It’s no secret that having a baby is stressful. Newborns bring with them a whole new set of responsibilities for parents, from nighttime feedings to daycare bills.
While past discussions about child rearing have often centered on the mother, the conversation has begun to shift. As more parents share the breadwinning responsibilities within two-income households—and more dads take an active role in providing childcare—researchers are increasingly exploring the impact of childbirth on men.
Portland family medicine practitioners often see first-time fathers who are stressed out about the new responsibilities they’re shouldering. Here’s a look at some of the most common pain points for new dads:
As the traditional primary breadwinners, men often focus more than women on the financial challenges that accompany raising a child. And the stress isn’t entirely unfounded; in 2013, the average cost of raising a child to adulthood reached nearly a quarter of a million dollars. That covers everything from childcare and food to housing to education.
The good news: Overall costs of child rearing have grown more slowly in recent years due to lower inflation. There are also more resources for new families to take advantage of, from connecting with the local community to share hand-me-downs to employer sponsored tax credits.
Becoming a parent tests how much activity you can cram into a single day. Changing diapers, getting kids up in the morning, preparing meals and tending to tasks around the house can be tough to juggle when you’ve already got a full work schedule. A third of working fathers report feeling rushed, which can magnify the stress of parenting.
The good news: While the constant rushing can be difficult at first, studies show new dads are quicker to adjust to it than new moms. For most men, the time-crunched feeling fades after the first few years of parenting.
Getting enough dad time
A third of all parents worry about whether they’re getting enough time with their children, but dads are especially prone to feeling this way. Nearly half of fathers feel like they’re short on kid time. And it’s true that men devote, on average, just seven hours a week to childcare, (compared to the 14 hours women get).
Feeling like you don’t spend enough time with your children can compound stress and make a big impact on how you evaluate your own parenting abilities. Parents who are satisfied with how much time they dedicate to their kids are three times as likely to say they’re doing an excellent job raising them.
The good news: Keep in mind that today’s fathers allot nearly triple the amount of time to childcare than they did half a century ago, so you’re already ahead of the game compared to your predecessors. Also, research has revealed that it’s the quality of time that matters, not necessarily the quantity.
There’s no doubt babies are exhausting. Between nighttime feedings and soothing, new parents can lose up to six months’ worth of sleep in the first two years of a child’s life. And while mothers get the most sympathy when it comes to postpartum sleep deprivation, dads take a big hit too.
In fact, one study found that new fathers actually get less sleep, on average, than their female counterparts. While mothers lose 41 minutes of nighttime sleep (compared to 18 minutes for men), they also gain 30 minutes from daytime napping.
The good news: Although new fathers get less sleep than new mothers, they report better sleep quality. Some families even opt to have working fathers sleep in a separate room to ensure uninterrupted rest.
Stress management strategies
Exercise and good nutrition are often the first things to go for busy parents, but the more stressed you feel, the more important they become. In addition, the Mayo Clinic offers these tips to help men cope with “new dad” stress:
- Expand your support network. Seek out friends and family who can offer you encouragement and support, especially during those first few years.
- Talk to your partner. Sharing what’s on your mind can go a long way toward relieving stress, while affection and intimacy can help you both stay connected.
- Play with your child. Play can seem frivolous in the face of all the responsibilities you’re shouldering, but playtime with dad serves an important role in your child’s development. It’s also a great way to blow off steam.
- Consult a financial planner. Advice from a professional can help you get on the right track financially and alleviate some of that money-related stress.
If you’ve tried these strategies and still struggle with stress, consult your Portland family medicine provider. As a dad, your health is important to the whole family.[Photo by Adam Selwood via CC License]