10 Tips For New Dads To Help Manage Their Mental Health
Two years ago my wife gave birth to our first son, my pride and joy. Nothing had really prepared me for parenthood. I thought I was ready… I wasn’t.
I experienced my fair share of shit growing up. My parents divorced when I was five. Soon after that, my mum moved me and my sister away from my Dad to another town. When I was 15 my Mum took off. She met a bloke who swept her off her feet and did the runner. I hadn’t even finished year 10. My sister and I found ourselves looking for a place to live. We found it hard without the support of our parents and I the pressure became too much for my sister. She started smoking pot, took speed and eventually progressed to ice. My sister felt like she had to look after me- yet she couldn’t even look after herself.
I couldn’t live with my sister so I left, with nowhere to go. My uncle called Dad and said it was time that I moved in with him. My father had just remarried and moved into a new house- I assume the last thing he wanted was his 17-year-old son moving in, but he let me. 6 months on, my dad and my step mum handed me the local paper with cheap rental advertisements circled. My father’s way of making me stand on my own two feet, it was slightly premature in my eyes as I worked and tried to finish my year 12 certificate. As my father blamed me for the breakdown of his second marriage, again I found myself without a home. I bounced between family members and friends until I could find a house of my own.
My late teens were difficult, but I could still appreciate all the good things I had in my life. My mates were a great influence on me and I managed to complete my final school year. But I had scars and I suffered from depression as a result of my childhood. I had issues trying to keep a girlfriend in my younger 20’s. Whenever I thought I was going to be hurt or let down, I would run a mile. No relationship ever stood a chance. I just couldn’t handle the thought of being rejected again. I also told myself that I would never have kids of my own because I didn’t want them to live with a broken family and I really didn’t want them to experience the crushing rejection that I experienced at the hands of my family.
So how does all this bode for becoming a husband and father myself?
Everything changed when I met my wife. She gave my life purpose. I believe she saved me from crippling depression. She showed me that anything is possible when you have support, unconditional love and most importantly, trust. But once we had our first child, it was like a fucking atomic bomb hit us. Whilst a lot of people profess that parenthood changes your life, I never really appreciated just how much things would change… And how hard it is. It is far more challenging than being kicked out of home.
We had a beautiful healthy boy. We were so lucky. So why did I start feeling depressed again? I guess it was a buildup of events that eventually lead me down the path of depression, but all the while I’m thinking to myself, do blokes even get the baby blues? Am I the only one? Parenthood is a bit of a paradox. It can be the happiest time of your life, but at the same time the most challenging.
My wife had a tough birth and the recovery process was long. She suffered from post-natal depression and anxiety due to a health condition. It was hard to be the rock when I felt like packing it in too. Our parenting styles clashed and we argued over most things. Our boy could scream for hours and hours and he wouldn’t sleep without my wife, which meant we didn’t sleep together anymore. I slept with the dog. I watched my wife give her whole life to our boy. There was no time for me anymore. There was no time for herself or her own interests.
I also had less time to play footy and exercise. I put on weight and drank more booze, thus I felt like shit most of the time. I’d started a new job and was a zombie from the lack of sleep. I had less time with my mates and was really missing them. Many of them just thought I was being boring or I was busy, but the truth was I was struggling. Stupidly, I thought the birth of my son would bring my parents and I closer together. It never did. It just highlighted the lack of support from them and my sister.
These things just built up over time until I cracked. One day it all became too much and I thought there was no point living anymore. I felt like giving up. But it was just a moment of weakness and looking back I feel like that’s ok. It should be ok for a bloke to admit to a moment of weakness.
In moments like this when you’re overwhelmed, I think it’s warranted to take some time out, get help and get back up when you feel ready.
While the adjustment to fatherhood is a continuous process, I have worked out a few things here and there. So I say to any aspiring Dad, or any bloke who is currently going through a similar situation;
Here’s ten lessons I have learnt:
- While it’s a great time, it can also be a really difficult time. Just accept that you and your partner will have moments when you feel exhausted and frustrated. You will fight, but move on quickly.
- Pick your battles with your partner. Seriously. Don’t worry about the little things.
- Take time to identify your own insecurities and talk to your partner about theirs. Our strange behaviours can manifest into weird parenting techniques.
- It might take a while, but have a think about what is really important in your life (hobbies/interests) and who your real friends are. The balance between work, family and friends can be tough sometimes.
- Take time to be with your mates. A beer and a laugh with the boys always helps my mood.
- Eat well and drink in moderation. You have to look after yourself so you can care for your kids and your partner.
- Look at the signs for when your partner needs a break.
- You’re not going to parent in exactly the same style as your partner. You are different people with different experiences and ideas. You both will need to compromise and work through the process.
- Make time to have dates with your partner. Put down your iPhone and talk to them because sometimes you just pass like ships in the night.
- Focus on the good things you have – not the negatives. Gratitude can put things into perspective.
We’re hitting the road next month as part of Men’s Health Week event series. Leading Psychologist and Author Dr. Clive Williams will be sharing the stage with Former World Champion Surfer, Mark ‘Occy’ Occhilupo.
Blokepedia is piloting a workplace health program designed specifically for men. Consisting of a mix of online resources and face-to-face (or webinar) education sessions, the program aims to support teams and individuals to optimise their social, emotional, and physical health.
Jimmy Rees to host new web-series that sets out to explore some of the issues and life events affecting men across Australia.