The doctor’s survival guide to becoming a dad
Often dads are the ones left to work full-time while supporting their partner and new baby financially, physically and emotionally. How do new dads arrive at a work-life balance?
1. Make time for exercise
“When our baby was born, I stopped exercising,” says Dr Sam Peterson, GP registrar at Chinchilla Medical Practice and Chinchilla Hospital, and GPTQ Rural Liaison Officer. “As the weeks turned into months, I found there was enough time for me to go back to the gym. However, I found it difficult to leave the baby at home with my wife, after spending so much time at work. Now I’ve bought a jogging pram. I can go for a run with the baby and give my wife some time out.”
“I am in awe of anyone who can maintain their sanity in the first six months of a first baby,” says Dr Jamie Nuttall, GP registrar and GPTQ medical educator. “I functioned best at the times when I exercised daily, such as going for a brisk walk with the pram before work.”
2. Get practical help
You don’t have to do it alone. Ask relatives for help, or hire someone to clean, babysit or cook.
“I always thought it was un-Australian to get a cleaner. It was never really a problem before the baby, because I did most of the cleaning,” says Sam. “But since working as a rural GP, I don’t have much time to clean, and my wife struggled with caring for the baby and keeping the house clean with a virtually absent father. Getting a cleaner to come in on a regular basis, has made things easier for both of us.”
Jamie agrees. “Keep an eye on your fatigue and recognise when you really need to ask a relative for a break, so you can catch up on sleep.”
3. Take all your leave entitlements
Having a baby is a rare and precious time in your life. Make sure you make the most of it by spending time with your baby. That often means, taking leave from work.
Jamie says: “I had the luxury of taking four weeks of recreation leave when the baby was born, which many fathers don’t get.”
“I also took parental leave from GP training for six months, lining up with the first GP term for 2018: late January until late July. Men are eligible for parental leave, but you need to plan well in advance and discuss it with your employer and training provider. We’ve been incredibly lucky to have understanding and flexible employers and we’ve hired a nanny for the one day a week when neither of us can be home.”
4. Reduce your work hours if you can
Sam recommends cutting down your hours so you have more time to spend with your baby. “As a rural GP, I was working an unhealthy number of hours,” he says. “Now I only work full time, and I can take my baby to swimming lessons.”
“Seriously consider the option of being the primary caregiver for a period of time,” says Jamie. “There’s no rule that says dad has to be the breadwinner while mum is the caregiver. Being a stay-at-home dad for the past six months is one of the best things I’ve ever done.”
5. Be realistic about what you can take on
“I got to the point where trying to study at home was a complete waste of time,” says Sam. “It was a lot less stressful for everyone if I just left home for one or two hours and actually got some study done, rather than try to help care for the baby and study at the same time.”
Jaime says you need to think seriously about what commitments you can realistically take on. “Even though my wife was the main caregiver for the first six months, I think I would have really struggled if I had been preparing for exams or doing a diploma during that first six months. Even worse, I might have spent less time with the baby than I wanted to,” he says.
6. Learn from your patients
“General practice gives you a unique opportunity to see what hundreds of other parents do with their kids,” says Jamie. “I learnt a lot of tips and tricks about parenting from observing and talking with my patients.”
But, says Jamie, don’t treat your own kids – take them to their own GP.
7. Work regular hours if you can
It helps – not just babies, but parents too – to have a routine.
Jamie is grateful that general practice has enabled him to work out of the hospital system, and avoid shift work. “Working regular hours meant that even after I had gone back to work, I could be a part of the daily routine every morning, evening, and overnight. Having been at the same practice for six months before the baby came, many of my patients knew about my impending parenthood. I was touched and humbled by all the well wishes, and the knitted socks and blankets.”
8. Choose a career that offers flexibility
Dr Mike Hurley, a GP anaesthetist at Beaudesert Hospital, and his wife, Dr Jaime Hurley, an obstetrician who was instrumental in the reopening of Beaudesert Hospital maternity unit in early 2014, are also new parents.
They enjoy a work-life balance that rural general practice enables. “It’s a flexible lifestyle,” says Mike. “We have a seven-month-old baby boy and I have reduced my clinical time and taken on more education work. It’s so easy with general practice to tailor your career around your life.”
Your supervisor and registrar liaison officer are available to answer any questions you may have about your entitlements and the support that may be available to you and your new family. Most importantly, do ask. It is vital at this time that you reach out to people who can help and support you if you need it.
Also check out Lisa Fraser’s article ‘Going back to work after having a baby’ with tips for new mums on maternity leave, part-time work options, breastfeeding at work and more.