It’s time for a new era of fatherhood - one accepting of our mental health and emotional wellbeing.
There’s a mixed messaging for all dads out there. We’re not sure how we’re supposed to act, talk, and feel when it comes to being a new parent and raising kids. Much of what we learn is what our own fathers taught us, which isn’t as relevant now and might not have been relevant then either.
Society is touching on the subject more now than ever, but we’re still surrounded by images of “stereotypical” dads that are expected to be the breadwinner, be tough, give advice on fixing cars and BBQing. We’re not anticipated or supported to have those heart-to-heart emotional moments that are more readily accepted with maternal figures. To which, of course, we call bullshit.
It can be a tough job - sometimes overwhelming - to satisfy all these roles and responsibilities.
Mental Health is Important for Dads Too
Mental health for dads needs to be something that’s more actively discussed and accepted in today’s society. 10% of all new fathers will experience depression within the first year of fatherhood, yet there isn’t much on the subject easily available. Post-partum depression is a very real thing for fathers and help is out there and accessible to those who need it at any point - whether you’re a new parent, your kids are off to college or you’re a man simply in need of resources.
There are support groups in Kingston available to men to give them an opportunity to discuss their thoughts and emotions with other men. Speaking with a counsellor or Psychotherapist can also alleviate many of the mental health issues that could be burdening us so that we can be better versions of ourselves for ourselves and our children.
Dad shaming Needs to End
“Dad shaming,” a term used for the act of messaging given towards fathers that translates to them feeling inadequate as a parent, not up to par, or simply criticized by others for their decision-making. It’s something all parents face and dads are not immune to. Fifty-two percent of all dads feel criticized for their parenting - and some of that criticism comes from the other parent.
Sending messages, even unintentionally, to fathers such as “Can you babysit the kids while I go to a meeting?” or “Are you really going to set her up on the counter like that?” and others may seem small, but when sent repeatedly can affect our thoughts as dads and can impact how we interact with our children and lead to mental health issues, including depression and disconnect from the family unit.
It’s time to open up those communication routes and discuss our feelings with our spouse, someone close, or a therapist. Bottling up our feelings of inadequacy isn’t ensuring you continue upholding the image of a strong father. Demonstrating that you have feelings, can name them, and regulate them, does.
It’s time to send the right messaging to our kids
Our kids grow fast. One moment it feels like they fit in the palm of our hands and the next we’re seeing them becoming important parts of the machine that is our society. We can send the right messaging to our kids now to ensure they go on to be emotionally connected to their peers, their community, and feel that they can open up about their mental health to those around them without feeling stigmatized.
Here are some steps we as fathers and as parents can take at any time to help our children develop into strong adults:
Interact with your kids and be involved in everything you can.
Even the smallest things like colouring and going for a walk to the store are huge moments for your children. These little things add up to become huge parts of your children’s personalities. Ask your kids questions about what they’re doing, how they’re feeling, and feel open to tell them how you feel as well. Recognizing and naming emotions as children is key to developing emotional regulation and emotional intelligence, which are indispensable skills as adults.
Demonstrate and teach your kids compassion.
Let’s teach our kids in small ways to be compassionate to each other, animals, and most importantly, to themselves. If we can foster empathy to those around us and show kindness even in the smallest of ways, our kids will grow up feeling equal to their peers, whether they have more privileges or not.
Be your best self.
Our kids are often tuned in and paying attention to all of our characteristics. Ideally, we can present our best selves when we’re with our kids and acknowledge those moments when we’re not. If we can practice seeing ourselves as open and connected human beings that are worthy of parenthood and worth our own emotions (regardless of if they are "positive" or "negative" in the moment), then our kids will pick up on that and begin expressing those feelings in their daily decisions, their feelings toward themselves, and in their relationships.
As dads, or as any parent actually, it can often feel like we’re not doing enough to win “parent of the year.” Remember though, that just by being there for your kids, meeting their needs, and helping to guide them when they ask for it, means you’re doing something right. If you still think you need help, please don’t feel ashamed to ask for it or to talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling. A psychotherapist, can be an objective third party to help you process, overcome and find pride in the amazing work you’re doing - raising incredible kids!
Besides, I've never met a person who has won "Parent of the Year" - have you?
Amanda and Darrell Hammond are Registered Psychotherapists in Kingston, ON. They serve areas as wide Ontario given the electronic and virtual time we live in. Neither of them are self-proclaimed (or otherwise proclaimed) Parents of the Year, and they are both content with that.