Ask the Expert: I am not much of a father to our new baby

Rather than just rushing to get jobs done, take time to slow down and really enjoy and delight in your baby. Photograph: Thinkstock

Rather than just rushing to get jobs done, take time to slow down and really enjoy and delight in your baby. Photograph: Thinkstock

Tue, Jun 10, 2014, 01:00

Q My wife and I have a baby boy, who is four months old, and I am struggling to cope. I’m under pressure at work and there is pressure at home, minding the baby.

My wife, understandably, is consumed by minding our son and is frustrated with me for not helping out more. I feel guilty that I am not doing it right and I find myself staying longer at work. I’ve started drinking a little more and this is causing rows.

I don’t know what is the matter with me. I didn’t think having a baby would make things so much different. I feel quite depressed and guilty that I am not much of a father.

A Although everyone expects mainly joy, the truth is that babies bring a lot of stress and change for both mothers and fathers, and lots of new parents can struggle and even feel depressed at times. Although postnatal depression is often regarded as affecting only mothers, equal numbers of fathers go through a similar period of depression and adjustment.

Two large studies published in the US and Australia have shown that up to 10 per cent of fathers experience depression on the arrival of a new baby. This is twice the normal rates of depression for men at other times and similar to the rates of depression for new mothers, suggesting men also experience some form of postnatal depression.

There can be a greater stigma for fathers experiencing depression; they might have a strong belief that they should be coping and be an all-providing father when the baby is born. Fathers tend also to experience depression differently, being more likely to become emotionally cut off and withdrawn when they are not coping.

As you have discovered, there is a risk at this point of resorting to drinking or overworking as a way of coping, but these strategies tend to make matters worse and increase the guilt as well as putting strain on their relationship with their partner.

The good news there is that you are not alone and there is a lot you can do to change things.

The simple fact you have written looking for help is an important first step.

Accept how you feel

The first step to improving things is to accept how you feel. Don’t beat yourself up and add to the problems by feeling guilty. Instead, be more self-compassionate by recognising that it is perfectly normal to feel negative or low at times about being a father.

Try to find a way of talking about your feelings to your partner or another supportive friend. If this is hard, start by writing how you are feeling in a journal.

Commit fully to the role of parenting

Often the fathers who cope best throw themselves into the role of parenting and this gives them the confidence that they can do it.

Try to find some part of the daily routine that you are fully responsible for and that gives your partner a break. For example, you could commit to getting up early in the morning to look after your son before you go to work, allowing your partner to sleep on. This could become your special time with the baby.