Struggling with anxiety and fear for much of my young life, I could never imagine myself being a father. I wondered how I could ever be a good father and whether I’d end up passing down my anxious brain to an innocent little child. The very thought of being responsible for a child was terrifying. However as I grew up, I found somebody that I loved and things naturally progressed.
After a few years, and only being 23 years old at the time, I found myself feeling as if it was the right time for me. Because I’ve always felt like my gut feeling is usually something to trust (unlike my brain at times) I did not hesitate or think too deeply about it.
I’d previously been terrified of the idea, but when the time came, and I was a bit older and wiser than my anxious teenage self (or so I thought) I was excited to be responsible. I was eager to grow up and start my own family. After all, I’ve always been a family man, and never liked the idea of travelling or doing the things some of my friends were doing – they just didn’t interest me in the slightest.
After we attended several scans and became more excited, I started to ask the question – “what does it mean to be a good father?” Luckily for me, I had always had a great role model in my own father, and so I felt as if I had some kind of road map to follow.
However even with a solid road map to follow there was still the fact that I wasn’t my father, and I was under different circumstances. After all, we’re all our own individual selves.
With this realisation, anxiety started to creep back in…
- What if I couldn’t step up and be responsible?
- What if I couldn’t get a decent job and provide for my family?
- What if he’s upset and I give him rubbish advice?
And so I was internally conflicted. I was a family man but I had also spent forever up to then selfishly worrying about myself and my ‘problems’.
How could I effectively look after a child if I was so unsure about myself?
When the day finally came it was difficult to adjust, just like for most people. Having a baby changes your life in so many ways that you don’t realise until you have one. No longer are you worried about yourself in the same ways you used to be.
It is not the case for everyone, but for me, when that day came, half my worries disappeared and seemed trivial. All I cared about was giving that baby love and the attention he deserved. Of course, my worries about work and money remained, but even they seemed kind of trivial at the time.
The point is…being a first-time father can be an anxious time, especially before the baby is born.
After the high of having a baby, things soon settle down and you’re faced with the reality that you are 100% responsible for a little life. Whilst this is amazing, it’s also terrifying. Whilst some people argue that women find it easier to adjust because by their very nature they are maternal, it’s not always the case.
Some women just don’t take to their children or they can even fall into post-natal depression for months after birth.
So no matter who you are, this reality is terrifying. For someone who is predisposed to being anxious, it can be a rough time that you can even feel guilt over. After all, you are likely constantly seeing fluffy pictures on social media of perfect mums and dads which can leave you feeling like you’re not as good.
So with nearly six years of being a father, I wanted to share some first time father advice with you, especially if you’ve struggled with your mental health in the past. I don’t want this to be a ‘preach’ or do this do that type of post, instead, the following is what I have personally learnt.
Having a baby is great but it is also a strain on your mental health, relationship, and your finances. The last two can have a big impact on the way you feel in everyday life.
In fact, I would go as far as saying that post-birth, it can be a dark time.
1. Grow Your Patience
As a first time father, I quickly realised I had little patience. However I also quickly found that patience is actually a skill that needs to be practised over time. After living a life that is focused around you, you might also find the same thing fast.
Patience isn’t something that is groomed into us. Maybe your parents told you it’s important, but in a world where everything is on demand, it’s easy to reverse any patience you might have been taught as a child. I believe that growing your patience is vital to being a first-time father or mother because that is what having a child is all about.
Whilst the gender stereotypes are always being tested, as a first-time father, it’s my opinion that your job is to take care of your child and your partner. Especially after birth, your partner might not be able to do the everyday things she could before she fell pregnant. Therefore, it is up to you to pick up the bulk of the work around the house.
This in itself requires unworldly amounts of patience. I know for myself that I wasn’t exactly doing a ton around the house before we had our child, and so it was up to me to step up and take on a lot of the weight. A lot of us, including myself at the time, expect things to carry on as normal after our child is delivered, we expect there to be a rough patch, but then we feel like things will settle down.
However, it’s not always as simple as that.
Growing your patience with not only fatherhood but your partner will better arm you for the future. As we know, family life is a game of patience, and often conflict arises because of a lack of it.
If there is only one piece of advice I can give you, it’s to grow your patience. When you first have your child, it can feel like a difficult time as you try to navigate parenthood. It can seem as if you’re trapped in this difficult existence of not knowing what to do forever.
But it does get easier. As you learn your patience naturally grows but you still have to be conscious of it.
2. Don’t Be Too Hard On Yourself
If you’re naturally anxious, having baby with your partner can seem terrifying. Being the father and provider, you can easily feel a great weight on top of you. You might feel as if you need to be a good provider, and that alone is enough to put a ton of stress on you.
You might also feel like you’re not doing enough to help or be there for your partner. For me personally, fatherhood didn’t come naturally at first. I was soon full of worry and it stopped me from enjoying the raw joy of having this perfect child.
So don’t be too hard on yourself. At the end of the day, you’re learning like every other father has had to learn before you. The fact that you’re worried about being a good father is a good thing. It means you’re trying to find ways to be the best father you can be.
I would encourage you not to get caught in the trap of worrying about all the little things when you’re partner needs your support and your child needs your attention. It’s easier said then done but at the same time, you don’t want your child to pick up on your nervous energy.
This was something I was very conscious of. If our son remembers anything from his early days, I’d like it to be memories of my big dumb face smiling at him and nothing else.
Being a new father is hard, so allow your patience to grow as you learn and don’t be too hard on yourself, you’re only human and learning something new.
3. Find Someone To Talk To About Anxiety
When there is a new baby in your life, you have to put your concerns to one side and be the man your family needs in a difficult time. Of course, you should always share your worries with your partner, but I found that unloading the bulk of them elsewhere was both beneficial to me and my family. This is because, as a man who hasn’t had to have the painful experience of squeezing another human being out of you, you are likely still at full capacity physically.
If that means you need to go and get nappies, you do it. Or if you need to stay up and clear up, you do it. Or if you need to cook the dinner, you, well, you get my point…
I found it difficult to find a space of time at home to talk to my partner about what was bothering me. In a way, it felt kind of selfish. After all, her physiology had changed and she was exhausted. So I turned to other people to blow off steam and let out my thoughts. That could mean you need to make time to still see your friends when you can, or perhaps you need to go and see your family for some advice.
The worst thing you can do is let your personal frustrations boil up inside of yourself and you end up becoming resentful or angry that you can’t say what you want to say at home. The point is, you need to keep a support network going whilst you and your partner get used to parenthood, especially in the early days.
Whilst you might feel guilty, it’s important to do. The high of having a new baby soon wears off and you’re faced again with what was worrying you beforehand. Being able to offload onto other people helps everyone because when you are home your more at ease and useful to your family.
4. Stand Up Tall
Whilst having a baby to look after can be amazing, it can also cause some unwanted anxiety. It really makes you question what kind of father you need to be to your little one. However, it’s important to not freak out over the huge responsibility you have.
I’ve seen this happen a lot. A guy has a baby with a girl he’s into, but when it arrives, he bails. Why is that? I’ve come to learn that the guy doesn’t want the responsibility and it saddens me. Having a baby with my partner was the best things that happened to me. It forced me to learn, grow up, and take some kind of responsibility for not only myself but my family.
Don’t fear the responsibility. Instead, allow it to change you for the better. That’s not to say you should have a baby just so you can grow up, but when it happens it has the potential to be the making of you. It’s very very very hard but that’s the point. It’s hard for everyone. It’s not something you truly learn until you do it.
A little pain and struggle is how we get better as people. In the same respect, it’s how we get better at being parents. The worry and fear we have over our children put us into a different mind state. One that’s more aware, conscious, and intensely learning. It teaches us to be more compassionate which by itself eases off anxiety.
The responsibility of having a child to care for is one of, if not the biggest to have. So stand up tall and be the person your child needs.
How has being a first time father affected you anxiety?
This post was previously published on Projectenergise.com.
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