Fatherhood is a game changer. For some of us, it’s an amazing experience. I mean sure it has it’s moments (like toddler tantrums, constant cleaning, repeating yourself, arguments), but overall for many dads they wouldn’t change a thing. But for some fathers, they feel like they hate being a dad. They love their kids, but they hate being a parent. Often this frustration towards being a parent initially seems to be linked to the ‘losses’ that we can see when it comes to parenthood, like the loss of freedom or the loss of time, but more frequently if you dig a bit deeper, we can find underlying issues that make parenting that much harder for these dads.
If you are a father and you find yourself thinking that you hate being a dad, or you know someone who is in this boat, then read on for some underlying reasons that may be causing these feelings, and some general strategies you can try.
As always, if you need support more specific to your needs, please seek out specialist mental health or parenting support. The information in this article is of a general nature only and may not meet your specific needs.
You’re Mourning Your Old Life
As much as we think we can prepare for fatherhood, once baby comes along it smacks us right in the face and we realise that nothing can prepare us for being a parent. Those first few weeks, and even months, are often spent just trying to get by and figure everything out, that we don’t get an opportunity to pause and reflect on the change that’s just happened, whereas most changes that occur in life are either slow, long changes, allowing us time to adjust, or short and rapid, allowing us time to reflect. Becoming a parent however is both rapid and long, making it difficult to adapt to this change.
What happens then is we don’t get an opportunity to grieve our old lives, the loss of what we once had. Not being able to process this change can also lead to feelings of frustration, resentment, sadness, guilt or anger, directed towards our child, our partner, people around us or even ourselves.
So what can we do if this is you? Well the first step is acknowledging it. It may seem weird to say that you are grieving your old life, like you’ve just lost somebody, but the process is the same whether it be the loss of identity or the loss of a loved one. So recognise your loss. From there, talk about it with someone. You could joke about it with mates, vent to your partner or family, find out how your other dad friends coped with the change. But chatting about it with people is key.
The other thing you can do is set aside time to do the old things you used to enjoy doing. I get it, time is a premium, but even if it is once a month, that will give you something to look forward to where you can feel like your old self. Or, find moments in what you are already doing that bring you joy. These moments will help you to shape your new identity into one that you like, whereas focusing on the negative experiences will shape our new identity into one we dislike. For some different ways to find time to relax and change your mentality, check out my article on how I tried to find time to relax with a newborn.
Struggling To Find A Connection
Another reason dads can struggle with fatherhood is difficulty in developing that bond with baby. Baby’s naturally gravitate towards mum. They recognise mums voice more, her heartbeat, they are often fed by mother (particularly if breastfeeding) and they often soothe faster with mum (especially in the early months). On top of this, baby doesn’t give much back in return, so when we do try to support and interact with baby, we may not get a lot back to reinforce that we are doing a good job. All of this together can make it challenging for fathers to develop a bond with baby, and lead to feelings of defeat and frustration.
So how can we manage this? It really is as simple as trying to get in as much time as possible with baby, while reminding ourselves to push through any feelings of defeat that we have. If you are lucky enough to be able to feed baby (i.e. bottle feeding), then do so as this will help a lot with bonding. But otherwise nappy changes and bath times are just as good. These moments allow you to interact with baby, or at the very least allow baby to see your face. So all you need to do is keep smiling throughout. Aside from this, you want to have as many opportunities to hold and cuddle baby so they recognise you and become comfortable with you. For some ideas on how to bond with baby, check out my post on playtime and bonding with baby.
Unsure What To Do
Before I had my daughter, I steered clear of newborns like they were the plague. I was unsure how to hold them or how to interact with them, so it was easier to just look from a distance rather than risk upsetting them. And then once my daughter was here, I was able to hold, change and clean baby without hesitation. I was fortunate to be able to do this, but not everyone will have this happen to them. Looking after a baby and knowing all the things you need to take care of them is a skill, one that we learn ‘on the job’.
So like any skill, we need to figure out how we are going to teach ourselves, learn from our mistakes and seek help when needed. First step, what are you unsure how to do specifically. It’s easy to say ‘I don’t know how to look after a baby’, but if you want to get better, then break it down into smaller parts. Do you not feel comfortable changing baby? washing baby? holding baby? Are you struggling to play with baby? Struggling with soothing baby? Maybe it’s one of these areas, maybe it’s all of them? Either way, once you have broken it down into smaller parts, you can now come up with a plan for each part.
Your plan should then look at what skills’ you need to learn (the practical side of things), and what thoughts and emotions of your own do you need to manage. For example, if you struggle with soothing baby, then from a skills’ standpoint you might need to learn how to hold baby in a variety of ways so you have more options to keep them comfy and safe. But from an emotions and thoughts aspect, you may need to learn how to manage your feelings when baby keeps crying and come up with different thought patterns to help you push through.
Once you have a plan for these two areas, it is then a matter of practice and repeat. You may adjust your plan as necessary, but if you don’t keep practicing the skills’, then you won’t learn them.
Unresolved Past Issues
For some new dads, their own experiences with their parents and family, or even past relationships, can impact on how they perceive their own parenting and relationship with their child. Now, not all will be affected by this. For many, they have a good insight and awareness into how their past has impacted them, and what they need to do to overcome their experiences. But for those that struggle with their experiences, or current issues with their own parents, it is important to seek support from the right person to figure out the core of the problem and what is needed to manage it well.
Often, a psychologist or other mental health professional can help you to do this by exploring your relationships and thought patterns and helping you to identify where the problem lies and what steps can be taken to manage the problem. This may include practical strategies (such as increasing your time spent with baby), thought based strategies (challenging your unhelpful thoughts), or emotional calming strategies (mindfulness type strategies). There may be other strategies that they recommend for you based on your own circumstances.
Even if you don’t see a psychologist, the first step with unresolved past issues is talking about it with someone. Often through talking about our experiences, it allows us to reflect on the issue and for many people they then come up with their own strategies to deal with the problem. If we don’t deal with these issues ASAP however, they can often turn into much larger problems that impact all areas of our lives.
If you are finding yourself starting to hate being a dad, ask yourself what is the specific reason why. Is it one or more of the above reasons why? Is it something else? Either way, the key first step is figuring out the reason why. From there, break it down into small, specific parts, things that you can actually work on. Once you have done this, then develop your plan. What are the practical things you need to do to resolve the issue, and what are the things you need to do to manage your thoughts and feelings. With the plan developed, seek help from others when needed, and then keep practicing and trying until you begin to feel that success.
If you are struggling with your journey as a father, it is OK to seek out help and support. Please speak to your doctor as a first step, but you can also seek help from a mental health professional or parenting professional to assist you.