Keeping a stiff upper lip is no help to anyone. We need to acknowledge the struggle and paint a true picture of fatherhood.
Parenting is hard. Being a good dad is tough. Not enough men admit that truth, to themselves and each other. That’s the message that writer Doyin Richards put on Mashable the other week, with particular reference to social media.
Of course we can’t possibly live up to the perfect images of parenthood thrown at us by Instagram and Facebook. As Doyin writes:
“Social media is a place where every kid is well-behaved, the house is always spotless, money problems are non-existent, and every parent has all of the answers. For some reason we’ve been conditioned to believe that social media currency (likes, retweets, follower counts, verified badges, etc.) actually means something outside of our phones and computers.”
Social media and fatherhood
Most of us have realised that social media is not a place to look for well rounded representations of real life, whether it comes to parenting or anything else. But it has a particularly insidious influence when it comes to fatherhood. Men are not renowned for embracing public vulnerability at the best of times. The shiny, happy people of Instagram only make us more wary of showing what might be perceived as weakness.
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This is my story about a journey that started in January 2017. Anxiety in its most extreme was not something that I had ever had to deal with before and, being honest, it knocked me for six! I want to help others try and find their own way through, as there is light at the end of the tunnel! Come share the journey with me #anxiety #mentalhealth #awareness #mentalhealthawareness #help #anxiousdad #anxiousdaddy #positivity
Taking a toll
At the same time, there are plenty of reasons why dads might need to reach out and admit they don’t have all (and in some cases, any) of the answers.
Three in four dads feel stress trying to juggle work and family life. Nearly two-fifths say they feel ‘great stress’ getting work/life balance right. Nearly 80% of dads feel a responsibility to be “the rock” for their families after the birth of a child, and half say this is a struggle, causing them stress and anxiety.
On top of that, one study found that the pressure to be a family’s main breadwinner can take a toll on the wellbeing of fathers,with the years when men are the sole breadwinner – usually those after childbirth – being the hardest.
“Men are expected to be breadwinners, yet providing for one’s family with little or no help has negative repercussions,” said lead author Christin Munsch, professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut.
Depression in men is common
On top of that, a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 26% of men around the world showed signs of depression between three and six months after the birth of a baby.
“The fact that so many expecting and new dads go through it makes it a significant public health concern—one that physicians and mental-health providers have largely overlooked,” explained James F. Paulson, associate professor of psychology at Old Dominion University in Virginia, and lead author of the survey.
Take all this research together and the conclusion is obvious: dads often feel anxious, vulnerable and overwhelmed. At the same time, admitting vulnerability and asking for help seems to go against traditional ‘manly’ virtues like stoicism and staying in control. The result is that many men suffer alone – and suffer more than they have to.
The result is that many men suffer alone – and suffer more than they have to
Men opening up
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That may be changing, albeit slowly. Doyin Richards advocates more honesty from men on social media. We need realistic depictions of what fatherhood is really like, both the good and the bad. And writing recently in the Washington Post, Whit Honea, author of The Parent’s Phrasebook, urges dads to talk about their mental health, not least to their own children.
Honea cites examples of celebrity dads talking about mental health and says that these men “are modeling the idea that acknowledging personal struggles does not make a man weak. Rather, their speaking out challenges the outdated definition of manliness as detached stoicism or brawn over brain. Their courage to defy the silence surrounding men’s mental health has inspired others to speak up and seek help.”
He adds that children need to witness men admitting their vulnerability and reaching out for support.
“Fathers need to take care of themselves, and to do it openly so their kids may witness, and even participate in, the process. That will teach children that men are allowed to step outside the boxes of societal stereotype.”
It’s ok not to be ok
Honea lives with an anxiety disorder, but dads don’t need to have diagnosable mental health problems to need help. They may just be confused, overwhelmed and unsure of what to do. An increasing number of them are owning up to the fact, and that is good not only for themselves but also as a message to all stressed, confused and anxious dads. The message is that it’s OK not to be OK, and it’s OK to show it.