Friday 9 December 2016

Why new dads lose their A-game and suffer at work?

Pundits claimed that tennis star Andy Murray crashed out of the Miami Open due to the exhaustion of fatherhood. It sounds crazy, but there's a wealth of evidence that hands-on dads suffer at work.

Published 20/04/2016 | 02:30

Devoted: Andy Murray has admitted that his new daughter is his priority over tennis.
Devoted: Andy Murray has admitted that his new daughter is his priority over tennis.
Devoted: Andy Murray has admitted that his new daughter is his priority over tennis.
Chef Neven Maguire, wife Amelda and their now four-year-old twins Lucia and Connor Photo: Marc O'Sullivan.
Shock to the system: Dáithí O Sé has a two-year-old son Mícheál Óg.

Does being a dad make you rubbish at your job? That was the suggestion floated by pundits after Scottish tennis player Andy Murray crashed out of a tennis tournament six weeks after the birth of his daughter.

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Commentators were of the opinion that the former Wimbledon champion had looked "exhausted" as he flopped at an event in Miami. He certainly had the sluggish body language of someone pacing the nursery until 6am.

But the implication that fatherhood was an Achilles heel for the previously laser-focused athlete drew a strong rebuke from Murray, who said he'd prefer to be a decent parent to daughter Sophia, born in February, than an all-conquering sportsman.

"I would rather be getting up in the middle of the night and helping her [Sophia] than winning every tennis match and her thinking when she grows up, 'Actually, you know what, he was a s****y dad but he won a lot of tennis matches, so well done'."

He added: "Becoming a parent is life-changing and if it helps my tennis, great. And if it doesn't, that's fine. That's not a problem for me now. My priority is to be a good father first."

While it was heartening to see a leading sportsman stand up for exhausted parents everywhere, research suggests doting fatherhood can indeed be professional kryptonite. Though the data mostly originates from the United States - aka the country were work-life balance goes to die - the conclusions may cause sleepless nights for new fathers in Ireland too (assuming they were getting any sleep to begin with).

The good news is that we are spending more time with our kids than any previous generation: three times as many hours as dads in the 1960s (although we are still twice as likely as mothers to fret that we aren't lavishing enough quality hours to our offspring).

That's as positive as things get. The depressing takeaway from successive studies is that men devoting equal time to family and work - or heaven forbid prioritising domestic over professional responsibilities - risk lower performance evaluations and are more likely to be marginalised at work.

It would seem that 50-50 parenting and reaching the pinnacle of your profession are mutually exclusive (there are even apocryphal claims that Formula One drivers clock longer laps after becoming fathers - the logic being that they are less likely to push themselves into the danger zone when they have a child to take care of).

"If you're looking to find conclusive evidence that says that men who spend more time with their family are going to advance higher in the workplace, that's not going to happen," Brad Harrington of Boston College's Centre for Work and Family told Esquire magazine. "If you really are family centric, you're probably not going to get to the top."

An equally bleak picture was painted by the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management which found that hands-on parents were more likely to be bullied or otherwise treated poorly in the office.

The professional world essentially expects you'll leave the lion's share of childcare to your significant other - or outsource it to a creche/nanny. Hence the higher than average number of chief executives whose spouses are full-time care-givers.

"The men who are changing [nappies], cooking dinner, taking kids to the dentist, helping with the homework: they reported significantly more mistreatment than other men at work," Toronto university's Jennifer L Berdahl told Esquire, "particularly in comparison to those men who played more traditional, hands-off dad roles."

Even fathers at the top of their careers will allow that the early weeks and months of parenthood in particular can be difficult if they are under pressure to hold down a day job. The sacrifice is more than worth it - but it can be a challenge.

"Work-wise it can be extraordinarily draining," says Dáithí O Sé, presenter of RTE's Today show and father to two-year-old Mícheál Óg.

"You're not sleeping properly because you're conscious of the baby waking up. If I go to work and my co-presenter Maura Derrane has had a bad night with the child I do the heavy lifting and vice versa.

"Of course, if you're Andy Murray and you're out on court after one of those nights you are on your own. It can definitely impact on your work performance.

"I was 38 when we had a baby. It was a total shock to the system. Once you get over the joy of being a father - once you get over yourself, essentially - this baby has to be fed, changed, washed on a regular basis.

"You bring the baby home the first night and now there are three people in the room where previously there was two. The realisations happens very fast and it is tiring.

"You really haven't got a clue what you are doing. It's trial and error and we all suffer through it. What people don't tell you, funnily enough, is that parenthood brings great joy as well. For some reason that is glossed over," adds Dáithí.

Indeed, in the long run, many high-achievers are of the opinion that fatherhood is enormously beneficial.

"Helping to raise three children was a definite benefit in the supermarket industry where the majority of customers were housewives with children," says Eamonn Quinn, a panelist on the returning Dragons' Den and director and deputy chairman until its sale in 2005 of Superquinn (established by his father Feargal).

"Even as they get older seeing how they use new technology and interact with each other gives a lot of insight into the new generation of so-called millennials," says the father of three.

"At the start it is difficult with the sleep deprivation. But it gets easier as they get older," adds chef Neven Maguire, who channeled his experiences as a new dad into a bestselling Complete Baby and Toddler Cookbook.

"We have twins and they are now four. I was always careful to set aside Monday and Tuesday as my 'weekend' when I spent time with them.

"It has been brilliant to be honest. Being a father really helped me refocus my time. Your world revolves around your kids - it brought structure to my life."

Sometimes fatherhood can lead to a reexamination of priorities and even a new career. That was true of stand-up comedian Steve Cummins, who turned his back on a pensionable government job after the birth of his eldest son Leon, 12 years ago.

"I worked with juvenile offenders. I was right at the coal face - the last seven years were at the National Remand Centre. I wasn't burnt out but was perhaps getting there.

"You are working with such an extreme client group - by the time the kids got to us they were aggressive or whatever. With a new baby boy I thought it was a good time to take a break and devote myself to him," says Steve, author of Where Do Daddies Come From? A Pregnancy Guide for Men.

"Meanwhile I also started to work more in comedy. At the end of the year, I chucked in the government job and have been a "yummy daddy" ever since.

"When Leon was a baby and toddler getting work done during the day was nigh on impossible. I was lucky, of course, in that I was doing comedy at night. Since then it's become easier."

The great irony of fatherhood is that, while it can make men less career-driven, they often find themselves working harder than ever because they feel it is their responsibility to put bread on the table.

"You want to stop taking these extra gigs. There's a tendency to ask yourself 'why am I really doing it'?" says Dáithí.

"At the same time, you have to do those gigs. You have to make sure this young child is taken care of.

"Even though you want to stay at home to spend more time with the baby, you feel you need to go out and earn money."

Irish Independent

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