Parenting is hard. Parenting as a father — and particularly a new one — can be a confusing, stressful, and even isolating time for many new dads. Even though dads may be surrounded by new life and excited friends and family, the pressures of raising a newborn and the demands on a dad’s time and energy can be difficult. Beyond that, for dads who are married to moms who breastfeed, many dads feel left out of the early maternal bonding that mom and baby share. All of which can lead to a dad who feels less useful than he wants and who is struggling to find a place in fatherhood alongside the regular pressures of work and life. So how can men handle these new feelings? Five therapists spoke to Fatherly about how men should reach out and act when they are feeling lonely.
Express Your Feelings
“If a dad feels lonely or isolated because his partner is absorbed by child care, it is important for him to express his feelings. Parenting children, and especially newborns, can be all-consuming. The spouse who is the primary caregiver may not be aware that the dad feels excluded, and in fact may be thrilled that he might want to be more involved. If the couple can talk through these issues they may be able to change the dynamic. If parenting can be a bit more more cooperative, it is less likely that either partner will feel isolated, and very likely that the marital bond will feel stronger as well.
It is especially important for new dads to understand that the parenting skills and talents that children require shift and change as the child develops. There will be times that each parent will have something unique to provide that the other parent lacks. When both partners understand that they each bring strengths and weaknesses to their roles as parents they can more easily support each other and function as a collaborative team.” — Dr. Erika Doukas, clinical psychologist
Go See Your Friends
“Parenting can be stressful and time-consuming. Oftentimes, with the demands of a family, parents begin to ignore their own needs. Socializing and relaxing is very much a need. Talk with your partner about giving each other a break. Could you watch the kids Wednesday so she could meet up with friends? Maybe you could have Friday this week? If you’re a single dad, you still need time to get out and socialize with people that have more to talk about than PAW Patrol and Disney. If you need to, hire a babysitter. Make sure to maintain healthy relationships because these can be a great source of support. These friendships can help make you a more engaged father when you are at home, so don’t feel bad when you take some time for dad.” — Victoria Woodruff, LMSW, MSW
Schedule Some “Dad Time”
“When dads are feeling lonely or isolated the first thing is to acknowledge these feelings. When we acknowledge that this feeling is true, dads can be intentional about carving out time to engage in activities with their friends to reduce feelings of isolation. This is especially important for new dads, the adjustment period of a newborn can be quite difficult. The challenge of balancing family life and maintaining individual interests is a juggle and can lead to depression if it is not managed well. Second is to schedule dad time in your schedule. It may seem daunting but scheduling out time for socializing for busy dads can be helpful in allowing time for themselves.” — Arron Muller, LMSW
Label What You’re Feeling — And Find a Community
“Dads feeling lonely is happening with increasing frequency. It’s great that we’re finally allowing men the space to acknowledge that the Hallmark version of becoming a father might not always line up with the lived reality of it, and there are certain things that might influence or increase the likelihood that dads are going to feel disengaged.
A lot of this needs to be managed on the family level, so that dads aren’t feeling this loneliness and isolation from their co-parent and their social supports. Moms often bond in utero, and dads are thrust into a situation where maybe they haven’t really come to terms with the reality that a baby is coming. There’s the strength of the maternal bond in those early days, particularly when we’re looking at breastfeeding. These things become real barriers to dads feeling useful and engaged and full of purpose. We really need to help support the dad’s role in becoming a nurturing and important figure in the child’s life, and we know that cognitive development is significantly benefited by having dads increasingly engaged.
Loneliness can lead to decreased immune function, decreased cardiovascular function, decreased cognitive function, and even contributes to depression; I wonder if we might also call this a sort of postpartum that dads experience. Dads need to turn to their partner, label and express what they are feeling, and then create a co-parenting strategy that allows both parents to be equal contributors to the child’s needs. Dads can turn inward instead of benefiting from turning toward others. Dads should also reach for community. There are a lot of other dads online, and that and in-person groups can normalize what a dad is going through. The mental health community has an obligation to help parents and dads anticipate these changes in advance. — Stephanie Wijkstrom, MS, LPC, NBCC, Director of Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
Accept the Loneliness, Then Interrogate Where It’s Coming From
“The first thing is identifying it and knowing that you are feeling lonely. Once you identify the feeling, then you can understand where the need comes from and then figure out ways to satisfy it. It could very well be something as simple as ‘I need to play basketball on Sundays’ or it could be, like, ‘I’m feeling disconnected from my wife and want more time with her,’ to even just needing to ‘share with her where I am emotionally.’
Some men experience loneliness sexually. Physical intimacy can sometimes satisfy them emotionally. So understanding what the feeling is, where the need originates, and what it is that would help satisfy that need would be enormous. It could very well be that they need to connect with other dads, or to just be with people who are in similar situations, or the response to a loss of a parent. It could be that reconnecting with siblings helps satisfy it.” — Dr. Dana Dorfman, psychotherapist, LCSW