Mother Nature Never Had to Balance Work and Family

Dear Mr. Dad: My daughter is five days old and today I had to go back to work. All day, I’ve felt an impending sadness that only gets worse. All I want is to be home with my family. I have to go to work and be responsible, but I can’t shake this horrible sadness.

A: Up to 85 percent of new moms go through what’s called the “baby blues”—feelings of sadness and depression that last for a few days or weeks and then slowly fade. It sounds like you’re going through something very similar. Plus, you’ve slammed right into one of the biggest challenges today’s fathers face: how to effectively balance their work and family lives.

Let’s start with the blues. Men’s testosterone levels nosedive right after the birth of their babies. Yes, men’s. Recent research has confirmed that expectant dads’ hormones fluctuate right along with their partner’s throughout and immediately after the pregnancy. Weird, but pretty cool.

That drop in testosterone is naturally going to take away some of your energy and desire to move, and may negatively affect your mood. This may be Mother (or Father) Nature’s way of getting you to stay close to your family where you can support your wife and care for your newborn. But Mom and Dad Nature apparently didn’t take into consideration that some people have to go back to work right after the birth. So you’re stuck schlepping the baby blues to the office.

I’m betting that those feelings of sadness will gradually fade. You’ll have good days and bad, but if you’re not pretty much back to normal within a few weeks, you’ll need to get some counseling. Although everyone knows that new moms can suffer from post-partum depression, new dads can too.

The other part of your question has to do with finding balance between your provider and protector instincts. No question, the conflict between paying the bills and changing diapers (which I believe is a highly underrated way dads and their newborns can bond) can be very stressful.

What aggravates things is that our society still dumps a lot of pressure on men to put work first, but doesn’t adequately account for the emotions we experience when we do. Fortunately, more and more new dads are bucking that pressure, and they’re willing to give up some salary and career advancement for more time at home. But we have a long way to go.

One of the most important steps you can take is to discuss this situation with your wife. A lot of guys keep their post-birth sadness to themselves because they feel they’re supposed to be taking care of their partner and not the reverse. That’s partly true—she definitely needs a little extra support right now. But she’ll interpret your work-family conflict as a sign that you’re taking the dad thing seriously and that you’re really going to be there for her and the baby.

Of course, simply telling her about your feelings is only part one of the discussion. You may also want to talk with her about tweaking your relative roles in the home. If you can take the financial hit, perhaps you could cut back your schedule a little so you can spend more time at home. If you need the income, maybe in a few months she could start working part time. Or, if one or both of you have ever thought about doing consulting or starting your own home-based business, this may be a great time to make the jump.

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