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Dr John Barry

New fathers in lockdown – a golden opportunity

19 November 2020 | by Dr John Barry

To celebrate International Men’s Day, the chair of the Male Psychology section, John Barry, has shared with us some thoughts on how new dads can embrace lockdown as an opportunity to really bond with their children.

If you are like me and became a new dad in the past year or so, you may well have found yourself with unprecedented amounts of time at home with a baby.

For most people this will be a challenge and even trigger depression (see helpline details below), but in fact there can be a silver lining, or even golden opportunity, in being locked down with baby.

A recent meta-synthesis of 13 studies by Shefaly Shorey and Lina Ang from the University of Singapore looked at the experiences of new dads of babies up to 12 months old, and found that three themes emerged:

  • Development of the father-infant relationship
  • Obstacles to getting involved e.g. work
  • Becoming a family man

Development of the father-infant relationship

Bonding started at around two months when infants began to be able to smile and interact with their dad.

In my experience, it was surprising how much a baby is able to communicate non-verbally, showing a range of facial expressions that I had presumed must be socially learned.

Babies ‘talk’ a lot more than you think.

On reflection, in my experience the bond started the day I very clearly saw my son on a 4D scan, moving around in his mum’s womb in real time.

I would recommend 4D scans, especially to prospective dads, because a 4D scan makes the reality of the child much more personal and tangible, and allows men a greater sense of the physical reality of the child before they are born.

Obstacles to getting involved e.g. work

Although reportedly often treated as helpers or even “bystanders” by healthcare professionals during visits to hospital after birth, lots of new dads felt “joy and closeness” when playing, taking care of, or holding their child.

Reluctantly in many cases however, work had to come before childcare.

As is also the case for women, this raises the thorny issue of how much a man can afford to take time off work before his career begins to suffer.

This is a complex reality that is not easy to resolve. However, lockdown gives many men a great opportunity to get more involved with their child without it impacting their career.

Yes, working from home still means you focus on work, but it also means that breaks from work can be much more fulfilling than a quick visit to the canteen.

Becoming a family man

Many new dads can feel that the helplessness of their baby causes them to feel protective, responsible, and family-orientated, often intentionally neglecting their own feelings to focus on their baby’s wellbeing.

This also occurs in situations such as being calm when mum is nervous and upset.

It is common today for men to be criticised for being stoical, whereas this study shows that this strategic stoicism can be altruistic and beneficial.

This being said, it’s really important to not forget to talk about your stressful experiences.

Bonding with your infant can be a uniquely rewarding experience.

If you think babies are boring because they can’t talk, stop and think about how much they might be able to tell you with a smile when you cuddle them.

Whatever you might think of lockdowns, if your employer is making you stay at home, please do yourself a big favour and don’t let the opportunity to enjoy being a dad pass you by.


Support

  • For men or women dealing with the stress of being a new parent, contact the PANDAS free helpline: 0808 1961 776.
  • For info for new dads contact Fathers Reaching Out at www.fathersreachingout.com

References

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