Why did you start the platform and what do you want to achieve through it?
It all started when my wife and I were expecting our first child. I had loads of questions, not sure much about the physical act of looking after a baby (feeding and nappy changes are pretty much covered in the antenatal classes!) but more about how I was going approach parenting. I went online, as you do, but there was nothing really there from the perspective of a father. There were loads of mummy websites, which were useful, but there was nothing written from a man’s perspective and touching on some of the unique experiences a father is likely to have. So I created the platform I wanted to see.
MusicFootballFatherhood is essentially the ‘mumsnet for dads’. We are the home to the online community of fathers, and men looking to be fathers in the future, from the UK and beyond. We are a resource and a space where dads can be free to talk and read about things that are important to us; stuff like work-life balance, money management, relationships and of course music and football. We share stories our network of fathers, review products, share advice, report the latest news on law and legislation and host a forum for everyone to get involved and share their views and experiences. The modern father is a new breed. We are way more involved and present than ever before. But every modern father is different. Whether you are a single parent, father of a blended family, a stay-at-home dad or a father of quadruplets, we are here to inspire, inform and support you on your journey. We’ll also be launching an online shop with some cool daddy products soon so look out for that! Our ultimate aim is to help improve society and tackle some of the many issues we face by building strong families and communities. We believe this all starts at home.
We tend to see a lot of discussion surrounding men especially within the black community centred on their absence from the family unit. What would you say are the honest real fears or pressures of and on a father when it comes to raising a child in today’s society?
There are many different pressures but here I’ve picked out the three that I tend to hear about the most through interacting with different fathers and fathers to be through MFF.
Money – society tells you that you have to be the provider and you’ll probably feel that pressure internally too as you naturally want to provide everything your child needs. This means you’ll need to have your money right. In 2017, especially living in London, life can be very expensive so when you add a child into the equation you need to be making a certain amount of money to not only maintain but give your child all the things they need. If it’s a planned pregnancy you are probably more prepared and have saved but it can be tough if you’re young and it wasn’t planned. My advice would be to try and plan and save as much as possible. There are basic costs but babies are only as expensive as you want them to be so prioritise where you spend your money and look around for deals on everything.
Being a role model – there’s no manual to raising a child, and especially where so many people grew up without a father, a common fear is about how to be a good father if you didn’t grow up with one. There is pressure to be the perfect father and that can be difficult as you never really know what you are doing, you are just doing what you think is best for your child.
Managing relationships and family dynamics – when you have a child your whole relationship with your partner changes. Rather than your sole focus being on each other, it’s now on this little human that you have bought into the world. You’ll need to adapt to your new life quickly and it takes a lot of patience, unselfishness, confidence and maturity to maintain a happy family unit.
Just over three out of four suicides are by men (76%) and suicide is the biggest cause of death for men under 35 in the U.K. I think it’s important to ask how would you think a man should best navigate depression, suicidal thoughts or anxiety whilst being a father to their child?
I actually wrote a piece on how to help avoid Post Natal Depression here. Although PND is most commonly known as something that affects women, studies have shown that one in 10 dads will experience some form of PND, and most of those dads will suffer from symptoms three to six months after their baby is born. Research also shows that more than one in three new fathers (38%) are concerned about their mental health.
It’s great that we can now talk about these things. For ages it’s been taboo, especially in the Black community, but now we are moving towards a place where it’s OK to talk about your experiences without being seen as weak or just crazy. I’ve personally had a lot more people open up to me about their mental health problems and in turn, I shared my experiences of Post Traumatic Stress in one of my most open pieces ever. The amount of positive messages and support I received was amazing. One thing that people said to me was that they would never have been able to guess what I was going through. I’m a pretty bubbly and positive person and like other men, and particularly black men, I’m not what you would call an open book. Luckily I have a fantastic wife who I can speak to about anything, so I do have a source of release. The problem is when people don’t have anyone they can speak to, issues build up and end up spiralling out of control, ending up much worse than it should have been. It’s so important to talk.
There are a few things that you can do to help manage your mental health as a new father and these include communication, finding time for time away from your family and exercise. I go in depth into more here but ultimately if you are experiencing mental health issues it’s best to contact an expert. There are loads of different organisations that can help, and of course you can always visit your GP. One example of a great mental health charity is MIND (http://www.mind.org.uk) so please do get in touch with them, if you feel you need to.
Do you believe that there needs to be more safe spaces for discussion for men and why do you believe that there aren’t many?
Most definitely, there needs to be more spaces for discussions for men, it’s one of the reasons I started MFF. The role of men and fathers in society is changing and it’s essential to have that space to share experiences and perspectives. For example, there are far more Stay At Home Dads now and more than ever and the 2017 Modern Families Index found that while nearly half of working fathers (47%) want to move to a less stressful job because they cannot balance the demands of work and family life. And just over a third would be willing to take a pay cut to achieve a better work-life balance, those figures increase for younger fathers – indicating a seismic change in workforce mentality. This is a total cultural shift and there needs to be the support strictures in place to facilitate this movement. It’s an interesting question as to why there aren’t more spaces and ultimately it comes down to individuals lacking either the desire, capability or capacity to create them. More and more men are becoming open to talking and connecting with other men on things like fatherhood but it comes down to individuals creating them. Like with anything in life, nothing just appears, it takes someone to dedicate a lot of time (and usually money) to create the space.
What is your advice with regards to being a full time father and a full time employee and balancing financial support for the family whilst being present and active in your child’s life?
This is a great question! In regards to time management, I think this is one of the most important skills to learn as a parent. I have a full time job, a business and I am a very involved father and the only way I manage to maintain all three is by using my time effectively. Here are some of my top tips for time management:
Work out what’s important to you – identify the 3 or 4 things that are important to you and spend all your time on activities that work towards progressing these areas. So for me it’s family, business and work. At the moment if it’s not one of those, I’m probably not interested. You need to identify what you want to spend your time on and sacrifice everything that’s not.
Be efficient – the 80/20 rule. You can get good results in most things by giving it 80% and saving that 20% for the next task. This allows you to get more good quality work done. It’s also about knowing when to give something 100% and having the ability to be decisive.
Try and factor in some flexibility – I’m lucky enough to be able to work full time but over 4 days. So I do very long days but have a 3 day weekend. Friday is daddy-daughter day and we go to a couple of playgroups and usually see my niece who is 3 years old and lives round the corner. If you can get some flexibility in work it will help you achieve your goals outside of work too.
It appears that male absence from the family unit in order to provide is normalised in a way that is not afforded to women. The judgement generally surrounding career women and their parenting skills differs to that of men. Do you think career men receive similar judgement but in a different way?
The second part of the question around being absent due to work commitments is an interesting one. As I’ve mentioned, more and more men are reducing their hours to spend time with their children and more and more women are increasing their hours to help develop their career. The traditional gender roles are changing but society still hasn’t completely caught up. I was reading an article just the other day about how some Stay At Home Dads are made to feel inadequate, mostly by other men. And I’ve heard countless stories about mothers being made to feel guilty for going back to work fulltime. Society is slowly changing but I think it will be awhile before it’s normalised. It may not even be until the generation of babies now who are raised by Stay At Home Dads actually get into the workplace!
Ultimately I think you just need to do what works best for you and your family and try not to be influenced or effected by what people say. It’s your life and you need to decide what you want to do with it, don’t let anyone else define what your lifer should look like.
I know a lot of adults who say they’ve never heard their fathers say that they are proud of them, what do you think about this? From a fathers perspective.
I think traditionally men have been expected to be the strong provider. This has sometimes come along with a lack of nurturing or emotional connection. And I understand that it’s hard to get the balance right because as the man you’ll probably need to take on the role of disciplinarian. Fathers have often taken the tough love approach and while there is a place for that, we need to do better at striking a balance. But I think that is changing as men are becoming more aware of the emotional and psychological impact they have on the child’s life. Just take a look at MFF and you’ll see examples of men that are way more invested emotionally in their children than most men of previous generations. Telling your child you are proud or just a simple ‘well done’ may seem like a small thing but it can give that child so much confidence and belief. As we learn and develop as individuals we learn about how to communicate, motivate and influence others. This translates to all areas of our lives, whether that be at work, with our children or playing with our local football team.
What must you never say to a pregnant woman? MFFOnline tips on how to handle your partner’s pregnancy? Dealing with her hormones.
Another big question! Ok so how do I say this without coming across like a pr***! To expect women to not change during pregnancy would be crazy. With all the hormones and physical changes there will also be changes to her mood and habits, it’s only natural as she does have a human being growing inside her! For the man I would just say to have patience, understanding and expect to do more around the house. Your partner will be feeling quite tired, especially in the first and third trimesters so you will need to do a bit more cooking and cleaning. Also, try and get involved in the pregnancy too, it’s easy for the man to feel a bit disconnected to it all at this stage so make sure you attend all the midwife appointments, be involved in purchasing decisions and be as supportive as you can be throughout the whole process. We also did hypnobirthing too which is a relaxing way for both parents to connect with each other during pregnancy.
What are the most annoying things people say when you’re expecting?
Argh, these are some good questions Ebi! Lol. One thing that really annoyed me was the negativity that people try and put on you. And the irony is that it usually comes from other parents. People saying your life is going to be over and you’ll never sleep again blah blah blah. I had to ask some people, if it was that bad, why have you got 3!! It’s a very British thing to complain and I found that instead of people taking about the joys and fulfilment of parenting, they focused on the negatives. It irked me so much that I even wrote a blog post about it here.
Do you ever get over the strangeness of being a first time father?
I think you do yes. For the first few months it’s all a bit of a shock. I remember times in the night very early on when you hear a baby crying in the background and for a split second you think ‘who’s baby is that crying’ before you realise it’s yours! But over time your new life becomes normal. I think a really important thing to do is to try and adapt to the changes as quickly as possible. I’m a big believer that you can still have a varied and full life after children, you just need to think differently about how you do things. For example, it’s likely that in the early stages you won’t be able to go out to all the events you used too but there are ways of making things happen with some planning and flexibility.
Interview with Elliott Rae.
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