New Parent Blues Are Not
Just for Mommies
Are you a first time father? If you are, then you may likely be experiencing a kaleidoscope of emotions. Sure you are probably thrilled that you have a beautiful new baby in your life, whom you love enormously. However, there could be a number of other emotions that you are experiencing that may feel like things that are "not ok" to talk about.
The truth is that there is not enough attention paid to postpartum struggles in mothers. However, there is even less attention paid to these experiences in new fathers. This is a huge disservice, not only to the fathers, but to their partners and their children as well. If you, new dad, are feeling emotions other than elation and joy, you are not alone!
Common Experiences for New Dads and How to Manage Them!
It's time for self care!
Feeling Overwhelmed: Oftentimes there is the expectation that the primary caregiver will be the mother and that the Father's role is secondary. However, the economic situation in our society makes it so that many families rely on two incomes. A working mother means that fathers need to be more involved, and frequently the responsibility of child-rearing becomes closer to a 50/50 scenario. What this typically means is that you too will be up during awful hours of the night and you too will likely have to give up much of your personal time. Post work drinks with your buddies may not be on the schedule for a long time.
You may also be feeling overwhelmed by the financial demands and changes in finances that a new baby places on a household. Although as discussed, most families nowadays are two-income, many men feel great pressure to financially provide for their family. This sense of responsibility in itself is enough to be overwhelming, but coupled with lack of sleep and personal time can make it difficult to feel productive at work. Fortunately more and more businesses are granting paid paternity leave, but there is still a way to go before both mothers and fathers have adequate leave time.
Self-Doubt & Frustration: Parenting does not come with an instruction manual. A new father can certainly read books about parenting, but when it comes to actually implementing parenthood it is a whole different ball game. New dads often question if they are doing things the "right way." They may often defer to the baby's mother for instructions on how to handle a situation. This self-doubt can be agonizing at times and can result in a lot of anxiety in the new father. Similarly, it can at times follow with a disconnect from one's partner. A new dad may question his role as a husband, boyfriend, partner, and may struggle to figure out how to be in his relationship post baby.
Frustration may be experienced as well. There may be frustration with oneself for making mistakes, which all parents make. There will likely be frustration towards the mother or partner for making decisions about parenting that you disagree with, but also because tension and stress are inevitable following lack of sleep. There is also a great chance that you will be frustrated about a change in your sex life. Changes, and at times problems, with sex are very common in couples right after having a child. Sometimes there may be thoughts or even instances of infidelity.
Resurgence of the past: Becoming a new parent can at times bring up feelings that a person has not thought about in years, or maybe even ever. These feelings can be anything related to one's childhood, including benign memories or musings about one's own relationship to their parents, as well as more traumatic experiences. At times, new parents may find themselves behaving in a manner towards their baby, which they did not like at all when their own parents behaved in the same way. Despite recognizing that this behavior is unwanted, it may be difficult to alter. Conflict between new fathers and their own parents may arise as a result of differences about parenting or what its means to be a father. Similarly, new dads who are just as involved in their baby's lives as new moms may have difficulty conceptualizing their view of masculinity. Some of these difficult memories and feelings can result in feelings of depression or anxiety.
What Do I Do?!!: First remember, being a new dad does not mean that you will necessarily feel all or any of these aforementioned feelings. Every experience of new fatherhood is unique and every circumstance different. However, if you do find yourself experiencing any of the above, you are in good company.
Just as it is recommended to new mothers, it is recommended that new fathers make it a point to supplement for lost sleep as much as possible. Sneak in naps whenever you can, and maybe even opt out of a social event in order to catch up on sleep if it is the only opportunity that you have.
Even though it feels as if there is not a single moment of time in the day for yourself, it is imperative to carve out some space that will be only yours. It does not have to be long. Maybe the after work drinks with friends becomes one drink only one time a week for no longer than an hour. But at least that will be your time. Or an hour alone at a coffee house. Whatever works for you. It can be too easy to get so overwhelmed that you become your own assembly line crunching out one duty after another.
Even though parenting books cannot dictate what kind of a parent you will be, it is a good idea to educate yourself. This will help increase some sense of efficacy as you will have some rationale for some of the ways that you interact with your child. Rather than deferring to your partner, have a continuous dialogue about how you want to handle various situations with your new baby. You likely won't agree on everything but that does not necessarily have to be a problem. In some ways it may benefit a child to have two different ways of approaching relationships, daily living, and challenges. The important component is that there is the dialogue with the partner and that neither partner critiques each other's approach in front of the child... even if it is only a 2 month old.
This brings me to conflict within the couple and frustrations with each other emotionally and or sexually. It is crucial that there are scheduled date nights. There must be moments for the partners to just be alone and to enjoy each other as a couple, rather than as heads of a household. Once again open dialogue about the conflicts is imperative if these difficulties are to be worked through, and oftentimes the assistance of a couple's counselor may be warranted.
When it comes to dealing with the resurgence of the past, there may be a need to seek out professional help. If what is being stirred up from the past are neutral or only mildly upsetting memories then some persistent reflection may help manage the feelings associated with them. However, if there is severe anxiety, depression, or memories associated with something traumatic, then it is a very good idea to seek out the help of a mental health professional. And if you find yourself wanting to harm yourself or your baby, you should go to the nearest emergency room immediately or call 911.
The important thing to know is that you are not alone and there is help!