There's a lot of talk out there on post natal depression and supporting new mothers, but not much written on depression in new fathers and how to support them. This is something close to my heart, since my husband crashed into depression in my child's second year. So here I focus on how to support fathers who are not taking to it like a duck to water, and are finding it hard. I must admit most of this is written with good old hindsight and a lot of understanding for the mother and how dire hisharmony in the home can be.
These tips are definitely not to give you any more work to do or take any energy from you. They are more tips for a useful mindset to support your husband. I think they can greatly help husband to develop a connection with baby and where he fits in. So some important ways to support a new father are:
1) Understand where he is coming from. I wrote about this last week. Accepting he may not have been chopping at the bit for fatherhood, he may have not been ready for it and he may feel completely out of his depth. As communicating such feelings may not be a mans forte, this will present in many other not so pleasant ways. Be understanding. He is in a foreign land and not speaking the language. He is lost and perhaps coming from an empty place. Aside from not having so much maternal instincts, they often aren't getting the beautiful feedback of moments you are getting. Often they are getting grizzles and want to be back in mummy's arms. As hard as it is when you might be feeling such deep disappointment, see if you can be understanding. See if you can hold a space for them to work it out. This takes strength.
2) Give him the opportunity to settle baby. This may not be as easy as it sounds. I know, when your baby cries desperately wanting you and looking at you, it is very distressing not to take them. So give the opportunity but also do what you feel comfortable with. Find a time that seems to work best, after a feed, in the evenings, then stick to it as a regular practice. A more predictable rhythm may help baby settle with it rather than him being whisked away from mum randomly. Baby wearing helps with this.
My husband would take our son after work while I had a shower. My husband would say "hurry up before he cries! He could never really settle him for the first couple of years. With our daughter I had a shower a couple of hours after she was born while my husband held her. She cried and settle within a few minutes. You could imagine the confidence this gave him.
3) Show him how to settle baby. I think it is quite common for "aeroplane rides" or waving a rattle toy in their face or other methods of distraction to be daddy's first port of call when baby cries as they try to "fix it". It was fairly obvious to me when our boy had "lost it" and was crying that being flung into the air just wasn't going to help. Have patience. They are trying the best they can. Find a way to encourage them and communicate that it is ok to just "hold the baby with empathy". This will probably be a completely new concept to them. Model it by example in front of them, which is always good with anything.
4) Encourage connection in little subtle ways. For example every night before he went to bed I would hold my son up to say goodnight. To start this was a tap on the nose with a finger 3 times and a "Bop bop bop". I would move my sons face quite close to his and somewhere along the line the tap on the nose became kisses on the forehead. Or, in toddlerhood, I would suggest ideas for where he could take our son for a one on one outing like car shows, the airport, lego shows. Now my husband is all over this and has a knack for finding great things to do on the weekend.
4) Date time. Try to give some one to one time in a way that is comfortable for you. There can be many creative variations to "date night". Letting them sleep in another persons arms while having a coffee outside! A take away at home, getting dressed up. A breakfast at the cafe while family or friend walks the block with a stroller. We lived in the country so on a rare dinner out we rented a hotel room in the city so nana could come and mind baby while we were downstairs having dinner. Any problem and I was just an elevator ride away! I found second time round just going to cafes regularly with baby and toddler in tow helped my husband as eating out is one of his pleasures in life.
5) If there is a disparity in what parenting approach to take, hold a space for the problem rather than arguing against each other. A creative solution will come. Speak from your heart. Your husband will probably be more in his head but ultimately your hearts want the same thing. If a solution doesn't come the night you are sitting on the couch talking about it and trying to work it out, that's ok. A solution may come to you in the morning. Often early on it can feel like "we have to do this or else.... baby will never sleep". That stressful fearful frame of mind won't yield the solution. Wait till a way of riding through that phase, that you are both comfortable with and doesn't go against your values, comes. It will.
For example. My son woke hourly from 4 months to 14 months. So most evenings I was resettling him. My husband wanted me to make him sleep. Close the door and let him cry. I couldn't do so you could imagine the butting heads, but I tried everything else I could. I was up through the night reading 700 page books with a book lamp trying to learn how to get him to sleep. Eventually I had the thought. On his third wake I will stay there with him. My husband was ok with that. I felt ok. It meant I would come out to the living room twice but also was helping baby and getting some sleep! As soon as a way of handling things that Everyone was comfortable with was set I relaxed, the house relaxed. The third wake soon went from 9pm to 10 and then quite quickly to 11pm, then 1pm the 3 am then 5am which at that stage I liked to call morning.
6) Try to do one little thing for him a day so he doesn't feel left out. Send a photo, buy a tart at the cafe to bring home, even just changing his towel in the bathroom! This might be really hard especially if things aren't pleasant in the home. However it can create an energy shift. Even now sometimes I still focus on this.
7) Find one thing in the daily rhythm he can do and importantly wants to do so he is part of it and encourage gently. Reading a story book is a good one.
8) Somehow let him know how important he is. And I'm not talking about their relationship with baby. What I think is so much more important. It is their holding a space for the mother. I was anxious, i was self doubting, trying to listen to my heart and process lots of advice that didn't reasonate, I was overwhelmed. Perhaps if he knew this role, this may be more doable for him and make him feel good. And perhaps if we have someone doing that we can show an appreciation of simply that a bit more. Sometimes imagery can say a lot. If something speaks to you. Use it. Willowtree statues can be great for this.
The picture of the statue says it all. I bought it straight away when I saw it. It was at a time when all there was was mutual disappointment, mutual resentment and no words left to say. I brought it home and just put it next to the steps onto the verandah so he had to walk past it morning and night.. I fully believed this is what turned him around. It says "You are needed" and shows Mother holds the baby, father holds the mother. A family in alignment.
It's also good for you to know, and to let them know - they will have their time. At age 2 a switch goes off in my husband. I saw it with our first and was waiting for it with our second. I literally saw the moment when he realised our daughter was precious and literally said in my head "there's the switch". Now they are running around and saying the funniest things and jumping up and down on the driveway when he comes home. And each day I have watched him love and appreciate them more and more. Now sometimes he looks at them and tears just well up with tears of love. He has come into his element in the preschool years with deep understanding of them, connection and patience, helping me too.. So if you can and however you can, give him time.