Happy Father’s Day!
Dads, on this Father’s Day, I want to commemorate you. I want to thank you for taking the time to learn about being a parent. To trying to be open to this challenge of raising little ones, with someone who may or may not come from a similar parenting background. I want to thank you for trying to raise independent thinkers instead of carbon copy mini-me’s. For taking the time to think- is how I am disciplining my child- building up his spirit or tearing him down? For teaching your daughters what to look for in “good guy” by the way you treat their mother and other women in your life. For looking at your double standards and trying to make amends so you don’t act hypocritical. All of this and more is how you are important. And all of this and more you accomplish every day of your life with your kids. I want to thank you because along with mothers, you are helping raise the next generation.
Society is waking up to the importance of mental health in parents. We are slowly (but surely) but too slowly- beginning to understand that when an infant is born, so too is a parent. We have a skewed and misinformed idea that men- fathers- must keep it together at all costs for the sake of being the breadwinner, support system, “man of the house”. This is the same illogical type of thought process society has for mothers, too. However, since maternal mental health is starting to be taken seriously, many believe that any feelings of anxiety, anger, sadness, questions of being good enough are solely experienced by the woman – mom.
Longer hours at the office, relationship betrayals, increasing alcohol or drug use, under/overeating, becoming hyper vigilant about the safety and health of the child, mother, or family unit are a reaction to the father's role and cannot be pushed aside as a "phase". We wrongfully assume that men just fall into the father role automatically. Men are expected to return to work full force, with the same capacity despite waking up to in the middle of the night, or with the added pressure of care taking (financially, emotionally, physically) for a new member of their family.
I say, let’s stop this nonsense. But, it’s not so easy. Why? The typical advice that is given – “share your emotions,” “talk about what’s bothering you to problem solve for solutions,” is just not very manly. Right? So, throughout childhood, boys are instructed to not cry, to act tough, to figure it out. But once a baby is born, men are suddenly supposed to know how to share their feelings? With the very same people who have lived with them acting all macho and put together? WOW. Talk about an adjustment.
It sounds easy, but it clearly is not. First, there needs to be a vocabulary- what words describe which emotions. For some people, this is easier than others. Some are at a loss for words and find it hard to describe what they are going through. They may think that their negative feelings mean that somehow, they are not cut out for this dad thing, or that they may not love their family as much as they hoped they would. These types of thoughts feed into the dismissing or obsessive types of behaviors that can create family turmoil during stressful times.
Statistics show that 10% of new fathers experience symptoms of depression that get in the way with their life at home and work. These situations do not define you, but if you don't get past them, you can get stuck in them and end up defining yourself within these parameters. The biggest barrier to getting help is shame. When we feel embarrassed and shameful about our thoughts and feelings, we c]am up. And then what happens? That thought or feeling becomes HUGE and takes up more and more space in our mind. We convince ourselves that what we are going through is despicable and unique to us. Don't fall for that trap!
Try, even if you can't find the right words- to talk to someone. Choose wisely, some people are not ready for your level of honesty. Try to find someone who can understand you. Many men have gone through similar situations and if no one in your social circle has gone through similar situations- look for support in other groups, speak to a professional, read books and articles. Just like it is okay for a woman to ask for help, it's okay for men, too.
Dads, you are important. Your well-being is crucial to the stability of your family. As a caretaker for others, take care of yourself.
Dr. Eva Benmeleh
I am a licensed clinical child psychologist in Miami . I hope you enjoy the site!
221 West Hallandale Beach Blvd., Suite 202
Hallandale, FL 33009