This Father’s Day, we wanted to shed a spotlight on an issue that’s very close to our hearts.
Parenthood is no picnic, and both parents face highs and lows, struggles and triumphs. However, it is significantly more difficult for dads to successfully get support, or for their challenges to be acknowledged by other people.
Due to gendered stereotypes, outdated ideas of ‘gender roles’ and a cycle of diminishing mens’ mental health, many dads are currently not getting the support that they need to thrive as parents. So, we wanted to do our bit to address this situation.
Below, you can find out more about the current problem with our paternal care systems, the importance of giving more enhanced support to dads, and ways that you can connect the dads in your life to better support.
Does anyone ask new dads how they are feeling?
Current research reveals that, despite society’s progression towards equality and banishing outdated gendered expectations, there is still a lot of work to be done.
The BMC has recently published a highly insightful new report, titled "What kind of man gets depressed after having a baby?" - already indicating the subconscious trends of public opinion and within the medical sector.
The report explored the rates of paternal depression, and how traditional expectations of what a man ‘should’ and’ shouldn’t’ be are still a major barrier between them and seeking professional help.
According to the BMC’s report, 10.4% of new dads experience depression. This figure is more than two times higher than the rate of men in general (4.8%).
Around 4–25% of new dads experience paternal postpartum depression during the first year of their child’s birth. What's more, this figure rises to 24-50% in men whose partner experiences maternal postpartum depression.
Despite this, just 3.2% of 2000 fathers whose partners were pregnant sought help for feelings of depression. When we compare this to the 13.6% of women who sought help for the same symptoms, it is clear that there is a major problem.
The BMC report also revealed that this issue is often furthered by medical professionals:
“During childbirth many fathers have reported being ignored by healthcare professionals and feeling invisible, uninvited and uncomfortable”. According to the report, just one fifth of nurses offered to provide fathers with support of any kind during the perinatal period.
What factors are fuelling this situation?
As you can imagine, this systematic denial of post paternal mental health problems is deeply complicated.
Generally speaking, the situation is a self-perpetuating cycle of men not being expected to experience mental health problems (either because it is ‘not masculine’ or because they ‘should focus on supporting their partner’). Then, this means less men feel comfortable to talk about their feelings, meaning it is easier for society to ignore, misunderstand, or outright forget about the issue.
Conventional ideas of masculinity hold many men in a vice, which means paternal postpartum depression is rarely reported by dads. They feel pressured to stay silent, and deal with these difficulties on their own, ‘like a man’.
According to BMC’s report, these factors lead to the current situation, where “Men typically have poorer mental health literacy than women,” and “Fathers are more likely to hide mental health issues during pregnancy and the perinatal period because of societal pressure to support their family emotionally and financially.
“If fathers do not anticipate receiving support, they are less likely to know support exists and unlikely to initiate their own support seeking regarding their mental health.”
Why is it so important that we enhance the support given to new dads?
There is a clear disparity here.
In today’s world, men are supporting their families more than ever before. A report from the Pew Research Center (published in 2014) market the rates of stay at home dads over the last few decades. It revealed that the number of dads who stay at home to care for the family has quadrupled over the last 25 years alone.
However, despite the fact that men are playing a far more vital parenting role, the support that they receive isn’t being improved to match. The best way to recognise these shifts is to bolster the mental health and paternal support that fathers have access to.
No longer is it the case that men go off to work while the women stay home and raise a family - we’re not in the 1940s any more!
With more dads taking a key role in parenting, enhancing the support that we give to new dads can have huge benefits, both to them personally, and to the entire family.
The report published by BMC stressed the universal benefits that supporting fathers can bring:
“A father’s involvement can have a positive impact on maternal well-being and coping abilities, pregnancy outcomes, parental roles and the child’s continued physical, mental, behavioural, social and emotional development.”
Firstly, by providing better professional mental health support to new dads, we can help to reduce the numbers of men who experience these deeply distressing conditions. In terms of human compassion, this work is of profound importance.
Secondly, when dads feel supported and well-informed, the entire family is able to flourish. The parenting team will be strengthened, and their child will receive infinitely better care as a result.
What support should we be providing to new dads?
Firstly, changing the discourse is absolutely imperative. Without it, any changes in support structures or medical provisions won’t have any effect. In order for real change to be made, society has to change the way that we perceive a dad’s role.
Paternity leave is a prime example of how men, despite the fact that support exists, don’t feel able to take it.
The Family Tree website (a branch of the BBC) recently published a profound thought piece about paternity leave, and ‘the hidden barriers keeping men at work’.
In the piece, it was revealed that the number of countries that have included paternity leave in their legislation has doubled in the last 20 years.
However, an exceptionally small proportion of men take more than a couple of days off work after their child is born.
According to the piece, “Most cite fears of being discriminated against professionally, missing out on pay rises and promotions, being marginalised or even mocked as reasons for not taking time off.”
Furthermore, within the piece, Thekla Morgenroth, a Social and Organisational Psychology research fellow, spoke about how archetypal gender stereotypes (of women as nurturing and men as competitive or assertive) fuels a discourse of women being a better fit for child care.
She said that, once these incorrect and outdated stereotypes are internalised, it can quickly become assumed that women would be the ones to take leave, because they’d be the better fit for the job. Men are discouraged from taking paternity leave, a trend which is furthered by the expectations that men should be the ‘breadwinners’ and provide for their family by working.
But, how do we rethink the way that we view dads’ roles? Well, we can start by opening up discussions.
To foster a society where men feel confident that their feelings will be listened to, respected and acknowledged, we need to create these conversations. We can start by asking dads how they are feeling, especially if you spot any signs of postpartum depression.
Then, we can give men a greater role in child care, making it a given that their role is equal to women. While many couples have already achieved this subconsciously, it’s not a universal truth yet.
And finally, we can shout out about the great organisations out there, who are working to support dads in whatever way they need. By spreading the word about these organisations, more and more people will be able to access their support.
The support resources that we recommend to new dads include:
- The Healthy Families ‘Dadvice’ page
- The NCT new parent support website
- The DAD book
- The Fatherhood Institute
- The New Dad’s Survival Guide
- Pregnancy for Men audiobook
- The Dad Matters website
- Leijonaemot - a group that connects parents whose children have special needs
- European Fatherhood
- Your local GP
- Your nurse or doctor
- Dad’s Group Inc (DGI)
- The DILF Club (Dads I’d Like to Friend)
- Best Beginnings
- The DadPad app
- NHS Choices
- How Are You Dad?
- The Association of Infant Mental Health (AIMH) –
- Family Lives
- Dads Unlimited
- Mieli - a non-profit mental health support organisation
- The World Needs a Father
- Caring Dads
At Lola&Lykke, we work to address these parenting stereotypes, while providing dads with educational resources, to help them feel confident and empowered when giving childcare. We work to give BOTH PARENTS the support, equipment and information that they need. After all, we understand that it takes a whole team to raise a baby.
If you would like more information about what you can expect when becoming a dad, we’ve created a comprehensive digital guidebook for dads, which covers everything from pregnancy to bottle feeding. You can read our Becoming Dad Survival Guide here. (Available in English, Finnish, and German)