For many years, Psychologists knew how important fathers were to their children and society is very slowly catching up. For a child to have a good relationship with their daddy means so much.  We know fathers can impact everything from their child’s ability to have good relationship with others, to their capacity to succeed academically.

Fathers can now share parental leave, but there is still relatively little support. Midwives and Health Visitors tend to position men in primarily a caring role, forgetting the enormous transition that men also make when they become a parent and that they too can struggle. It is not uncommon for men to feel an intense sadness when their partner falls pregnant or when baby is born. You may feel as if you have lost your partner and feel it is unfair that you are expected to support them in looking after this other person, who you might feel has taken your place. This is part of the reason that conflict in relationships often increases during pregnancy and infancy.

It is crucial to spend time thinking about what it means to you to become a Dad, but you may find yourself wanting to avoid this. You do not know who to share your thoughts and feelings with. It feels as if there is an expectation that you are happy and excited and everyone tells you to look after your partner, no one seems to have room to hear anything that you may be finding hard. When you meet with your Midwife or Health Visitor, if they do ask after you, it feels as if it is to check a box, rather than genuine interest. It might be that you find yourself retreating into work, getting back late, avoiding being at home. It might be that you are not really used to thinking or talking about what you feel, yet so much emotion is being stirred up in you by your baby. You may not know what to do with what you feel and you try hard to ignore it. This can lead you to want to hide away and you find yourself becoming more easily irritable.

When you think about or look at your child you desperately want to be able to enjoy and love them, maybe a feeling to offer something more gentle and nurturing that you experienced with your own parents. However, what you feel instead is a distance and discomfort. You may find that you can provide physical care, change a nappy, give a bottle, but that your baby’s cries feel overwhelming and you get frustrated. When you try to spend time with your baby, you feel uncertain what to do and end up focusing on their development, or turn on the television, look at your phone.  You may find yourself feeling resentful that your partner can soothe your child, yet for you it feels really difficult. You may feel jealous that your baby seems to settle easily with your partner and you resent the ease of their relationship.

The reason you are experiencing this is often because of your experiences of other people when you were little. When we are face-to-face with a baby, especially our own children, memories of what it was like for us at that age get stirred up. However, because our memories do not develop in certain ways until around two years of age, what we remember are not events, but feelings. With nothing to pin those feelings onto, no visual memory, those feelings can feel confusing and hard to understand, made all the more challenging by the fact that those feelings are very intense, as they are the feeling memories of your infancy. Therapy provides an opportunity for what you feel to be noticed and understood, to be placed in a context. By exploring how you feel with your baby, we can piece together how you have learnt to relate to yourself and others, so beginning to free you up, no longer feeling overwhelmed and more able to enjoy your baby.

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