Lockdown, from burn out to muddling through

In our house we started lockdown a week or so earlier than the rest of UK, our son developed, what in hindsight, was “just a cough” and we started self-isolation on the 17th March. We diligently marked the calendar with our 14 days, my wife was upset that we had to cancel our daughter’s cello exam, while I was checking the news too much, feeling certain that schools would shut at the end of the week and wouldn’t be back until September…
Practical steps to cope with lockdown
Watching how lockdown measures developed in Spain and Italy we’d already ordered a 2nd freezer and placed an order to upgrade our broadband. My wife took control of the home office and ordered a big monitor screen as a second screen for her laptop, while the computer moved to the dining room, a room that has had many titles (including “the drawing room”) but alongside becoming my office it was now the home school location for my 10 year old daughter and 7 year old son.

I set up my booking diary to ensure that there were chunks of quality home school time, scheduled my calls around Zoom football training and ballet classes and the need to make lunch everyday (I definitely underestimated how much time that would take from my day!).

I also made the decision to be up at 6am each morning and straight into work until making the kids breakfast at 7:30. We then had daily PE with Joe sessions to create some structure and rock hard glutes(!). Home school was mostly in the morning and house cleaning was a Thursday job.

Work calls, podcasts and guest webinars were slotted in around this pattern, breaks were extended and moved, while the work that school set was fitted in in some form or other.

The other thing that I did was to work a full day on Saturday and Sundays to make up for the lost time during the week.

Then the wheels came off
That Saturday and Sunday rota lasted about 4 weeks until I had a massive wobble and realised I was getting burnt out. I was sat on the sofa at 6.15 in the morning unable to make any sense of what I should be doing. I reached for my underused but important fall back – the journal and wrote down how I felt and what I needed to do.
Keeping it simple

As a psychologist friend once eloquently told me, the world is full of people “shoulding all over themselves.”

So putting to one side the “shoulds” we focused on the “needs”. We asked ourselves what is the minimum that needed to be done each day or week and focused on that first.

We were struggling with the lack anything to look forward to – our trip to Vienna was off, the kid’s trip to Disneyland Paris with the grandparents was off, our regular 2 week trip to see family and friends in Guernsey wasn’t going to be possible either and job security was an unknown part of the equation.

So we changed the weekend pattern – one day would be family day – a cycle ride or a walk chosen from the excellent https://kentwalksnearlondon.com/ website. Something to plan ahead for, getting out on a manageable walk in fairly local unexplored countryside! Later as lockdown lifted we met up with other families too.

Plus family movie night started up – Saturday evening from 7pm we sat down to enjoy such classics as Groundhog Day, Jumanji (1&2) and Beverley Hills Chihuahua 3. (That last one was awful!)

Planned family time was good for all of us – structure, fresh air and a little something to look forward to in a profoundly unsettling and stressful set of circumstances.

Making lockdown work

Now I appreciate that my story of being a dad in lockdown isn’t necessarily a “normal” story, largely because I have always been the “lead” parent with two stints as a stay at home dad, and almost all the school pick-ups and drop offs, but although the practicalities of my wife’s law career make it really hard for her to be anything other than “all in”, her role doesn’t begin and end with “breadwinning.” Our relationship is and always has been a partnership underpinned by being open about needs and wants and working hard to make the jigsaw fit together.

These were 4 approached that really helped us in lockdown:

  1. Clear communication to understand everyone’s needs
  2. Focus on what, as family, needed to happen each day.
  3. Keep it simple
  4. Being kind to ourselves – good enough is good enough
The future?

More dads than ever did “more” under lockdown – research from the Office for National Statistics found that the number of hours men are spending on childcare had increased by an average of 58 per cent since lockdown began in March.


But we also know that women have done twice as much more (which naturally will make the domestic labour gap get bigger) and are more likely to be interrupted by children when they are working.

Embedding the benefits of more involved dads will take great effort in an uncertain economy, with childcare and school provision under threat. But if couples intentionally design their lives to ensure the domestic and working load is spread evenly, then society has a great chance to use lockdown as opportunity to create greater equality at home and in the workplace for years to come.

Our thanks to Ian Dinwiddy for this article…

Ian Dinwiddy is experienced coach, specialising in coaching and mentoring working dads. 

After his daughter was born in 2010, he spent seven years combining freelance work with being a primary carer to his children (who are now 10 and 7) including two stints as a “full time” stay at home Dad. Ian’s wife is a busy London based funds lawyer – managing their work life balance is an ongoing challenge.

In Spetember 2018 Ian launched Inspiring Dads, a coaching and mentoring business that helps stressed dads balance work and fatherhood.  Ian works with private individuals and businesses, both directly and as an associate.

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