In September we asked you a number of questions about how you cope with fatherhood. The honesty in your replies highlights the startling reality that dads face- increased stress, and a chronic lack of support. You also shared with us your thoughts about what stops you accessing help, and we received many in-depth replies that explained in detail your feelings.
Here’s how you answered our questions:
On balance, were you happier before you had children?
A third of you said you felt you were happier before having children. The added stress and anxiety that children bring is life-changing and overwhelming, and can make us yearn for our pre-parent days.
Have you ever spoken to someone about your mental health and/or your honest experiences of fatherhood?
38% of you said you had never spoken to anyone. This highlights a major area of concern and cause of mental health problems in the UK- men bottling up their stress. If you have never spoken about how you feel and wouldn’t feel comfortable chatting to a friend, we recommend either talking anonymously on our forum or looking in to joining a Talk Club (further links below).
How often do you ask male members of your family, friends and other dads if they’re ok?
Nearly half of you said ‘never’ to this question. This speaks to the issue that many men find- male friends often don’t talk about heavier subjects and tend to keep their conversations light. If you find yourself in this position, you could try instigating talking with a friend by inviting them out for a drink. If that proves too daunting or tricky, check out our forum or a Talk Club, as linked above.
Since becoming a dad, how often have you been asked how you’re coping?
Nearly 50% of you have never been asked how you are doing. The focus in the postnatal time period is often on mums, however dads can find difficult births traumatising as well, and new responsibilities hard to adjust to.
If you need mental health support now or in the future, do you know where and how you could get it?
Nearly 60% of you know where to go or how to find support should you need it. Please see the links at the bottom of this post to find helpful links and organisations that can help.
When your child/children were born did you feel you had enough provision of perinatal support?
A huge number- 78%- of dads told us that they did not receive the support they needed. The time leading up to and after the birth of a child can be the most emotionally tumultuous time of a parent’s life, and the most exhausting. Family will often focus on your partner who will be recovering from the birth, however for dads this transition to parenthood can be incredibly difficult too.
With many dads only taking the standard 2 weeks off work, this means returning to the workplace on little sleep and with very little time to bond with their baby. It can cause men to feel that they are running on empty, but must keep going for their partner and child.
The comments that you left for us about what stops you accessing support are illuminating.
A major theme that kept coming up in your comments was that you feel you can’t speak up about how you are doing:
‘We have this stigma that we want to be great dads…. but we are human. Sometimes it’s difficult to talk about things when they’re negative. Kids can be testing. Sometimes it’s hard to admit that you’re finding it a challenge.‘
‘If I let it slip too much how hard I find it (and how I miss not being a parent) it would damage my relationship with my wife.’
‘Feeling slightly like a failure, the thought/idea of not coping as a father and a husband feels like I’m not doing my job so sometimes. It feels easier to bottle it up and just get on with it.’
Many of you also expressed feeling like you don’t have anyone in your life to talk to:
‘Seems it’s not a priority for me to talk about experiences of fatherhood. If I had a regular confidant to speak to about it, then I definitely would. No one who I feel comfortable enough to share with.’
‘I don’t really know who I can relate to.’
‘It’s still not an easy subject to broach with other dads, even those I consider close friends. I consider myself very empathetic and emotional but it is still tough.’
‘Men and dads have less developed social networks than women and therefore the opportunity to have those conversations aren’t there. There’s also a skill gap between men and women- men find talking about their feelings daunting and they’re less practiced in it. Many men also wonder who will really care- have they got people who will listen and support they really need?’
You also told us that you feel that dads are not considered as important as mums:
‘I feel that not many people really care about dads or men in general that much. Suck it up, get on with it. Be the provider like our dads were but also do all of the house stuff they never did and be way more involved with the kids (not saying that’s a bad thing). Modern fatherhood is very different and I think men are just trying to work out what their role in the family is now.’
‘Focus is always on the mother- how they are doing/ coping /managing despite sharing parental responsibilities – expectation that father just gets on with it.’
‘There is a bias towards mothers and women and very little for fathers. You never hear dads get their say- there is an inequality in the UK. Dads don’t feel that they have support because there isn’t enough support. I’m a single parent and it’s a struggle financially. Mental health-wise I’m struggling.’
Many dads explained that they feel they can’t be honest about how difficult they find parenthood in case they are judged as a failure, or made to feel ashamed:
‘The shame of revealing to others just how bad I was and still at times am coping.’
‘The feeling of being inadequate.’
‘Ashamed to draw attention to my struggles as a father.’
‘Shame. I was so disappointed in how I felt I was doing, how I was failing as a new parent I couldn’t talk to anyone…. which made it worse… which almost took me past the edge.’
‘There’s elements of not feeling like a man, or not in control… scared… I do love being a dad, but mentally it’s tough. I don’t want to be letting anyone down. I need to be the broad shoulders.’
If you’re feeling under pressure and like you’ve got nobody to talk to, there are a number of options available to you:
- Come and chat to others anonymously in our friendly forum.
- Find out where your nearest Talk Club is. Talk Clubs are friendly spaces where men and dads can talk to one another, and also take part in activities. They’ve been a lifesaver for many men all over the country.
- Text SHOUT. Text the word SHOUT to 85258 to start a conversation anonymously with a mental health supporter. This is a great option for when you need to get stuff off your chest but find it hard to say things out loud.
- If you feel like you’re struggling, contact your GP. They can refer you for counselling or suggest ways to help.
- If you feel like you’re in crisis, try calling the Samaritans.
- If you feel at risk of harming yourself, you can go to A&E or call 111.