As a psychotherapist who works with new parents, I often hear dads talk about feeling left out. They feel pressure to “provide” and don’t have much flexibility in their work schedule, or even worse, have to work longer hours to make up for mom extending her maternity leave (if she has the ability to do so). They want their babies and new mamas at home to feel cared for and to have a sense of reassurance and security. After all, that’s a dad’s role, isn’t it? But the pressures of having to fall back into a more traditional “bread winner” role can wind up increasing the conflict that commonly accompanies the postpartum period for many couples.
Moms feel alone because dads are at work “all the time,” dads feel like they aren’t around enough to get to know the new baby and learn how to help. Because both parents are tired and lack patience to talk about how they feel, they may turn away from each other, ultimately feeling more frustrated and alone. These pressures and increased stress are very common for parents, whether they qualify for a clinical diagnosis or not.
According to current research in the field as cited by Dr. Daniel Singley, psychologist specializing in new father adjustment (also trainer for Postpartum Support International), 10-20% of fathers experience Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (perinatal meaning during the pregnancy or within one year of a child being born), compared to 15-21% of new mothers.
Postpartum Depression occurring in moms is the biggest predictor of their spouse experiencing PPD. When mom has depression, there is a 50% chance that dad has it too. This is extremely important for moms (and others) to know. I was particularly stunned to learn this when I attended a course through Postpartum Support International, a leading international organization in perinatal mental health. Same sex couples with new babies have many of these challenges and more. No bias is intended and same-sex couples need and deserve support too.
PPD Signs and Symptoms for Dads
Dads may feel any and/or all of these: have a lower stress threshold, substance use, aggressive and impulsive, feeling burned out and empty, constant and unexplained fatigue, difficulty making ordinary everyday decisions, anxiety (especially in the morning), criticizing, abusive, hyperactive, or antisocial behavior, irritability & restlessness, sleep problems. As with new mothers, adverse childhood experiences can predispose a dad to depression & anxiety as they enter parenthood.
How We Can Make Things Better
Give dads their own time and space to develop competence around taking care of the baby. Moms should avoid micromanaging and be sure to communicate trust that the baby is safe and secure in dad’s hands. Do not express that dad taking care of the baby is seen as a favor or “babysitting.”
Dads should be encouraged to keep up with the baby’s development. Moms should not be the only ones receiving the week by week updates! Arming dads with developmental information helps them to build their parenting confidence in what to expect and how to support baby’s milestones.
Social support that includes regular communication and support from other dads is important for easing this major transition. Dads need to have regular and frequent check-ins with their partners around family operations as well as the health of their relationship (between Mom and Dad). Many fathers can benefit from support given by a psychotherapist, counselor, or parenting coach as well. There are support groups for new dads that can serve multiple purposes.
Dads have an important role to play in their child’s speech, language, and gross motor development (among other key areas). They may do things differently, which doesn’t make their differences inherently wrong. Let them figure out what works for them, as this is the foundation for a life-long relationship they are cultivating with their child.
Dads need to feel assured that they are not the only one providing emotional support to moms! When moms get their own social support needs met and have a wider group of people to count on for a variety of needs, dads can feel relieved and more emotionally available to open up to their partner. When each parent is better able to take care of their social and emotional needs, the relationship gets stronger and the family unit benefits.
Lastly, avoid internalizing judgments from friends and family about how parenting “should” be, and what a family is. Parents have the freedom to decide what works for them, which is no one else’s business. If things aren’t working, step back and figure out what needs to change. The mental health of each parent is paramount to the child’s well-being and best long-term outcomes. Take care of each other and yourselves.
Resources for New Dads
Basic Training for New Dads – www.menexcel.com
Postpartum Health Alliance – www.postpartumhealthalliance.org
Postpartum Support International – www.postpartum.net
Strategies Father Involvement -
The Good Men Project -
Daddit - http://www.reddit.com/r/daddit
Dad Labs - http://www.dadlabs.com/
National Fatherhood Initiative – www.fatherhood.org
About the Author
Emily Griffin, MSW, LICSW, LCSW-C is a native Washingtonian, wife, and mother of four sons in a blended family. She is the founder of Happy Parents, Happy Babies, LLC, a private practice devoted to in-home psychotherapy, counseling, and support in the DC area; specializing in perinatal mental health and parenting.
Contact Emily at firstname.lastname@example.org or learn more at www.happyparentshappybabies.com.
Follow Emily on Twitter: @HappyP_HappyB