quieter, slower pace of life and the increased family bonding time, especially during the first year of the pandemic. I want to maintain that feeling of peace and family connectedness, even as life takes my kids in new and different directions. I have a feeling I’m not the only one who feels this way.
Dear Nicole, I’ve been a stay-at-home dad for two years after losing my job during the pandemic. At first, it was hard to adjust to not going to an office every day, and I was worried about our family’s finances. My stress affected my partner and our young kids — there were a lot of arguments and outbursts. But then we found a new rhythm, and I ended up loving my dad duties and being more present and involved in my kids’ daily activities. Now, I just received a full-time job offer. I want to be employed again but I’ve already had a few emotional breakdowns about spending less time with my kids. It’s making me rethink my priorities. What can I do? – Frank
Dear Frank, Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability. I’ll bet there are other dads and parents who can relate to what you’re feeling. While it’s a relief that childcare, schools, businesses, and other daily activities have resumed, I’ve heard several people describe “bright spots” — like a simpler life and more family time — that they hope will remain in the post-COVID world. Here are some tips to try:
Feel the feelings. It’s natural to feel conflicted about returning to work and spending less time with your children, and it’s healthy that you’re acknowledging the intensity of those feelings. Find ways to express and release your emotions in ways that work for you — whether that’s through physical activity, talking, crying, mindfulness exercises, or some other outlet. This is an important form of self-care, especially during stressful times.
Talk with your family. Chances are, your kids (and maybe even your partner) are feeling similar emotions but might not know how to name or express them. The arguments and outbursts might even return if you accept the job and the whole family experiences another big shift. Talk as a family about what aspects of your daily routines will change and what will stay the same. Share your own mixed feelings about these changes and what you’re doing to handle big emotions. This will set a good example and help your kids build their own emotional resilience.
Make your family’s “bright spots” part of your regular routine. Identify the things you treasured most about your dad duties during the pandemic, then try to find ways to continue doing them, even if it’s different. If you enjoyed making all their meals, can you prepare at least one snack or meal for them each day? If you loved having time to read, play, or talk together without being rushed, can you create that same quality time in short but frequent amounts of time when you’re home? If you created new routines and rituals during the pandemic that hold special meaning, like a family movie night or parent-child “dates,” can you continue those on a regular schedule, even if it’s less frequently?
Explore options for a flexible work arrangement. This is a good time to talk with your prospective employer about how they support employees to maintain a healthy work-family-life balance. Find out whether the company will accommodate a flexible schedule or even a hybrid work arrangement, if your type of job could be done remotely. Their answer might help you determine whether this job opportunity fits your priorities at this time in your life.
Final Thoughts: Living through a global pandemic has been incredibly challenging but has also created positive moments for many families. As everyday routines start to resemble pre-pandemic life more and more, remember to hold on to the bright spots and create a “new normal” that works for your family.
This monthly column provides tips for anyone raising children, based on the world-renowned Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, available to families in Santa Cruz County. If you have a question or idea for a future column, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nicole Young is the mother of two children, ages 18 and 22, who also manages Santa Cruz County’s Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, the world’s leading positive parenting program. Scientifically proven, Triple P is made available locally by First 5 Santa Cruz County, the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency (Mental Health Services Act) and the Santa Cruz County Human Services Department. To find a Triple P parenting class or practitioner, visit http://triplep.first5scc.org, http://www.facebook.com/triplepscc or contact First 5 Santa Cruz County at 465-2217 or email@example.com.