5 minutes read time.
Dr. David H. Demmer, Senior Clinical Psychologist
It’s common for new dads (and mums) to struggle as they adjust to parenthood.
Work-life balance can be thrown out of whack when a baby comes along, as there are so many parts of life to juggle.
Words of encouragement and sharing your own struggles can help new dads gain confidence. It’s also great to offer practical support in the early days.
If you think a new dad might have depression, encourage him to reach out for support.
If you’ve got kids of your own, you’ll know that the addition of a new baby can really turn a person’s world upside-down. It impacts every aspect of life, sending sleep patterns out the window, creating endless mountains of laundry and dishes, and pushing exhausted parents to their limits. Finances, relationships, and physical and mental health all usually take a beating when a baby comes along. So, it’s no surprise that new dads need a lot of support.
Here are some tips on how you can help a friend take care of themselves while they tackle the new role of ‘dad’.
First things first: How can you help your friend process this intense change to their lifestyle? Start by encouraging them to talk about their experience and try to understand the many struggles that new dads face.
These struggles may include:
Talking openly about all these huge changes can offer relief to a new dad. Don’t worry, you’re not expected to jump in with parenting advice. Fathers need to find out what works for them and that’s different for everyone. Just be there to listen, encourage and help them process the situation.
As if bringing a tiny newborn home wasn’t stressful enough – now a new father needs to learn to be a parent while also juggling the demands of work.
They may find that they can’t dedicate as much time to work as they previously did, and that the family needs them around more often. This can be a scary reality to face, particularly if there are perceived disadvantages to their career progression or opportunities.
It can take some time to adjust and find the right balance. But in the meantime, try to keep an eye out for signs that they’re overdoing it. This could quickly lead to burnout.
While you probably don’t have all the answers, encourage your friend to think about what’s realistic and how they can prioritise the different areas of life.
This will usually be a primary focus in the weeks following birth. Mums may take a while to recover physically from giving birth, and often need plenty of support in getting things done. And, even if their partner hasn’t given birth (maybe they adopted or had the baby via a surrogate) when bringing a new baby into a household it’s so important to support each other. Remember, as time goes on, they’ll both need to agree on how to share household tasks, childcare responsibilities, and work.
It’s so beneficial for dads to spend quality time with their kids – for both dad and baby. Even if it’s just a few minutes cuddling, talking to and making eye contact with a newborn.
While lots of dads are able to keep working while being a hands-on parent, there can sometimes be perceived disadvantages at work. For example, not being as ‘switched-on’ while dealing with sleep deprivation. Or needing to leave early to pick kids up from daycare. Open communication with their boss could help them come up with solutions that work for everyone.
Notice this one’s at the bottom of the list? It’s often the last thing on a new dad’s mind as they juggle work, childcare, housework and all the rest. But dads need to take care of themselves in order to take care of everyone else. Encourage your friend to spend at least half an hour a day doing something they enjoy.
No one knows what they’re doing when they become a parent. A lack of confidence can cause dads to take a step back from parenting, but some solid encouragement can make a huge difference in their participation.
Tell them what an awesome job they’re doing. Ask them to show you something (like how that fandangled pram works). Remind them that everyone finds it hard, and that their child is lucky to feel so loved.
If you’ve got no idea what to say, just remember:
Your words mean a lot.
Saying, “You’re doing such a great job,” can make a new dad feel like he’s nailing it.
Sharing your personal experiences (and struggles) can help.
If you’re a parent, you’ve no doubt got insights to share. Don’t be afraid to open up about how you struggled in the early days and what helped you get through.
Bring food, mow the lawn, walk the dog, fix the fence. Anything you can practically do to lessen a new dad’s load is great.
A lot of new dads can get overwhelmed by their increased responsibilities. Taking your friend out for a walk or a coffee every now and again is a great way to remind him he’s still his own person. Taking him out can give him a chance to recharge and feel more positive about parenting.
Even once the newborn phase has passed, parenting remains hard work. Check in with your new dad friend often, even just with a quick text or phone call. It may help to have a standing arrangement, like a FaceTime at the same time each week.
It’s normal for new dads to feel stressed, exhausted and overwhelmed for a while. But if you notice a negative change in their thoughts or behaviour for more than a few weeks, there could be something else going on. Up to one in 10 new dads experience anxiety or depression after the birth of a baby. It often flies under the radar because they’re so absorbed in taking care of their baby and partner. But it’s important that they get support.
Helping out in practical ways as mentioned above is great. But the best thing you can do for a dad who may be suffering from depression is to encourage them to reach out to a professional for support.
This may mean prompting them to talk to their local doctor, with a therapist, or to reach out to a free support service such as PANDA or Beyond Blue. These services are specifically there to help new parents – because having a baby is hard work.
Because new dads are so often caught up in caring for their baby and adjusting to their new (very busy) life, many don’t realise that they need support of their own. That’s why it’s so important for friends (like you) to rally around them, offer a listening ear, and help them have a good laugh now and then too.