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Father’s Day is coming up, and I want to take the opportunity to talk to you about something that I think is really important: the struggles of fatherhood.
Many of my readers and clients already know that I’m all about mom empowerment. I know firsthand (through both my personal experiences and my work as a therapist) how hard it is to be a mom.
But, I also am very aware of how hard it is to be a dad. I think the difference is that society in general doesn’t talk about dads’ struggles nearly as much.
Add that to the fact that men in general are experiencing what experts call a “friendship recession” – having fewer friends plus being less emotionally connected to the ones they do have - and you end up with a lot of dads who are feeling insecure, isolated, and emotionally exhausted.
So, is there anything we can do about it? I can think of a few things that could help but first, let's get into common father struggles.
What do Fathers struggle with?
There are so many things that the dads I work with have told me they struggle with, from big and painful emotions to the pragmatic struggle of juggling lots of different responsibilities.
Insecurity - many dads tell me that they feel insecure about parenthood – like they just aren’t “good enough,” no matter how much they try. In my experience, this is a common feeling among parents of any gender.
We tend to be our own biggest critics, and it’s easy to start spiraling about how you’re doing as a parent. "Am I doing enough? Am I doing too much? Do I even know what I’m doing at all?"
Although we all face such questions as parents, dads might especially struggle with these feelings because there isn’t a lot of emotional support out there. You may not have a supportive dad network that lets you know, “Hey, it’s okay. None of us really know what we’re doing.”
Isolation - Research shows that men in general, whether they’re fathers or not, tend to be more socially isolated than women. For fathers in particular, there are a few potential reasons for this.
Men suffer from “toxic masculinity” - meaning you might not have been shown how to develop deep and intimate friendships as a man. For new dads, that could mean that you end up feeling lonely and isolated as you try to show up in the best way possible but lack the emotional guidance you need from other male figures.
You might not have deeper friendships outside of your family unit. Even if you do, the friends who aren’t fathers might not truly understand what you’re going through – and the ones who are dads might not know how to talk about it or even have time to talk about it.
Dads can also feel isolated within their own home as their partner/spouse spends a lot of time with your newborn during what is commonly called the “fourth trimester”.
It is not uncommon for fathers to report feeling like an outsider when it comes to helping out their partner/spouse during the fourth trimester and even during the first year of the child's life. Factors that can contribute to this feeling can include:
Work-life balance - balancing parenthood and work is another thing that we tend to associate with the mom struggle. But one survey found that dads were actually more likely to report significant conflict between family and work.
For example, over 40% of dads agreed that “The demands of your family or personal relationships interfere with job-related activities,” compared with 33% of moms.
Dads of young children (0 to 8) were also significantly more likely to feel that they weren’t spending enough time with their kids.
Many dads also say that, although we’ve come a long way in terms of equality and parenting, moms are still societally expected to be the one to step up to the plate when it comes to childrearing.
As moms, we are all-too-aware of this. But these types of stigmas and inequalities can be tough for dads in different ways – for example, they might be judged by their employer for taking time paternity leave and/or time off to take care of their sick child.
Grieving the loss of your previous life - just like moms, dads often go through a period of grief for the lives they led before the baby came along. The birth of a child comes with so many changes. You might be spending a lot less time alone. You may no longer be able to engage in your hobbies. You might feel like you can’t contribute as much at work, and miss what that feels like. You both may also be grieving your previous childfree relationship or you find yourself the only one grieving that loss.
We talk so much about mom grief. But just because dads don’t go through the physical changes of pregnancy and childbirth doesn’t mean that they don’t grieve, too.
Undervalued and unseen - lastly, lots of dads feel undervalued as a parent because of the simple fact that they are male. This could look like feeling unappreciated for the things that you do contribute to parenting. But it could also mean that you feel like your potential or what you could be doing isn’t being taken advantage of.
The mother of your baby, and the other women around her, could also unknowingly be pushing you out of having an equal role in child rearing. Statements like, "he's a man, what does he know," or "Let the mom handle that." This can be especially true when it comes to responsibilities like changing your child's diaper and/or bath time.
Dads are also expected to “toughen up” and deal with their problems on their own. Research actually shows that 1 in 5 men experience a mental health problem during pregnancy and/or the first 6 months of the baby’s life. But you wouldn’t know it, because nobody talks about this and the support that is out there is not usually given as much news. As a result, you might wind up feeling like your feelings aren’t valid.
What can help? Online support group for dads
First and foremost, as many of my clients know,– I don’t claim to have all of the answers. Clearly, a lot needs to change in our society so that both dads and moms can feel more appreciated and fulfilled in their roles.
But one thing I can help address is the isolation that you might be feeling as a dad. I firmly believe that dads need emotional support just as much as moms. That’s why I run a monthly, virtual father support group.
In this support group for dads of kids aged 0 to 8, we address:
Aside from just promoting my group, I also want to let you know about other resources worth looking into.
Fathering Together - a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing knowledge and sharing resources about fatherhood.
Postpartum Support International - an international organization geared to providing support in helping both new dads and moms.
Thank you for reading and I wish you and your loved ones a very Happy Father’s Day!
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