Any parent will tell you that raising children is one of the biggest, most rewarding challenges you’ll face in life. Still, it’s also one of the absolute hardest things you will ever do. And once you start, you can’t go back. There’s no return policy.
Your mindset will undoubtedly change when it’s all new to you, and you’re still figuring out how to dismantle the pram without losing a thumb. Some men will feel left out like they don’t ‘fit in’ to the pregnancy experience because all the attention is on the mum. This can be a struggle to comprehend, it’s your baby too. Some men end up feeling like a spare part, which isn’t good for the mind.
The mental adaptation to being a parent is enormous, and you feel like a child again yourself. Vulnerable, scared, exposed, defenceless, open to attack. If you’re asking, “How can I bring someone else into the world when I can barely look after myself?”, you’re not alone. Your identity, responsibilities, routines, and relationships will all change on the birth of your first child and again on every child thereafter. The adjustment to becoming a parent comes with stress, which, when built up, can jeopardise your mental health. In the UK, depression affects one in 10 new dads between the first trimester and the year after the baby’s birth. Anxiety affects one in 6 dads during the pregnancy and one in five once the baby arrives.
Stepping up and taking responsibility for certain tasks when your partner is doing the carrying can help you focus. Maybe become the ‘researcher’, find out what you need for the baby and for you as new parents. Organise the hospital trips and help pack the labour bag. You can make it your task to ease the load on your partner and work as a team. This will 100% refocus your mind, give you purpose and help you feel more involved.
Becoming a parent can also dredge up lots of memories and stuff about your relationship with your own father or father figure. You might want to be a parent just like him, or you might want to do things in a completely different way. Take time to think about and write down what being a good dad means to you. This will be different for every dad. Get in touch with what matters most to you and what kind of upbringing you want to provide for your child.
If you have a history of mental health issues such as depression or anxiety, it’s important to make sure you are aware that becoming a dad can be a risk period for you. It may not happen, it’s not guaranteed, and it doesn’t mean you won’t be super-dad, but if you do, or have suffered, it would be helpful to keep track of how you’re coping with pregnancy and new parenthood. Jot some notes in your journal each night before bed and work on ways to break through and when you can, grab some self-care time. A quick run, 5 minutes of meditation, maybe a skincare routine to get rid of those tired eyes and keep the good looks.
Besides all the stress, early mornings, tears, and tantrums, becoming a dad can give you a huge sense of meaning and purpose, something lots of us lack in our lives. Try to remember that all your baby cares about is that you’re there for them, so make sure you are, physically and mentally. That’s all that matters, you work the rest out as you go.