The Secrets of Mentally Strong Fathers - Be prepared, seek support and trust yourself

The child you cradle in your arms could grow up to change the world. Initially, though, it is the father’s world that changes and becomes a little stressful

Fatherhood is an amazing experience. The child you cradle in your arms could grow up to change the world. Initially, though, it is the father’s world that changes and becomes a little stressful. The overwhelming responsibility of caring for a new human being, and the looming changes in terms of finances, work or social life can make things harder for first-time fathers. Some men may also feel insecure about their ability to slip into the role of ‘Super Dad’, especially if they don’t feel ready for this huge responsibility.

The good news here is that fears like these are very common, and can be easily dealt with. It is important for fathers to learn how they can navigate the unfamiliar, and occasionally stressful, terrain of parenthood without losing sight of their own well-being.

Fathers and mental health

According to India’s National Mental Health Survey 2015-16, males in the age group of 30-49 years—a phase associated with both peak economic productivity and the bulk of child-rearing—are most affected by mental disorders.

Some of these disorders occur during first-time parenthood. It is well known that women suffer from postpartum depression (PPD), the number being as high as 22% in India. According to one study, 4%-25% of new fathers also experience PPD in the year after their baby is born. Paternal PPD is usually manifested as frustration or anger, feelings of emptiness, substance abuse or domestic violence.

Postpartum stress is even more prevalent among fathers than paternal PPD. In a recent survey, 7 in 10 new fathers said their stress levels had increased in the first year.

Whether they suffer from depression or stress, the underlying reasons are more or less similar: financial pressures, lack of sleep, feelings of isolation and work-life conflict, to name a few. Another under-acknowledged factor is that parenting can be a lonely experience for men. Even the UK’s Prince William recently revealed that fatherhood was initially “overwhelming”, because “there is no one to […] help you”. Experts think that this lack of support and resources for fathers can compound their mental health risks.

Making fatherhood stress-free

So how can men ease the mental strain and acknowledge fatherhood for the liberating experience it really is? Here are some tips.

Don’t be perfect, be present: Fatherhood, like success, is mostly about showing up. No father is equipped with the tools to be perfect from Day One. Despite your best efforts, you will slip up and feel frustrated. That too will pass. Over time, your learnings and instinct will guide you to become a better father to your child. Millennial dads also have a valuable ally in the form of the Internet, where they can learn about everything from diaper-changing to helping kids with school-work.

Opening up really helps: In general, men are far more reticent about discussing emotions with others, whether at the home or workplace. But opening up is really their best bet to prevent mental illness. Talking to a boss, partner or parent about the difficulties of the transition prevents you from bottling up your stress. It can also get you the support you need—such as flexible work hours, advice, or assistance with child-care duties. Meanwhile, speaking to a therapist can help you find healthier and effective ways to release any worry or resentment you feel.

Crunch the numbers: A recent study estimated that the average family spends Rs.67.4 lakh on a child “from conception to college”. The actual amount may vary, but the point here is that parents must have a clear financial strategy in place. Discussing the financial implications of child-raising with a financial planner could help you figure out your goals and the savings or investment strategies that will help you get there. Being in charge of your finances will help you retain a sense of control, rather than feel overwhelmed by the burden.

Focus on your health: Last year, a study showed that over 80% of Indian fathers put their financial goals ahead of health goals. Physical and psychological wellness are closely interlinked, and problems in one aspect inevitably affect the other. Hence, try to get some physical exercise (even a 30-minute walk or some yoga helps) every day. Try to tweak your schedule to accommodate your fitness goals or simply some ‘do-nothing’ time, and the positive results will start reflecting in your mental health too.

Fatherhood is the ultimate adventure, but it doesn’t have to put an end to all other adventures. Parents around the world run marathons, travel, start new ventures, and do much more. After all, raising a healthy, well-adjusted child requires the parents to be happy and content themselves. Follow the above tips and trust yourself; the rest will fall in place.

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