There’s really not one part of being a dad that’s easy. But almost all parts of being a dad are rewarding. The problem is that, when you’re in the midst of a sleepless week, dealing with a kid who won’t listen, or just generally wondering “WTF?” all the time, it can be hard to see the forest through the trees. That’s why, if you know a dad who’s struggling, an honest and heartfelt message of support or understanding can be a simple way to help him keep his head above water.
Empathizing with the emotions struggling dads may feel can help them level out. “Men tend to bond over activities, like doing a hobby or playing a sport,” says Amy Morin, a licensed psychotherapist and editor-in-chief of The Verywell Mind Podcast. “They may feel left out when they no longer get invited to do those things or they may feel bad when they have to decline those invitations because they’re struggling with the kids. New dads especially feel quite isolated, as they spend the majority of their time with their babies. It can be helpful for them to know that many dads feel the same way, and they aren’t alone in their loneliness.”
It certainly can. “Admitting that being a dad is hard is for most dads who want to prove their capability and hide their struggle,” adds Kara Kushnir, clinical director and psychotherapist, being a dad doesn’t often get recognized for the emotional roller coaster it can be. “However, acknowledging that fatherhood has its downs along with all of the amazing ups can be a game changer for reducing isolation, anxiety, depression or just general overwhelm for fellow dads.”
In other words, there’s probably a dad in your life that would appreciate some perspective and maybe just a bit of a chat. Here, then are some suggestions for texts to send his way. Of course, you know your friend best. So put your own spin on them.
1. “I get it, man. It’s hard not knowing what to do. But it’s okay to ask for help.”
Parenting is tough. Letting a fellow dad know he’s allowed to need help is a welcome gesture. “A lot of first-time fathers don’t know they’re allowed to ask for help,” says Kushnir. “Many people don’t realize that fathers are also at risk for postpartum depression and anxiety, so they can benefit from their own support system of friends, or by talking to a therapist themselves.” By texting your pal, you’re acknowledging that having a baby is a huge shift in his life, and that you can empathize with the feelings of uncertainty that may bring. Share your experience, and lend an ear — or an eye — so he knows that he’s not alone.
2. “What can I do?”
Subtlety might not be as effective as straight-up asking your friend exactly what you can do to make his journey easier. “It’s not uncommon to see women asking their new mom friends how they can help out,” says Kushnir. “It could be food, assistance watching the baby, or help around the house. Dads need that too.” Offer to drop off some takeout or shovel the driveway. Any concrete offers of support that target specific, looming chores will be welcomed.
3. “We all have bad stretches. There are better days ahead.”
It’s tough to see the light at the end of a tunnel when said tunnel is filled with dirty diapers and sleepless nights. But, it exists. And you can help remind them with a simple text. This text, per Kushnir, serves two purposes. First, you’re helping him feel less isolated by fostering a more meaningful connection. Second, it validates the emotions he’s feeling about parenting being unbelievably difficult. Hearing (or reading) simple words of affirmation can help even the most downtrodden dads realize that the struggle is temporary, but the feelings of fatherhood are forever.
4. “You’re really connected to your kids.”
“Fatherhood can be isolating because fathers are focused on being providers and breadwinners,” says Kushnir. “The reality is that children and families also need connection with dads, and a text like this will validate that he’s doing a good job.” If the relationships he’s building with his kids are meaningful and significant — or if there’s a child in the picture who seems to be going through a specifically hard time — this type of message will be critical to boosting his self-worth.
5. “Man, it sucks when they don’t sleep, doesn’t it?”
Never underestimate the power of commiseration. Even if you don’t have kids, you can empathize with the frustration of sleepless nights. Extrapolate that feeling, then add in changing diapers, the echoes of crying, and an every-two-hour feeding schedule, and you can see why a text like this might perk up any dad. “A lot of parents, especially fathers, don’t often get told they’re doing a good job,” says Kushnir. “They often feel left in a supporting role, on the sidelines. So when a father is actively trying to support his child, this type of positive recognition combined with empathy can be so empowering.”
6. “Yeah, buddy. Being a dad is both tough and amazing.”
Duh, right? But being caught in the storm of fatherhood can make us focus on the “tough” and lose sight of the “amazing”. Reminding your friend that he’s working toward indefinable greatness can help him refocus on the positive. “Acknowledge that parenting isn’t always fun by saying it’s tough,” says Morin. “But balance that by making it clear that you know there are moments when being a father is wonderful. This can remind a struggling dad that the ups and downs of parenting are completely normal.”
7. “Take care of yourself today.”
“A struggling dad might appreciate the reminder that it’s okay for him to take a nap, watch TV for a bit, or exercise,” says Morin. “Encourage him to care for himself while he juggles his new duties, and remind this dad that self-care isn’t selfish,” she adds. The point is: he’s still a human being with a life that requires self-care in order to provide for his kids in meaningful ways. It’s not greedy if it’s for the greater good.
8. “How are you really doing?”
A simple yet oh-so-powerful message that goes a long way in letting a struggling dad know that you care about him, especially during such a sensitive time. “Asking a dad, ‘How are you doing, and I mean really doing?’ is powerful, because men are also often encouraged by society to stuff down or suppress their true feelings,” says Kushnir. “A text like this can signal that honesty and vulnerability are safe places with you, and allow him to feel heard and validated.”
9. “I’m proud of you, buddy.”
Pride is a big part of being a dad. Usually it’s cast toward the accomplishments of your kids, so it’s nice for a struggling dad to hear that his sacrifices and triumphs haven’t gone unnoticed. “One of the most powerful things you can tell someone is that you’re proud of the work they’re doing,” says Morin. “Most parents – especially new parents – think they’re not doing enough for their baby at times. A simple reminder that this dad is doing a good job, even though some tasks might go unfinished, or mistakes might be made, can really boost his confidence.”
10. “Whatever you feel, it’s okay.”
Validation is a common thread among all of these suggestions, and with good reason. New parents experience a wide range of emotions, and letting them know each and every one is valid and legit — without is just what they need to hear. “Whether he’s feeling sad, anxious, overwhelmed or lonely, let him know those emotions are all okay,” says Morin. “New parents especially think they’re supposed to be filled with happiness all the time now that their bundle of joy has arrived. The truth is, parenting is tough and it comes with a lot of emotions. All of them are valid.”