We often hear about how lonely motherhood can be, especially for those with very young babies but we forget that raising young children can be an isolating job at times for both parents, not just new mums.
For mothers, some solace can be found in mother and baby groups, online support and other local mothers but for new dads, it’s not always that easy. Society generally views the mother as the main childcare provider and makes efforts to ensure the mother-child relationship is nurtured but often dismisses the vital role that fathers play in raising children. There is still a perception that men in general are less emotional creatures and therefore don’t suffer the same sense of isolation as women, when children come along, which could not be further from the truth.
For some new dads, loneliness and isolation can be crippling, coming from have several sources; feeling distanced from their partner as she navigates her new role, feeling pressure to bond with a new baby (which can be a struggle for many), feeling a loss of the freedoms etc that existed before children or feeling separated from friends who may not have children themselves. Your level of independence and freedom inevitably changes, which is not necessarily a bad thing but it can contribute to feelings of loneliness.
While having the opportunity to stay at home with your children is rewarding, it can be exhausting
Returning to work after the birth of a baby can be a struggle for both parents but the expectation that life for dads, both at home and at work, will return to normal almost immediately after the baby is born, is unrealistic. However, there is significant progress being made in terms of parental and paternity leaves, giving fathers the opportunity to spend more quality time with their young family so things are certainly moving in the right direction in terms of improving work-life balance for all parents.
The sense of isolation can be compounded for stay-at-home parents, who often spend long periods at home without any adult interaction. While having the opportunity to stay at home with your children is rewarding, it can be exhausting and isolating as your focus is on the needs of others, not yourself. For single parents, this can be even more difficult as they are solely responsible for all aspects of parenting and often work on top of this.
So, how can fathers combat the feelings of isolation and if it takes a village to raise a child, where can new dads find that collective support?
Get out of your own head
Negative feelings become exaggerated if significant time is spent thinking about them. Obviously, staying in touch with your emotions is important if it is done in a healthy, constructive way with a view to self-improvement but if you focus excessively on how lonely you feel, it can become a much bigger issue so one of the best steps you can take is changing your focus.
“Reading or listening to a book, turning on the radio and listening to your favourite music can help you maintain a connection with what is happening in the world.
“Making time for a hobby or giving yourself a project to work on can lead to an enormous sense of purpose/achievement and can keep you in touch with who you are.
It’s good to talk
Although it may not come naturally or you may fear what people will think, one of the best things you can do is talk about how you feel to your family, your friends or even a professional. You do not have to suffer in silence, there will be help available to you once people know you want or need it. Sharing your feelings doesn’t mean you can’t cope and it doesn’t make you weak, it makes you human.
Find similar people
Parent and toddler groups, parent and child gym classes, playgroups and kids activities are not just for mothers. Most groups would welcome the input and perspective of dads. If you feel isolated, finding people in a similar situation can do wonders for improving how you feel. If you get a sense that there are other dads (or parents) locally that feel the same as you and you can’t find a suitable group, why not set one up and ask the local public health office/doctors surgery to advertise it for you.
Step outside your comfort zone
It can be tempting to stay at home where everything you need is at your fingertips and life is more convenient but getting out of the house, even just to the shops or for a walk can have hugely positive effects on your wellbeing. It may give you an opportunity to meet similar people in the process so don’t be afraid to start a conversation and make connections with other parents.
Learn to say yes
As a nation, we are often guilty of refusing offers of helps out of politeness. Most of the time our response is “Oh no I’m fine” but if we don’t ask, we don’t get so if somebody offers to help or do something for you, say yes. Learning to ask for, and accept, help goes a long way in helping to minimize feelings of loneliness.
Sharing is caring
If there is something, a specific group, activity or type of support which was particularly helpful to you, tell other new dads you know. They may be afraid to ask and your information may be exactly what they need to hear.