Mental Health and Fatherhood
By Colin McCann, co-founder and managing director of Fathers & Friends.
Guest Blog "Congratulations, you’re a dad! What now?"
Becoming a parent is a rewarding but daunting experience. There can be a lot of complications that appear as a result of becoming a dad. There may be issues you might not have had to face before, and sometimes you might feel like you don’t know how.
Here’s a quick list of some of the worries you may be feeling and practical tips on facing them. Many of these are a common part of adjusting to fatherhood. But sometimes these worries are a bit more than that and can lead to other serious conditions such as post-natal depression – which, yes, men can get too. If you’re experiencing something like this, there is help for men with depression. Further resources are also provided at the end of this article.
This is probably a new frontier for you. When faced with this big milestone, you might start to feel inadequate. Am I going to be a good dad?
First, YES. You will be – or are – a good dad.
Second, create chances to demonstrate what a good dad you are to yourself. Start by getting involved in little things. Pick a parenting task and make an effort to do it at least once a day. Maybe lay down on the floor with your baby once a day, at least to see the world from their view. You’ll be amazed how competent and connected you are once you see yourself doing these little things. The big things follow from that.
You might find yourself getting sweaty, tense, or agitated when you start to think about all the new things you have to deal with. These anxieties might feel like they’re caught in a feedback loop, and could also make you more irritable.
It might help to remind yourself that what you’re experiencing is your body not really knowing how to react. Fear is a normal human response to an immediate physical risk. It’s designed to prepare your body to respond to threats. Anxiety is when the same response kicks in for risks that are more distant or uncertain. You probably have the tools to at least learn to solve your problems. You also won’t be facing everything you’re worried about all at once.
Next, try removing other stressors. If other (avoidable) things are making you anxious or irritable, avoid those. There’s no sense it letting it stress you out only to take this stress back home to cause more stress. Prioritize.
You and your family will have to figure out new schedules, behaviours, etc. and sometimes this can make you feel guilty about “ignoring” old priorities or not adjusting quick enough. For instance, you may feel like you let your buddies down by missing the game last week while your baby was teething, you may feel like your old sense of humour is now misplaced or inappropriate, or your baby might have bumped into something while you had your back turned for a second.
Of all emotions, guilt is perhaps the least useful and the least practical. You are worried about someone else thinking something they may or may not even think at all and you can’t undo anyway. For adults at least, even if they do react poorly, that’s ultimately their problem not yours. If someone feels like you and your new baby need to go out of their way to accommodate them, it’s very likely they are out of line. Your priorities have changed, and that’s ok.
If you’re feeling guilty for something like accidentally scaring your child, remember that children won’t start forming long-term memories until they are a few years old. Moreover, going through unpleasant experiences is how we develop. You can’t and shouldn’t shield your child from the world.
This is only a short list of some of the things you might be feeling. It certainly doesn’t cover everything. If you feel this doesn’t address your problems, or if you have concerns not listed here, don’t just move on. There a wide range of other resources you can turn to:
Colin McCann is a co-founder and managing director of Fathers & Friends a peer-to- peer network of dads helping other dads. Fathers & Friends aims to proactively support new fathers and fathers-to-be through emotional, social, and mental challenges that appear as a result of becoming a dad.