Father’s Day is a great reminder to pay attention to the mental health of dads. Research shows that dads who prioritize their mental health are more confident in their role as a parent, more present in their children’s lives, and more supportive of their partner. Although it may seem obvious, happy and healthy dads truly make better dads.
Good mental health is not about promoting false myths about parenthood like, “having children is pure bliss.” Father’s Day cards are filled with clichés and messages about being “my hero,” “my best friend,” and “the grill master for the family.” These neglect the reality of parenthood – it is hard work. In The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom wrote, “Sacrifice is a part of life. It is supposed to be. It is not something to regret. It’s something to aspire to.”
More men today are aspiring to be better, healthier dads than ever before. And healthy dads make for healthier families.
Acknowledge that parenting challenges can take a toll on mental health.
According to renowned marriage researcher Dr. John Gottman, relationship satisfaction drops after the birth of a child. Many men report that their best friend is their partner. When children arrive, fathers experience unexpected rejection and jealousy, the loss of their best friend since “she is too busy for me now,” and the sense that “she loves the kids the ways she used to love me.”
Depression and anxiety can develop, especially in new fathers who are unprepared for sleepless nights, the crippling insecurity of what to do with a newborn who will not stop crying, or the rejection their feel from their partner who appears preoccupied with the children. Research shows ten percent of fathers experience a mood disorder sometime during the first trimester of pregnancy through the first six months of parenthood. If their partner is experiencing maternal depression and/or anxiety, the chances of dad developing paternal depression is greatly increased.
Understand that men tend to experience depression differently than woman.
Common depression symptoms in men and women include loss of interest in usually pleasant activities, low energy, low motivation, problems with sleep, changes in appetite, changes in concentration.
However, men tend to focus on the physical symptoms of depression and are often confused about what is happening to them. Instead of sadness and worthlessness, men may be more likely to become easily annoyed and irritable, angry, even hostile, and aggressive.
Rather than reaching out to family and friends, men tend to withdraw, pull away and suffer alone. They are more likely to engage in self-defeating behaviors such as excessive drinking and watching pornography. Men tend to tell themselves to “just get over it” and “I am the only one feeling this way.”
Get involved AND stay involved.
Healthy dads get involved with dressing, feeding, changing, playing, napping, and focus on bonding with their new baby. Moms and dads parent differently, so it is OK if you “do” parenting differently than your partner.
As the kids get older, healthy dads learn, grow, and change as the children do. Celebrate each season of the family life cycle – babies, toddlers, school, age, middle school, high school, college. Each season bring each own challenges and joys.
Stay involved! Being a parent is not a sprint; it is a marathon with many water breaks along the way.
Acknowledgement that they are important.
Many dads fade into the background and feel they are not relevant to the family. To be healthy, dads need encouragement and support. They need to know that the sacrifices they make are acknowledged.
Time for themselves.
Just like moms, dads need time for themselves. Dads should be encouraged to take time to invest in a hobby or interest, time for self-care, good sleep, exercise, and stress management.
Gather a team rather than go it alone.
Men need to invest in relationships beyond their partner. They are your team and can help foster healthy habits such as…
- Understanding when they need help and then asking for it.
- Knowing their limits and saying “yes” and “no” to new requests accordingly.
- Managing their time and balancing their priorities to keep on track with their goals at home, work and play.
- Working together with teammates for common goals.
Connection with their partner.
Instead of feeling replaced by the children, healthy dads find ways to partner in parenting while taking time for connection with their mates.
- Reach out to your partner in simple ways, like texts throughout the day.
- Make sure to say time to “goodbye” in the morning and “hello” in the evening.
- Establish a bedtime ritual which includes emotional connection.