In Conversation with Sean Szeps

Looking forward to Father’s Day this Sunday, content creator Sean Szeps shared his insights on fatherhood, the standard for representation in popular culture for fathers, and advice on parenting through the unexpected. 

What advice can you give to fathers who may be grappling with the amazing and challenging life detours that parenthood provides?

When it comes to parenthood, fathers are often left ignored. It's (mostly) justified in the beginning – we can't carry children or breastfeed them. But long after the initial phases of parenthood fade and the child's reliance on their mother (or surrogate in our case) can be shared equally with the father, the dad's role continues to be an afterthought.

Ask any dad and they'll admit that very few people ever ask how they are doing. It's always, "How's mum handling everything?" or "How are the kids?". And because men, on average, struggle with expressing their emotions due to century-old stereotypes on what makes a man a man, some men struggle in silence.

All this information can be deflating for new fathers, who are already working against a barrage of "lazy dad” stereotypes pushed by the media. This by no means needs to be their truth. 

Men: you must speak up! This journey will be, at its very best, a rollercoaster ride filled with euphoric highs and dramatic lows. This new journey will require you to openly communicate with those around you if you're going to successfully navigate it. Your relationships will be tested. Your strength – both emotional and physical – will be tested. And the only reliable strategy to ensure you keep your head on straight is open communication. Just because your wife gave birth (or a surrogate) doesn't mean your experience or struggles are invalid. If you hold space for your partner to vent, give yourself space to vent, too. 

This is wonderful advice, especially during the particularly challenging times with COVID. Do you have any tips you can share about parenting in lockdown?

I don't have all the answers. I've found this experience to be extremely difficult. I'm less patient, less creative and more likely to be a pushover and a chuck on the television.

But I'm at my very best when I've prioritised time for myself. It's hard to carve out solo time when you're in lockdown, but it's not impossible. Go for a walk or run, sit in the car in the driveway for twenty minutes listening to music, call a friend from the comfort of your locked bathroom, or tell your partner to leave you alone for a night so you can watch trashy television in peace. You have to ensure that you're making and taking time to yourself, filling your own cup rather than focusing on delivering world-class parenting 24/7. It's only then that you'll be capable of being the best parent you can be.

How have you and Josh managed working from home and parenting from home all at once?

The thing that has totally saved us is forced shift work. Because my husband and I are both working from and require silence as we record podcasts, radio shows and video content, we've needed to get crafty about obtaining that child-free time.

We basically do shifts. One of us sleeps in while the other starts the day with the kids. The early riser will take the kids out for a long walk or a visit to the park, while the other dad gets alone time at home to get work done. Depending on our schedules, we usually switch half-way through the day to give the other person some space. If that's not possible, we divide the home space and treat the upstairs as an office while the kids stay downstairs with the other dad.

What was something you said you would "never do" as a parent, which you have heard roll off your tongue many times in the past four years?

The list of things that I said I would "never do" is actually just my current parenting routine. In fact, I might have gone back on literally everything I was CERTAIN I would never let my kids do. For example, my kids were never going to watch television. Never.

Very cute, Sean. Television is a necessary babysitter during a lockdown (even better if it's ABC Kids so you don't feel so bad about plopping them down for 30 minutes or an hour).

What is something about your children which has surprised you recently? 

The twins are quite conscious – and very vocal! – about our use of technology around them at the moment. So much so that I've stopped using my phone around them all together, unless it's work-related. They might not know a world without devices, but they completely recognise when we're paying attention to the phone and not to them. 

Children don't hold back with their opinions. In this case it's been quite lovely to have them hold us accountable for spending quality, tech-free time together. It really got me thinking about my childhood. My parents didn't have phones so parenting was both harder and more involved. I'm trying to find a balance that meets in the middle, completely inspired by my children's acknowledgement of the issue. 

Much of our Alf Community are new parents. Is there anything you wished you had known as a new father you can share with us? 

I wish I had known how many other parents were struggling, too. So much of the parenting experience is performative. Social media is partially to blame, but even in public you show up to a café and the other new parents seem to be focused on the perfect milestones and exciting new products they bought. 

I'm not saying parenting isn't beautiful. It most definitely is. But honesty would be extremely helpful, especially for parents who might be struggling during those first few months. 

If you're struggling, please know that it is, in fact, incredibly difficult. Sure, it will get easier. You will get more sleep. But that doesn't change the fact that what you're going through is hard. Don't let anyone minimise or invalidate your struggles.

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