Why the NHS needs to get ready for the dads.
“The current health service is failing to recognise dad’s needs, enough”. It’s our most controversial statement yet.
Is it really that important? After all pregnancy and new-borns are mum's domain. You sound like another controversial dad group attempting to not relinquish the slowly departing power of hegemonic masculinity or a petty dad, feeling left out…
Frankly, yes. It's time to recognise dad is a patient too. We know health is more than physical, it's mental too and mental health subsequently impacts your physical health.
More than ever, dads are becoming increasingly more involved with parenting. However, if services do not profoundly develop father focused support, we are walking eyes open, into a disaster.
Health services need to be prepared for increasing demands, whilst accompanied by the possible continuation of the deconstruction of the National Health Service. They need to become agile and nimble quickly.
The current climate
"Very stressed, overwhelmed, anxious, pressure, daunted, unprepared, excluded, inadequate, nervous, shut out, not supported, under pressure", were all words dads used to describe their experience of becoming a father.
“We had countless health professionals interested in mum and child’s health. Everything from domestic violence, weight gain, sore nipples, to mum’s support networks. In contrast, interest in dads physical and mental wellbeing was unheard of” (Local Dad).
So, which professionals can Dads speak with, a GP (in a quick 15-minute appointment) or an early year professional where dads are often an afterthought or underrepresented?
So, what are the consequences? When parents don’t unpack and invest in their health, things can get bottled up, like a pressure cooker and manifest in destructive ways.
The NSPCC have produced an article highlighting:
> Drug or alcohol problems affect 109,000 babies
> Mental health problems affect 144,000 babies
> Domestic violence affects 39,000 babies
> 36% of serious case reviews into deaths or serious abuse involve a child under one.
> 90 children a day are reported going into care in the UK
> On average, couples argue 40% more after having a baby, even if the relationship was solid before birth.
So why is this so vital for new dads?
We know becoming a parent is a transformational stage.
> A quarter of men without kids would rate their current knowledge of fathering as non-existent. Resulting in a steeper learning curve.
> A time when the most amount of expectation is on fathers, they feel under-resourced.
> Their character will be receiving relentless challenges. Whether that’s through sleep deprivation, having less opportunity to see their friends or not having the energy for self-care such as doing fitness.
> They often have the modern cocktail of wanting to be conscious and heavily involved with parenting, alongside possible traditional gender expectations of work and providing for the family.
> Men traditionally have been less inclined to talk about their feelings.
>Male isolation is prolific.
It’s not surprising when I’m tired, feel my characters taking a relentless knock and feeling a lot of pressure from responsibility, that that’s the time I often want to withdraw and avoid additional challenges. Doing life is hard enough.
We know the biggest killer of men under 65 is suicide, so what are the health service/early year provision doing to address this and its contributing factors which are so prevalent in becoming a new dad.
When recently visiting many local Children Centres, a consistent message emerged. “Our sessions are for all parents”. When questioned how many parents were on their remit and how many fathers they have actually engaged with their service, the answer was often in the region of 0.05%. “We used to have tailored dad provision, however, this was parked due to lack of funds, to focus on other priorities such as domestic violence” (a local children centre worker).
Often any advice targeted at the birth partner (that’s a dad, by the way) is about supporting mum, which in itself is great, however, to give one's best, you have to be your best. It appears dads already recognise mum and babies’ health as a priority.
The LCC Perinatal Emotional and Mental Wellbeing Insight Project reporting on views held by dad’s states “A strong perception that the needs of the mother and baby are paramount during the perinatal period”.
With phrases such as 'mum knows best', and 'maternity' services it's not surprising dads interpret they should park their own circumstances, shut up and support others.
Toxic masculinity, a potent topic being branded around, criticised for the damaging effects of male bravado, abandonment of emotions and treating ladies as inferior, is rife. If we fail to engage with men’s health but communicate a man’s involvement in pregnancy/early years is primarily a supportive role, we will further reinforce these problematic characteristics and consequences.
“Parenting interventions would benefit from the use of approaches giving greater priority to fathers participation. Such as…activities that they will find pertinent.” (Parenting Matters: Supporting Parents of Children Ages 0-8).
How can we truly provide tailored support to fathers, if many existing services are too afraid to use the word ‘dad’, preferring birth partner and if dad is used, it’s often associated as the bearer of negative traits?
It's no good just referring dads to fantastic services such as Samaritans or C.A.L.M, we need a universal approach tailored to support dads, from the start of their parenting journey. Not segregated to one side, only to be accessed when a certain severity has been reached. But embedded as an integral element of NHS parenting provision.
At This Dad Can we’re not satisfied with, just accepting rising expectations on fathers, ongoing lack of tailored provision and choosing to only engage with fathers (when it’s arguably too late).
We know 70% of men without kids would like to be more prepared and confident about fathering. That's why at This Dad Can, we've started providing free antenatal sessions for Fathers.
Whether it’s addressing the everyday practical changes or getting to grips with support available, we’re passionate about making a difference.
By resourcing dads better, it will positively support outcomes relating to health, education, and poverty for the whole family and we think that’s a good thing.
Jon’s the father of two and married for seven years.
He's passionate about health & sport, community action, and personal development. These passions have integrally influenced his character into the man he is today.
He’s the Founder of This Dad Can. This Dad Can is an online resource for new, existing and expecting fathers. It resources men to be the Dads they want to be. Saving you valuable time and money by avoiding the common parenting mistakes. Connect and master parenting at www.thisdadcan.co.uk