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Help For Overwhelmed Fathers

By Mark Brandenburg

No man can possibly know what life means, what the world means, what anything means, until he has a child and loves it. Then the whole universe changes and nothing will ever again seem exactly as it seemed before. -- Lafcadio Hearn

On this evening, things certainly didn't seem to be like they were before. This evening had been difficult. As I was trying to get my kids to bed, my daughter was whining and crying about tomorrow's school clothes while my son flopped around on the floor without a care in the world.

It was well past their bed time and I was simultaneously upset with myself for getting behind schedule; preoccupied with a project I was late on; angry with my kids for not cooperating; and worried that they'd have another crabby day from back-to-school stress and a lack of sleep. I could feel the tension envelope my shoulders and jaw. My mind was moving at a dangerous rate.

Then the moment happened.

My four year old son looked up at me as innocently as humanly possible and said, "Dad, what do snails eat?"

Letting loose of the drama
Everything slowed down and relaxed. The drama of the moment disappeared. My worry and concern had been revealed as a hoax. All that seemed to matter now was getting my kids down to bed in a warm and caring manner.

After stumbling through a "snail diet" answer and thanking my son for putting things in perspective for me, I marveled at how quickly my emotions could change. Unfortunately, this shift is not always very rapid or easy for fathers in stressful situations.

The challenge for many fathers is how to deal with the overwhelming stresses that can be a constant in modern family life. In his book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail (1994), John Gottman found that men experienced much higher heart rates and higher blood pressure than women during emotional discussions with their spouses. These higher rates also tended to stay higher for longer periods of time.

The result of this sense of being overwhelmed for men can be any number of reactions, including disengagement, the silent treatment, angry outbursts or excessive attention to work. Of course, everyone loses when these reactions become commonplace. And the truth is that these reactions can be improved upon and eventually avoided.

Coping with feeling overwhelmed
Here are five ideas to help in dealing with feeling overwhelmed with your family.

Raise your standards. Stop blaming others for your feelings of being overwhelmed; this only makes things worse. Commit yourself to improving your own skills in dealing with your feelings and realize that it always starts with you.

Take time outs. These will help to put some perspective to the situation, and they'll also show your kids you're working on it. You can't expect your kids to work on their "stuff" if you don't work on your own.

Plan ahead and train your kids. A lot of stressful situations can be avoided by being prepared. Get things ready the night before and be very consistent with routines.

Raise the bar for yourself by having your wife or kids (or both) keep you accountable. Tell them to remind you if they see you getting overwhelmed and angry. Then do what's necessary for you to create a healthier response.

Use a well practiced and routine relaxation response when you feel overwhelmed. Whether it's deep breathing or counting to ten, have a tool to use when the going gets tough. It beats yelling, any day.

Fathers are often the fixers of things in their household. While not an easy task, the flooding that fathers experience when they feel overwhelmed is a fixable problem. The choice is clear: point fingers at your family or deal with your own issues.

What do you think is best for your family?

NFO contributing author Mark Brandenburg MA, CPCC, is the author of 25 Secrets of Emotionally Intelligent Fathers and is a personal coach to parents. Read more about Mark.


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