The Provider Dilemma – how to manage your inner caveman

Parent, Partner, Provider, Protector - The modern dad wears many hats. If you don't find a way to balance them all, you may find yourself collapsing under their weight.

Dad provider dilemma

Being a provider has been in our DNA since we were cavemen. Deep down, many of us ‘modern’ dads still believe it’s our job to hunt and provide for our families. In the western world, this used to mean being a reliable breadwinner. Bringing home the bacon. Being ‘the man of the house’.

However, in recent decades, the traditional roles of men and women have become intertwined. There’s no clear delineation anymore. No job description. No map or guidebook. Providing for my family and being a good dad means everything to me, but it’s been redefined.

‘Providing’ is no longer just a financial and material measure. Dads are now expected to provide substantially more inside the home – to be more involved in parenting than our own fathers and grandfathers were. And while I want this more than anything, a deep, overriding feeling still remains… Is what I provide enough? Am I enough?

I call it, The Provider Dilemma – the relentless challenge of providing enough at work, as a parent and as a partner, all while keeping everything in some kind of sane balance. It’s something I struggled with throughout the first few years of fatherhood, and actually led me into depression.

The Provider Dilemma

The head trips, the knots in the gut and the restless nights. The feeling that everyone wants a piece of you and there isn’t enough to go around. In my head, everyone was asking for more and I didn’t have any more to give.

The reality is that while most of us want to be more involved dads, there’s constant pressure to invest in our careers in order to maintain our job security, stay in contention for that promotion and improve the likelihood of us being higher-earners in the future. All of this pressure was slow cooking in my head.

I was carrying an enormous amount of responsibility on my shoulders – from how much I should be working, the money I should be making, the stuff we should have, how much I should be hands-on parenting, how much support I should be providing to my partner, the way my marriage should be and so on.

I was carrying all this, but I wasn’t talking about it. I set myself up for the battle and went at it alone – something I now know that many new fathers are prone to doing.

How to deal

The good news is that there are ways to relieve the pressure and feel more fulfilled as a modern day provider and a dad. Here are a few tips.

1. Check yourself

Reality check your own definition of providing, the responsibility you’re shouldering and the expectations you’ve placed on yourself. Discover where your tension points are and the source of your anxiety.

Chances are you’ll realise you have a bunch of unrealistic expectations that are giving you grief. It may be time to make some adjustments.

2. Talk to your partner

Take what you discovered when you checked yourself and chat to your partner. Let her into your worry, stress and anxiety. Help her understand how you’re being stretched to provide and how it’s impacting you. Tell her why it matters to you. Ask her what her expectations of you are.

3. Make it a team effort

It doesn’t necessarily mean that everything has to be equal, or that you can’t or shouldn’t be a breadwinner. Everyone’s situation is unique and there’s no right way to raise a family. ‘Right’ is what’s best for you and your circumstances.

Having a career and being the breadwinner may well be your calling. Equally, you may be destined to be a stay-at-home dad. Or maybe you’ll both work part-time? You might have a crack at all of these roles as you’re raising kids.

Just remember to talk about it all first. Social expectations have changed, even if your caveman mentality hasn’t.