How are Dads Really Doing?

The top 3 challenges dads face in the early parenting journey

Parenting. It’s a tough gig, no matter how much joy and love these little people bring into our lives it comes with its share of stresses and challenges. In fact 1 in every 7 women and 1 in every 10 men experience postnatal depression and anxiety. Whilst postnatal depression in women is slowly becoming more widely discussed the lid is still firmly on for dads.

Karitane is a not-for-profit organisation supporting families with the common (and tricky) challenges of sleep and settling, feeding, postnatal depression and anxiety and toddler behaviour. They are supporting mums and dads everyday so we asked the experts, what is keeping dads up at night (if it’s not a crying baby).

1. How to be a role model, when they themselves may not have a role model to follow. That’s not to say that their fathers weren’t good fathers, but times have changed and so has the role of dads. A good thing, but unchartered territory for many.

Some dads think their partners are better at baby duties, but largely this is because they have more opportunity to practise these skills. This can then lead to dads feeling like spectators which can hold them back from getting involved because they don’t want to do it wrong. Jump in give it a go, we all learn along the way, including mums! Communicate with your baby from the start, talk to them, show them your gestures and be involved with changing nappies, bathing and settling your baby to sleep – this will help you get to know each other. Every time you interact with your child, you are helping them develop new connections within their brain.

We need to shift the mindset that it’s “daddy day-care” or being on “dad duties” when dads are with their children. When you become a parent, you become a parent and there is no clocking on or taking annual leave. Embrace your differences! Each of you will handle your baby differently and these differences will have a positive influence on their brain development. Mums if you’re reading this, it’s Ok if you partner does it a bit differently

2. Work life balance. Men are struggling to get the balance right with most men only getting/taking two weeks off paid paternity leave. Dads are expected to adapt very fast.

Becoming a dad can shift your attitude. Things that used to bother you may now seem insignificant or the pressure of being the main provider can make work seem even more important. It is important to have open and honest discussions with your partner:

  • What is important to each of you in work and home life?
  • Who is going to be the primary stay-at-home carer?
  • How can you share responsibilities through flexible working arrangements?
  • What boundaries do you want to create as a family?

Good news. Research shows it doesn’t matter who takes on what roles, as long as you’re both happy.

3. My relationship is suffering. Before, it was just the two of you. Now it’s a hungry, crying, sleep-stealing creature that you love desperately, but it’s taking over everything and your relationship is coming last.

After having a baby, family life and relationships change, welcome to your new normal! Couples often talk about feeling closer after the birth, shared excitement about the baby they’ve created. However, when the ‘babymoon’ ends and your ‘new normal’ sets in – exhaustion, broken sleep and daily chores, most couples find their stress levels go up. Both of you probably feel like you’re the one making all the concessions. This can lead to an increase in tension and arguments.

TALK! Take the time to debrief about your day (even just 10 mins), what you’re finding difficult and explore what you can do to support each other.

Don’t forget you are still a couple and you need to nurture your relationship. Quality time together is important to stay connected- check in with each other and see what quality time means to both of you, don’t assume a romantic dinner is the magic fix.

Essentially you are starting a new relationship with your partner, a parenting partnership. This is different to your romantic relationship and you’ll need to negotiate how you’re going to parent together as a team. Figuring out this new partnership and making it work is important because it sets the emotional tone for your home. More and more research is showing the importance of parenting as a team, especially in that first year.

We encourage dads to know what to do, know the routine, be educated about the practical side, be a team with your partner. The evidence shows that this positively impacts your relationship. Check in with your partner, be specific and ask the questions about what is going to be helpful if your partner is feeling stressed (and mums if you’re reading this, be specific, tell them what would be helpful in that minute, day or week).

‘There is extensive research to support the enormous benefits for children’s development when fathers are actively involved in their parenting,’ says Grainne O’Loughlin, Karitane CEO.

Becoming a parent is such an exciting time in your life but the transition into parenting is one that occurs over time, so be kind to yourself and allow for space to grow and learn as parent.

“Our stay at Karitane was massively helpful. Our (almost) two year old now sleeps through the night most of the time. Such a game-changer! But I also learnt a lot about parenting in general. The whole experience was incredibly positive” Luke Benedictus

Karitane works with the whole family and has parenting centres, residential units, mental health services, toddler clinics and a whole range of parenting workshops (including dads only groups and, after hours parenting programs to enable dads to attend). For more information and parenting, tips and strategies visit www.karitane.com.au