4 articles about dads because dads need support and understanding too.
Dads support moms
A dad can be a huge source of support for any new mom: He knows her well, can encourage her when breastfeeding and sleeping are challenging, and can help so much with baby needs and house duties.
When a mom has a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, however, dads become even more essential. They frequently spearhead getting her help and coordinating her care. They may take the primary role in caregiving of both the mom and the baby, all while knowing that they alone cannot fix what is happening to their partner.
It’s often the intangibles that you dads provide that make a difference for moms. Listening. Being physically present and calming. Your stability. Your realness and honesty. All these things make a huge impact on your partner’s recovery.
And dads are impacted by these changes, in their family and with their partners. It can be really scary to witness your partner suffering. It can be confusing to see not just deep sadness, but sometimes anger, obsessive thoughts and practices, even rage–and it might be directed at you. Please know that these are all normal symptoms of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and your wife will survive and heal. We understand that this stress can be overwhelming, and it may contribute to real stress and anxiety in your own life.
We’re also coming to realize the prevalence of perinatal mood disorders in dads. It’s not well studied, or even recognized, even by health professionals. And this pain is so rarely talked about that it can be confusing and isolating.
We appreciate your support so much. Even when we partners can’t articulate that appreciation for a long time because of our illness, we feel that support and are so thankful. We honor your unique experience as a father and as a partner. And we thank you.
Love and Understanding
Modern dads are taking on more parental responsibility than any generation of dads before them. They are up at night with their babies, giving baths, making dinner, kissing ouchies, and singing lullabies. Even as we are realizing mom and dad are equally capable of being caretakers, there still remain some fundamental differences in how moms and dads (women and men) communicate and approach relationships and, therefore, co-parenting. In a small study published in 2013, scientists at UPenn Perelman School of Medicine found that among the 949 subjects they studied, there were significant differences between women’s brains and men’s brains in subjects older than 13. While this study’s intent was to delve further into possible causes and treatments for certain brain disorders, it also shows us how these differences might influence the way we interact with each other.Obviously we don’t all fall nice and neat into each side, but in general, it’s surprising how much we do! And in the end what the study says is that women’s and men’s brains complement each other. But sometimes with such different approaches to problem-solving and communicating it can be tough to figure out what to say or do. We’d like to help you modern dads out with a nifty translation sheet to keep in your back pocket for when you just can’t figure it out:”Sure, I guess you can eat the last piece of cake/yogurt/apple.” = I just had a baby, I’m breastfeeding every 30 minutes, and I’ve slept in 1 hour increments for the last 3 months! Why would you take food away from me?! But I’m a giver, so I’m not going to say no.”I had a HUGE argument with Mary this morning and I just don’t know what to do.” = Please let me talk for the next 20 minutes without giving me advice about how to solve this problem. Talking is part of my process and if you mess with it I will have to vent about you to Mary.”Fine” = It is not fine, but I don’t want to talk about it right now.
“Would you like to play with the baby” = I need a break.
Crying, no words and no explanation = Just hug me; don’t say anything.
“I love you” = You make me feel safe. Thank you for being you and supporting me and our child/children.
And sometimes you just need to talk or listen to people who speak your language:
Dads, thank you for supporting the moms in your lives.
Seattle Dadvocate: Interview with Chris Casazza
In celebration of Father’s Day this month, we reached out to Chris Casazza, a Licensed Counselor whose primary focus is working with fathers, to gain some perspective about how perinatal mood and anxiety disorders impact men.
Challenges Facing New Dads
Chris states that from his perspective, the biggest challenge for new fathers is defining their role or purpose within the family unit. “Universally, I hear new dads wanting to be engaged with the baby, but not knowing how, or not trusting that they have the skills.” He shares that some of the struggles he hears are new dads who want to be more directly involved, but they are financially unable to or have limited paternity leave.
The second area Chris recognizes as a struggle for new dads is the challenges a new baby puts on the relationship between partners. Anecdotally, from his practice, he reports that many dads feel displaced by the new baby and find they are getting less attention from their partner.
Tips for New Dads
Chris’s most important tip is “to jump right in and not assume you are ill-equipped.” He says, “Dads are innately equipped to respond to babies and can help directly with things like diapering, burping, and swaddling and also indirectly with tasks such as labeling bottles, doing laundry, cooking and cleaning.”
Chris encourages defining new roles and responsibilities earlier rather than later. He states, “the earlier you can define these roles, and the clearer you can define expectations, the better you will be at avoiding resentment.” Some of the areas Chris recommends focusing on are expectations regarding time alone with the baby, as a family, and by yourself or with friends.
Chris also recommends building a parental community outside the family. He states that “talking honestly to other parents about your highs and lows can be incredibly helpful.” He encourages new dads to “make it a point to find medical providers, other parents, baby classes, etc., and contribute to that building of community.”
Finally, Chris suggests that dads don’t “put the relationship on the back burner too long.” He shares that it’s normal for a couple’s satisfaction and intimacy to go down the first 3 months of having a new baby, but suggests that the relationship should not be neglected for too long. “Make a point to show appreciation for each other and have a formal check-in at least once a week.
Tips for Dads Who Believe Their Partners are Suffering from a Perinatal Mood or Anxiety Disorder
Chris encourages dads who believe that their partners are experiencing a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder to consult with a professional who specializes in this area. He recommends that dads accompany their partners to the first therapeutic visit. “Be patient. Trust that things
will get better with treatment but remember that things don’t get better overnight.”
Chris also encourages dads with a partner suffering from a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder to seek support for themselves and practice self-care. “It is important for dads to realize that they have a higher chance of developing a mood disorder if their partner is experiencing one. Don’t think you can handle it on your own. It is imperative for you to speak up for yourself and find the help you need as well.”
Paternal Postnatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders
Dads can experience postnatal mood disorders as well. A study in the Journal of American Medicine found that 10 percent of men showed signs of depression from the first trimester of their wives’ pregnancies through six months after the child was born. The number increased to 26 percent during the three- to six-month period after the baby’s birth. The study also found a positive correlation between paternal depression and maternal depression. (Paulson JF, Bazemore SD. Prenatal and Postpartum Depression in Fathers and Its Association With Maternal Depression: A Meta-analysis.
Chris has found in his practice that dads tend to exhibit their symptoms differently than moms. He states, “I often hear from dads that they notice they are quicker to anger. Some feel like they want to withdraw from the family. Some do this by burying themselves at work or numbing their
feelings with chemicals or other vices.” Chris finds that there is a cultural perception that men are strong and stable, and there is a stigma they face in reaching out for help. He states that this “unfortunately leads them to wait longer to get the help that they need, ultimately worsening the situation.”
Resources Available to Dads
Seattle PEPS (Program for Early Parent Support).
Seattle PEPS offers dads classes that Chris has facilitated for the past three years. Like all the groups offered by PEPS, PEPS for Dads is a peer support group that follows a structured format. The group meets for 11 weeks and currently is offered during the day and thus appeals to dads who are primary caregivers, on paternity leave, or have flexible work schedules. Chris indicated that there is current discussion regarding being more inclusive of working dads, with the hope that a group will be created targeting this population in the near future.
Seattle PEPS additionally has offered a lecture for dads in June for the past three years, which includes a panel of dads and targets new and prospective dads.
Chris also suggests meetup groups for dads through meetup.com. He states that these groups are generally less formal and less structured, but are a good way to connect to other dads in the
PSI’s monthly chat for men
This is a place where dads, partners, extended family members or other support people, and professionals can find some answers and support from an expert and from other men.
Chris further recommends the following websites and books:
- athomedad.org: for those men considering being a stay-at-home dad
- postpartummen.com: for those interested in learning more about Paternal Postpartum Mood Disorders.
- Fatherneed by Kyle Pruett
- Partnership Parenting by Kyle Pruett
- Fatherhood by Ross Parke
- Postpartum Husband by Karen Kleiman
Chris has his own private practice in Seattle and Redmond where he specializes in treating new and expectant fathers. His treatment is client directed and tailored to the unique needs of the individual seeking treatment. He shares the following regarding his approach to working with clients:
I believe that any parent walking through my door seeking help to be a better parent has good intentions, and I encourage them that these will serve them well. I tend to remind clients to sit with the ambiguity rather than run from it; it’s a normal part of trying something new. I remind them to get used to it and embrace it; being a parent requires it. I also educate parents about the power of emotions and to let them be a guide and teacher rather than a threat. Allowing these feelings to be expressed, examined, and challenged is a valuable process and promotes healing and transformation. I am also aware that being a new parent may bring up “old ghosts,” evoked by the ways a parent was parented. Having a child can bring up memories of your own childhood, both good and bad. This gives you a choice in how you will either emulate or break the chains in how you were parented. Some of the work I do with clients addresses these dilemmas.
Finally, I stress that new parents don’t forget to exercise self-care and build it into your schedule. I feel exercise and good sleep are things that get neglected as a new parent but will keep you buoyant if you practice them regularly. Know what builds you up: Is it mindfulness? Exercise? Meditation? Listening to music? Being a new parent can challenge your mental health but knowing this and finding ways to address will ultimately allow you to be a better father to your child.
More information about Chris can be found on his website: http://www.seattledadvocate.com
He can be contacted directly at: 206.909.3926 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Paternal Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression is generally considered a maternal phenomenon, and most research about postpartum mood disorders centers around new mothers. But fathers can and do experience these issues as well.
A recent study in the journal Couple and Family Psychology: Research and
Practice followed 199 couples whose child was 4.5 months old at the post-
partum assessment and 45.5 months at the toddler assessment. Each parent separately filled out a questionnaire about his or her mood and child’s behavior.
Results of the study suggest that postpartum depression in dads is present and can affect children’s behavior and emotional health just as much as a mom’s postpartum depression. Researchers also found that for both moms and dads, postpartum depression often predicted future depression and interpersonal conflict, which then was associated with anxiety and behavioral issues in their toddlers.
It seems like common sense, doesn’t it? Hopefully, this and other studies like it will increase attention to postpartum mood disorders in both mothers and fathers.
For an abstract of the study, please see http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/2015-09322-001/