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  • Writer's pictureAllan Shedlin

Embrace the Gap in Support for New Fathers: 7 Strategies to Offer Comfort, Encouragement and Guidance

Guest post by Jane I. Honikman, MS

Post Partum Support and Emotional Health Educator


I have been hearing the voices of new fathers since I became a mother myself, however, I wasn’t always listening. The first postpartum male voice I heard was that of my husband. Breastfeeding was not going well. He expressed exasperation, desperation, and fear by saying, “you’re starving our baby.” I received lactation help, but there was no emotional support for him.


Years later, I facilitated a new parent’s discussion group. A new father expressed his irritation and frustration about his role by saying, “Stop criticizing how I’m putting on the diaper.” This time, I began to listen.


I answered a phone call to the Warmline from a father. He cried while sharing that his wife and mother of their infant had filed for divorce and custody. He had no idea what had happened to his marriage. I actively listened to his tragic story. There were no local resources for him.


I heard a man tell how he had accompanied his girlfriend to the first ultrasound appointment. The technician turned her back on him, spoke only to the woman. He felt left out and ignored.


The needs of postpartum fathers have been marginalized. There are few, if any, resources designed to include the father-to-be during pregnancy and after the arrival of the infant. What I’ve learned by listening to husbands and fathers is that we must embrace these gaps. The strategies I used will help you too.


  1. Give acknowledgement: The fact is, an egg requires a sperm for pregnancy. Nature takes over the woman’s body so, naturally, she becomes the focus of attention. What about the “pregnant” man?  Who listens to his joys and fears?

  2. Pay attention: Anthropologists have observed in some cultures a male experience of pregnancy called “couvade.” Some men exhibit somatic symptoms that are overlooked and misinterpreted. We need to pay attention to the medical needs of men too.

  3. Ask thoughtful questions: The pregnant couple is transitioning from being a duo to parenthood. As individuals and together, they are entering a new phase of life. This journey is scary as well as exciting. They are facing challenges, decisions, and fears. Pregnancy is a time to have conversations. Who will provide a safe environment where they can talk, cry, and won’t be judged?

  4. Know the truth:  Having a baby is hard on relationships and marriage. Statistics challenge the hope that the addition of a baby will preserve or even improve partnerships.

  5. Men have hormones too:  There may be hormones that prepare men for fatherhood. Studies are limited but perhaps men who are exposed to a pregnant partner may have hormonal changes. Where is the research on the fathers?

  6. Watch for depression: Statistically, rates of postpartum depression are the same in fathers and mothers. We know who is at risk. It is essential to be frank about personal and family histories of mental illness. There is no shame acknowledging the truth. Stigma does nothing but keep one from getting help.

  7. Keys for wellness: Fathers and mothers need to sleep, eat well, exercise, have time for themselves, share their emotions and get support. Pregnancy and the postpartum period wreck routines. It is not easy to accept help but it is a foundation for successful parenting and wellbeing.


The role expectations for men as husbands and fathers has changed dramatically during my lifetime. My father never changed a diaper. His role was as the provider and protector. My husband, in contrast, was emotionally invested in our pregnancies and his role as an involved father.


Parental mental health is the “new” social movement. Contrary to current thinking, pregnancy and postpartum issues should not be labeled as gender specific. Our children will benefit from listening to the needs of both parents.



 

DADDYING FILM FEST CALL FOR ENTRIES

LATE ENTRY DEADLINE EXTENDED TO APRIL 15th!



Attention all Dads/Dad figures, 1st-grade through college undergrad students, and other indie filmmakers, the 2024 D3F Call for Entries late deadline has been extended to MONDAY, APRIL 15th! That means there's still time for you to join our amazing and growing lineup of Official Selections by creating and submitting your own film or video – even if it's just a 1- or 2-minute TikTok or Instagram video! We're looking for more heartfelt stories that reflect what being or having an involved dad means to you and/or your child(ren).


Visit the D3F website for more award details, submission guidelines, and Atticus Award-winning examples from previous years. Or head directly to our FilmFreeway page to submit your films, videos, and music videos celebrating the importance of having or being an involved Dad or Dad figure:



SUBMIT BY APRIL 15th


 

Jane I. Honikman is the mother of three adult children and grandmother to eight grandchildren. She lives in Santa Barbara, CA, with her supportive husband of more than 50 years. She experienced the joy of motherhood in the 1970s and also began to feel the paralyzing guilt of not being able to cope and function in her new role. Frustrated by the lack of community support, she co-founded Postpartum Education for Parents (PEP) to ensure support for herself and others. In 1980, she was awarded an AAUW Member Project/Research grant to conduct A Study of the Dynamics and Development of Postpartum Support Groups and published the results in June 1981. The study was designed to serve as a first step in the formation of a National Network of Postpartum Support Groups. In 1987, she founded Postpartum Support International (PSI) to represent self-help/support groups working to prevent the negative emotional reactions to childbearing. In 2015, she co-founded the Postpartum Action Institute (PAI) for individuals committed to confronting the stigma of mental illness and the mythology surrounding new parenthood. She is the co-author of Parental Mental Health: Factoring in Fathers with Daniel B. Singley, and has written many articles and educational materials on postpartum issues and how to start community support networks. She lectures and trains internationally on the role of social support and the emotional health of families. She earned a BA in sociology from Whittier College and MS in psychology from California Coast University.

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