“You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know”
Becoming a dad for the first time can be tough, it doesn’t matter how many books you read, you can’t know or be prepared for everything. This blog post walks you through five common practical impacts of fatherhood, gives you some advice for new dads, and gives you tips to navigate your way. Included in this blog:
- Sleep Deprivation
- Social Life
- Mental Health
Advice for new dads
1) Sleep deprivation
Did you know that babies aren’t considered physically able to sleep through the night until they are at least six months old? Sure, you can get lucky – our first, Freya, was an amazing sleeper, but she screamed all day due to her reflux!
While our babies can’t prioritise sleep, adults have a lot more control. But sometimes sleeping doesn’t appear to be a good use of our time and there is a danger that you put your entertainment time ahead of sleep in the evenings. There’s even a fancy name for it – Revenge Bedtime Procrastination
Yes, we all need to unwind, but allowing that to eat into sleep time is going to counterproductive.
Consider my client Andy’s observation:
“If you can prioritise you and your partners ability to sleep then a lot of the other things fall into place, it makes the hard stuff easier with a clear head. If you’re both sleep deprived, it makes even the minor issues trigger points for disagreement.”
While the excellent and thought-provoking book Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker reminds us of the importance of sleep.
“It enhances your memory, makes you more attractive. It keeps you slim and lowers food cravings. It protects you from cancer and dementia. It wards off colds and flu. It lowers your risk of heart attacks and stroke, not to mention diabetes. You’ll even feel happier, less depressed, and less anxious.”
2) Social life (or not)
New parents’ lack of social life is a cliché for a reason. Life has changed. It won’t be forever, but always remember that babies do not respect a hangover.
You need to think about three things
- “Putting your oxygen mask on first”
- Is it fair?
- Time together
You need to look after yourself to be able look after other people. As they say when you fly, put your own oxygen mask on first. It’s important to understand what social life or hobbies you need to stay happy and grounded. Then talk to your partner about how to arrange it and fit it in.
Think about fairness too.
When is your partner getting a break? Are you facilitating that process? If your partner says they don’t want to do anything social, do you take the easy way out and stop asking or do you do everything you can to give them their own space? It can be very easy for new mums to put everyone else’s needs first; part of your ‘job’ is to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Consider the impact if you’re pursuing your hobbies and social life and your partner isn’t. It’s a sure-fire way to create serious relationship tension.
It can be tricky in the early days to get time together away from your baby. But even if it’s just for a few hours, while someone covers a nap, I guarantee the feeling of being partners and not just parents can be amazing if you let it.
Don’t worry if you find yourself using that time to talk about your baby, we all do it!
Most importantly social life as a new parent requires planning and communication to ensure everyone gets the time “off” that they need. Plus, I think it’s important to recognise how friendship groups change. You are going to find yourself becoming mates with the dads of your children’s friends, embrace it!
There are split views on this – the TUC found a fatherhood bonus with dads getting promoted / earning more once they are fathers. Yet there is also research by remote meeting tech firm PowWowNow finding that dads also experience discrimination if they take time off to look after children:
- 44% of fathers experienced discrimination in the workplace after exercising their right to take time off to look after their child.
- 1 in 4 fathers suffered verbal abuse or mockery after taking time off to look after their children.
It’s really tough to be a woman though
Pregnant Then Screwed stats on pregnancy discrimination are eye opening and the combination of potential discrimination against any parent is particularly hard on dual income couples who both want to be active parents and have great careers.
A really important piece of advice for new dads is to be clear on your priorities as an individual and as a family is key here. It might be tricky, but forging the right path for you will make you happier in the long run!
Having a baby typically leads to more outgoings and potentially less income – it’s easy to quickly move from being a ‘DINKY’ couple (Dual Income No Kids Yet) into a ‘SITCOM’ (Single Income Two Children and Oppressive Mortgage).
But it’s no laughing matter if you aren’t prepared.
Do a budget, understand where all your money goes and what are needs and what are nice to haves. Additionally, you should have honest conversations about how you share income. Joint account or allowances? Whose income pays for what or is it all in one shared account?
It’s important to discuss money challenges because they are the number one reason marriages fail.
5) Mental Health
Mental health challenges in new dads are really common – the NCT report that “the number of men who become depressed in the first year after becoming a dad is double that of the general population.”
It’s not surprising when the focus is naturally on mum and baby, and it can feel really important to be strong and supportive for them. It can also be difficult to open up to those close to you, especially if you are not used to it or aren’t comfortable being vulnerable with friends and family.
But it matters. Talking to someone can be life changing or lifesaving, because it’s tough being pulled in different directions.