Questions and Answers for Fathers:
Q1. I am a new father and although the experience of being a dad has been great, I’m finding at times I can become really frustrated and angry for no real reason. I don’t want to act like this and it’s affecting my relationships at home. Can you help?
This is an understandable and common complaint for new fathers. My own experience of becoming a father has been at times frustrating and difficult. For many men, fatherhood is perhaps the biggest single change to happen in their lifetime and it is not surprising that we can be ‘triggered’ emotionally around this event. The birth of a child is also one of deep and mixed emotions for parents: both great joy and trepidation. Men can feel unsure and uncertain of what to expect from parenting and these emotions are compounded by the demands of modern life. A hands-on father is likely to feel more pressure in balancing their roles as an ‘active’ parent, supportive partner and for many men, full-time bread winner. It’s not surprising that this can lead to feelings of anger and frustration and I would suggest that having these emotions at a mild level is both healthy and functional. Equally, becoming a father can remind of us of what was good and what was difficult about our own fathering. For some men who’s experiences were traumatic or abusive this can build a lot of apprehension that they will repeat this ‘cycle’ with their own child.
The trick can be learning how to deal with, understand and express yourselves around these emotions so that you are able to honour what is your experience of fathering (both the good and the bad). Here are a few tips: (and yes I know – Men can find this stuff really difficult):
- Talk to someone about what is happening for you. Whether your partner, family, other new fathers or a professional. You might need to lay down some ‘ground rules’ with your confidant around what you need from the discussion (eg. asking your confidant to listen attentively)
- Organise times with your partner to talk when there are no other distractions and use this time to share experiences of parenting and extend your emotional intimacy together.
- Negotiate with your partner to take some time out and to do something for yourself at least once a week.
- Get the ‘anger and frustration’ out of your body (this is important for men) by doing some exercise. Even hitting a pillow can be a great way of moving the energy through you.
- Learn some relaxation techniques (like a simple meditation, stretches or breathing exercise) and make them part of your weekly routines.
- If you have a sympathetic employer, speak with them about some flexible work options that support you and your family.
Most importantly, these emotions can be rooted in complex personal and relationship issues and if you feel that over time things aren’t improving it is really important that you seek professional support from your doctor or a qualified counsellor.
Q2. I have recently heard about ‘active fathering’. What does this mean?
‘Active’ fathering is a term that defines the evolving role of fathers over the past generation. Generally, men’s experience of becoming fathers includes wanting to better understand their partner’s experience and most importantly, wanting to be good dads. More often, new fathers enjoy equally with mothers the opportunity to explore and understand their own journey to parenthood. Fathers are realizing that they play an important and unique role into the growth and development of their child and family.
On a practicable level ‘active’ fathering includes undertaking all of the parenting tasks from bathing, soothing, playing to feeding. But more so it is an engagement in fatherhood that nurtures children’s growth into healthy, safe, life-loving and mature people. The bottom line is that the more ‘active’ fathers are in their children’s lives the more cognitive and emotionally healthy they are likely to be.
Some of the benefits of becoming an active father include confidence in parenting; a special and authentic bond with your child; valued support for your partner and an opportunity to learn more about being a man. The difficulty for men (and this is certainly the case in my own life) is balancing the requirements of work, family, interests and rest.
Q3. My wife and I had our baby 4 weeks ago. I have heard a lot about post partum blues for woman – but can you tell me if it also affects men?
About 10% of mothers and 14% of fathers suffer from moderate or severe postpartum depression. Figures for men are likely to be far higher in relation to feeling the ‘baby blues’. Postpartum blues and depression is marked by mild to severe bouts of sadness or emptiness, withdrawal from family and friends, a strong sense of failure, and even thoughts of suicide. These emotions can begin two or three weeks after birth and can last up to a year or longer if untreated. Postpartum depression in fathers is strikingly high and more than twice as common as in the general adult male population.
Results suggest that where day-to-day interactions are concerned, depressed fathers engage in less positive interaction with their children. This is a critical point and interaction is needed from dads for children to develop cognitively and emotionally in a normal way.
The reasons that men experience postpartum depression may be different than the reasons for women. A new dad may be feeling burdened or entrapped at the prospect of caring for a child. Dads will feel like a lot more responsibility in many areas of their lives and sense that this responsibility is falling squarely on their shoulder. Dads can suffer withdrawal or a sense of rejection from being tended for and cared by their partners.
While women often show signs of frank sadness when they are depressed, men may be more likely to be irritable, aggressive, and sometimes hostile when depressed or facing the baby blues. In addition to not interacting with their baby, a depressed dad will find it hard or impossible to be supportive of the mother. These feelings may be related to life changes, personal or relationship issues, fears or concerns fathers may have. One of the best thing for somebody to do when they notice signs of depression is to talk to a doctor or qualified counselor and importantly don’t leave asking for help to late.
Q4. I am an expecting father and wanted to know more about sex after childbirth. Is there anything I should know?
Sex after childbirth can be just as, if not more, passionate than before. During the first few months after childbirth be sensitive to your partner’s emotional and physical state and her attachment and feeling of responsibility to your baby. Your partner needs emotional intimacy and closeness. She may simply want to be held and loved and need reassurance and affection. If there is ever a time to be more affectionate, more attentive and more loving than usual, this is it.
Do not pressure your partner into sex. Pregnancy, birth, and the early postpartum adjustment period leave a woman physically and emotionally drained. Having a baby can be a major shock to a woman’s system. Resuming intercourse depends on your partner’s physical and emotional well being. Some of the factors that influence your sex life together include:
- Whether childbirth was traumatic physically or emotionally
- Hormonal changes and your partner’s need to take care of the baby
- Fatigue due to work, baby, lifestyle
- Pain: your partner may experience pain or be frightened of pain during sex. You may be worried about hurting her
- Depression: feelings may be related to hormonal and life changes, personal or relationship issues
- Self-image: your partner may have doubts about her ability as a mother, her attractiveness to you and her future and personal goals