Sometimes it can be difficult to know where to turn if you’re struggling as a new dad. We spoke to someone who can help.
Becoming a dad is the biggest job a man will ever undertake. It is one that is life-changing, daunting and completely unpredictable and there is no interview or test to pass before the big moment. And because it is the woman who undergoes the huge physical toll of bearing a child, the new dad can often feel that his role is like assistant to mum rather than as a parent in his own right.
There are questions, anxieties, worries for him to face, just as there are with any new mother, but sometimes it’s harder for a new father to know where to turn for advice. That is where the group Dad Matters comes in. It was set up six years ago in Greater Manchester as a spin-off from the great work Home-Start was doing, and to try and help a group that was a little bit left behind.
Kieran Anders, a father of two daughters, is the Operations Manager for Dad Matters and he explains to Adam Lanigan just why and how the organisation is fulfilling such a vital role.
“There was a feeling that Home-Start’s work wasn’t reaching dads. This is a crucial time in dad’s life too, and it’s about their relationship with the baby, resilience, development and taking care of a man’s mental health. That can mean accessing the right services. Often, they don’t know that a dad can ask to see a health visitor or a midwife separately to his partner or that he has priority access to mental health services with a child under two.
“One in ten dads suffer with post-natal depression. It normally kicks in between three and six months. That’s usually when services like health visitors stop being so responsive. Mental health is usually a good indicator of our relationship with babies because if a father is struggling, he will miss communication cues from his baby because simple interactions will release hormones like oxytocin which are so important for all of us. A dad could also be worried about the mental health of the baby’s mother and not know where to turn.
“It is important for a dad to know just how important he is. It is really simple things like interacting with their child, reading, singing, playing. Mums have learned over a longer period how to respond to their child’s needs whereas dads often have a shorter window to learn all this and that is hard.”
“As parents, men perform a different task to women. Mums nurture and they are secure. A dad encourages the child to face the world and explore, while they get involved in rough-and-tumble play. We do things that look unsafe, but that’s because a man has a different risk assessment view of things, maybe like holding a baby high up towards the ceiling. That is just the natural way men parent.
“In Greater Manchester last year, Dad Matters had face-to-face chats with 4000 dads. There were 38,000 births, so that means we saw over 10% of new dads. From that we had 450 referrals for things like phone calls, walks in the park, whatever was needed. We don’t set a time limit on how long dads need to keep having chats or meetings. Some come for six weeks, others may need six months. In an independent survey we carried out, 85% of dads improved their well-being from seeing us and 100% improved their knowledge of how to be a better dad. At present, Greater Manchester is our main place, but we are in 15 different areas of the country, such as Somerset, Wales, Glasgow, Leeds, Surrey, Merseyside and we hope to move into more.
“We are present on anti-natal wards and we do drop-ins on mother-and-baby units as we know dads will be around. On the anti-natal wards, it’s about being there with our signs up, so dads can see we are there. And maybe later they will contact us as they may want to offload. It gives them the space to talk and talking for the first time is often the first thing they need to do to feel better or understand their situation.
“We have videos on our website of four dads who have shared their stories, which again is to try to get other dads to come and talk. One of them had to give CPR to his two-day-old child and he suffered PTSD in the aftermath because of the trauma of it. Now he has become one of our volunteers. Another is of a dad whose partner was on a mother-and-baby unit during Covid. He was worried about bonding with his child without the normal amount of contact. For any new dad, it’s so important to have somewhere to offload and share their concerns. If they have a problem, talking for the first time about it is the first step to resolving it.”