Creating Support for Fathers
(2021 • 02 • 07)
As we come to the end of Children’s Mental Health Week, we want to acknowledge, and hear from, a group whose mental health often gets ignored or swept aside: the new fathers.
Hi Dads. How are you doing?
From sleepless nights to the joy of first words, new parents go through a huge amount. But, so often, when we talk about the overwhelming nature of parenthood, we only refer to the mothers. Of course, we’re not about to undermine mums (you go girls), but what about the dads? Don’t they feel the pain of their baby’s tears? Don’t they have sleepless nights? Don’t they have pressure put on them from complete strangers to be the perfect parent? And, more importantly, what effect does all of this have on their mental wellbeing?
Well, it turns out that there is very little information on the subject. Men’s mental health and wellbeing as they become fathers is poorly understood and woefully under-researched.
So what do we know?
Well, a recent study did have some interesting findings on the key elements of new-fatherhood that commonly affect mental health.
They found that, for many fathers, the process of forming their new identity as a father, the challenges of fatherhood, and the negative feelings and fears that come hand-in-hand with them made a big impact. For a lot of fathers, the new restrictions and challenges of their role caused a huge amount of stress. So what methods do fathers have for dealing with these new stresses and challenges?
Well, unfortunately, the most common solutions were denial or escape activities, such as smoking, listening to music or working longer hours. In other words, many new fathers are experiencing reduced mental health, but not accessing fit-for-purpose help and resources.
Why is this?
While the reasons and experience will be different for every parent, we do know that there is a major issue when it comes to access to resources. Fathers involved in the study called for more support and guidance around the preparation for fatherhood, alongside more tailored information resources. They also mentioned a lack of acknowledgement from health professionals.
This is supported by scientific research, which has found that fathers who are given higher levels of support find the transition to fatherhood easier, and experience better overall mental wellbeing as a new parent.
Here at MEplace, we are committed to our fathers, so we wanted to go beyond the study and talk in person. We interviewed our very own parent champion, James, to find out more about his own experiences as a new dad.
Did you have any expectations of fatherhood before having your son? If so, what were they?
'Before Niko arrived, I had three main expectations as a young father. One, that billions of others had done this before, so I should be ok. Two, that I wanted to be as present as possible during his childhood and three, that I wanted to share in all the responsibilities such as feeding, sleeping, changing nappies etc. I knew, loosely, after analysing my own childhood, what type of relationship I wanted with him, but I didn’t have much information to go off. It was all presumptions based on common-sense at that point.'
Did you feel supported whilst transitioning to parenthood by health professionals, colleagues, family and friends? If so, how?
'I felt supported by my partner’s family at the time. It was unfortunate that my family were unable to be with us as we were living abroad. However, the support was more in the form of looking after Niko while we took some much needed time to have dinner, grab a coffee or work.
Usually, I would rely on my friends for support or guidance, but I was the first of my friendship group living this new 1+1=3 experience! At the time, I was also working remotely so there wasn’t much support from colleagues.
I didn’t feel I had much support from health professionals, either. We left the UK in the month leading up to the birth, and I struggled with the new language. Maybe, during the hospital visits, the doctor was offering fantastic advice, but I couldn’t understand what his words were!
Thinking back, I don’t think there was any specific support about transitioning to parenthood. I only remember taking as many opportunities as I could to ask people with children as many questions as possible!'
How do you cope with the feeling of responsibility for your son?
'Responsibility is a vast topic, and I could talk about it for hours. As a parent, I firmly believe that our responsibility is to take what we’ve learned from our own parents and life experience, and pass on that bettered knowledge, thus improving the cycle for the next generation.
That said, I think it is getting harder now with social media, processed foods and more stressful environments. It also unnerved me a bit that this little one didn’t come with an instruction manual, and there was no common knowledge or mainstream education to go off.'
How has becoming a dad impacted your view of your own ‘self’?
'My eyes have certainly become open to the impact one can have on a young life. Analysing myself, I began to understand what influence a workaholic parent, and starting boarding school at an early age, had on my mould. If anything, since becoming a Dad, I’ve wanted to learn more about the early years in order to understand myself better and be able to lead my son by example.'
You’ve been a father for almost four years now. What advice would you give to new dads?
'The advice I would give is to be as present as possible and don’t overcomplicate it - you’ll just worry yourself!
Firstly, many dads (I think) wait for the later years before they feel they can add value. However, the act of just being present requires minimal effort and the effect it has on your relationship later down the line is worth it. Babies are the perfect companions when you need to verbalise your inner thoughts, choices or presentation preparations!
Secondly, don’t overcomplicate it. Your job is to keep the baby safe, love the baby and help the baby when they cry. Remember, babies cry for a reason (that’s their communication) and it’s more than likely only four things; Hungry, sleepy, trapped wind or needs changing - cross off the list as a process of elimination. Worry less, love more!'
And finally, how do you find the balance between being father to a young child and working from home?
'Thankfully, we have genuinely incredible teachers who look after Niko during a typical working week. However, the balance is tough, especially when running a business or mustering the creative energy to think of new projects.
I’m learning from my wife how to be more present during the time off we have. Every evening, before bed, we each share something we’re grateful for. It breaks my heart each time as, in some way or another, Niko will always reveal that he enjoys it most when he spends time with mama and papa.
Working from home has contributed to more quality time together, too. With the commute eliminated, those extra minutes add up considerably, and you can spend time together and share conversation both in the morning and evening. I’m still finding the balance, but working from home allows me to be more present, which I’m thankful to have learnt is the foundation of any nurturing parent-child relationship.'
So, dads, we want to do more for you.
We’re always looking for new ways to make our content and resources the best that they can be, so we want your ideas! What have you, our own real-life new dads, experienced, and what do you want to learn about?
To help shape the resources available to both yourself and other new dads around the world, send us a message with your suggestions, experiences and stories! We’ll be using everything you send to inform the content on both our app and social media.
In the meantime, all of the resources currently available on our Parenting App are suitable for every parent and carer, no matter who you are, so please do check them out for more information on the early years and conscious parenting. We also run weekly AMAs with our psychologist, Viktoria, where you can ask her any and all questions related to being a new parent!
Lizzie, James & Christina