Why we need to support dads

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fathom what this parenthood journey has been like for my husband. 

At times it’s seemed like a cakewalk. 

He has this superhuman ability to sleep through my son’s best rendition of a cat being murdered. He’s never had to worry about sore nips, blocked milk ducts, or leaking through a t-shirt. He hasn’t been needed – All. The. Time. He’s been able to leave the house, go to work and have stimulating adult conversations, use the bathroom whenever he wants, and drink an actual hot cup of coffee.

But I’ve seen the other side of it too.

The loneliness as his friends have drifted away, unable to understand why he can’t play World of Warcraft till 3am anymore. The guilt when he comes home to find me sobbing on the bathroom floor after a particularly crappy day. The frustration when he’s been unable to settle our baby and has TRIED EVERYTHING. The confusion as he’s tried to comprehend how he fits into this new, utterly uncontrollable life.

I don’t want to lessen the intensity of what moms go through at all. Motherhood is a sh*tshow all of its own.

But dads are severely lacking support. 

They often feel alone

I asked some dads about what support they received when their baby came into the world. A lot of the responses were of a similar vein – loneliness and isolation.

“I had a few mates check in, but nothing substantive.”

“In COVID I didn’t get to go to a single appointment. I felt left out before my baby was even born.” 

“It was always about the baby and mom. No one ever asks how the dad is doing.” 

“I felt completely invisible in it all.” 

I get it! The birth and postpartum period is all about making sure the baby is okay and mom is healing. While dads may get a few weeks’ paternity leave, in most cases they’re rushed back to work and expected to go on as normal.

But things aren’t ‘back to normal’ after adding a child to the family. Like, ever. 

Because people often fail to check in on dads (and let’s face it, men aren’t exceptionally great at communication), their struggles can go undiagnosed and untreated. Studies show that 1 in 10 dads experience depression in the first year of their baby’s life (that’s double the normal rate of depression in men). And there’s a huge spike at around 3-6 months post-birth, with up to 25% of dads being depressed. Yikes! Something is clearly amiss here.

They often lack confidence

While a lot of men have really lifted their housework/childcare game in the last 50 years, we’re still often left wondering why the hell they aren’t doing more. Why are moms usually the ‘default’ parent? Why are we the ones that rush to settle our babies in the night, or change a dirty diaper?

Part of it may be put down to the example their parents set for them; if they were raised in a family with traditional roles. That will no doubt have left them unprepared for the demands of modern day parenting.

But I don’t think we stop to consider how much of a role confidence plays into it. Is it any wonder that dads don’t leap up to help when most (61%!) don’t think they’re doing good enough? And while a lot of moms struggle with not feeling good enough too, for dads it’s often compounded by their baby’s preference for the person they spent nine months growing inside of. (Not to mention, the one with boobs.)

Lots of dads are brutally rejected in favor of their mom. I know my son has very often (very forcefully) pushed his dad away and cried for me, and only me. This quite frankly rude treatment would leave anyone feeling helpless, and a lot of dads have already dealt with that feeling throughout the pregnancy and birth.

With more support, dads could be encouraged and reassured that they can SMASH this parenthood thing. And then they may feel confident enough to step up more – which is a cheeky win for moms too.

Their lives have been totally flipped

We all know about how hormones wreak havoc on new moms. But dads’ hormones go wild when the baby arrives too. Testosterone levels drop before the birth (and low testosterone is linked to depression FYI), while estrogen and prolactin levels increase.

Then there’s the fact that your relationship changes. Babies have a funny way of sucking up all your spare time and attention. Sex can become a rare occurrence.

A lot of dads (and moms for that matter) mourn their pre-baby lives, then feel guilty about doing that. But it’s normal and okay to miss Friday pub drinks, Sunday sleep-ins and other delicious memories of ‘the good old days’. 

Despite all this change, many fathers feel that they can’t complain or properly air out these thoughts because it all tends to pale in contrast to a new moms’ struggles. But the reality is we all need to vent. It’s healthy and necessary! 

They might not ask for help

When life goes to sh*t, it’s essential to ask for help. Some dads aren’t great at this. They should reach out to friends and family for support, or chat to a therapist, or have discussions at work when they’re struggling. There’s no need to soldier on, suffering in silence.

Online resources for dads like the National Fatherhood Initiative, Postpartum Men, Postpartum Support International, Family Man, PANDA and Beyond Blue’s Dadvice can provide great advice and support. But there’s more we can all do to lift up dads, especially in the early days. 

We need to let them know how important they are. How great they are. How needed they are. At home, among friends, and at work. (Flexible working options for men? Hello?) 

(*By the way, ‘dads’ obviously aren’t always heterosexual men. A ‘dad’ could refer to the person you’re parenting with – be it a male, a female, a biological father, an adopted father etc. And if you’re doing this parenting thing solo – bloody hell you’re incredible – you’re a ‘dad’ too.)

Read next: We don’t tell them this enough.

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