Maintaining your mental health as a new dad

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Becoming a new dad can be scary, exciting, extremely challenging, and rewarding. With the transition to fatherhood comes a change in the dynamics in how you live your life. Whether you are introducing a new child to your family or are already supporting young children, it helps to be proactive about strategies that help you balance and maintain your many responsibilities and quality of life. The following are some things to consider if you are a father to a young child.

Managing sleep deprivation

Don’t underestimate the impact of not sleeping. Stick to some sort of routine whenever possible. If your child is asleep, that’s often an opportunity for you too. If you are raising your child with a partner, negotiate a strategy about who is responsible for what, and when.

Understand that the first three months of a new child’s life are typically the worst for maintaining a sleep routine and this can significantly impact the different facets of your life. Most of the time you may notice that things improve after this time, but it helps to learn to accept that there is not a “perfect age” when the challenges stop. Life will continually throw hard times your way and accepting this as well as recognising the rewards will help you sustain yourself.

Sleep deprivation can make you hypersensitive, frustrated, and impulsive. Acknowledge, recognise, and communicate how you’re feeling to others around you and take ownership of your actions.

Use your support network

Accept help whenever you can. It often actually does take a village to raise a child. If you have family, friends, or a good babysitter who are willing to help you get on top of things or give you some time alone, organise some help. Your child will appreciate getting to spend more time with the “real you” as opposed to the “burnt out you.”

A psychologist or counsellor may be able to help you negotiate strategies to help you maintain your wellbeing. Talk to your GP about this if you think it could be helpful

It is often helpful to have a go to person that you can “check yourself” with. Identify a network that can help out with listening to the occasional frustrated vent or even other dad friends who may be able to provide insight into strategies that they are using with their kids.

Not everyone is helpful. You may have friends that you have known for years that just don’t understand what you manage on a day-to-day basis. Accept your differences, and spend time with them in the areas that are helpful to you.

Maintaining relationships

Learn the fundamentals. Changing a nappy can be done in less than two minutes. Don’t be the guy that refuses to support the basic living needs of his children. Your children and significant other will notice the impact of your absence over time.

If you are about to have your first child, it may help to acknowledge the “fourth trimester.” During the first three months of a baby’s life they are experiencing the transition from womb to world. They are learning how to develop their senses and can often be difficult to settle. During this period, fathers may feel isolated and powerless. You may even have difficulty bonding and connecting with your child. Understand that as the transition settles, things often improve. It helps to learn how to compromise and give without the expectation of gratification during this time.

Make time for you and your relationships. Make date night a priority when time allows. It’s important that you maintain and nurture your relationship and identity with your partner.

If you have a partner who is staying at home to raise your children while you are at work, acknowledge that they likely feel just as drained as you. A day at home with the kids takes just as much energy as a work day. Sometimes work can even be viewed as a “respite” because it gives you time to develop your personal identity. Appreciate the support your partner provides and reciprocate it where you can.

Work/Life balance

After you finish a hard day at work you may want to come home and relax. As a parent to young children you will likely have responsibilities the second you walk in the door. Rather than spend energy on the frustration of your fatigue, talk yourself through giving a two hour commitment to your kids before turning off.

Have personal interests that are meaningful to you and negotiate time to spend on them. Find a project or activity that you can use to detach and relax when you need to.

It’s important to be active in some shape or form as it’s linked to a multitude of health benefits including improved mental health. If you’re having trouble getting time out of the house alone, make a space in your house that you can use. Even if it’s just an hour a week, you will notice a positive difference.

Just remember that the days are long, but the years are short. Be present with your kids and appreciate the experiences and growth that they give you. If you are interested in looking into other support options, the following list may be worth exploring:

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