top of page

What do men go through after the birth of a child?

I have spent many years working with women who are suffering from post partum depression and anxiety. You might be surprised to know that along with these mothers, fathers also experience post partum depression. This usually doesn't come to light because common complaints that new mothers have are:

  • The husband is not as involved with caregiving responsibilities

  • He has lost affection or empathy for me and my children

  • He is constantly on his mobile phone

  • We no longer have fun the way we used to

  • We don't have conversations the way we used to

And the list goes on...

Studies by neuroscientists like Scarff, and anthropologists like Machin suggest that men also go through hormonal and biological changes in their body and brain after the birth of their child. However, it shows up differently for men than for women. Men, by society, are conditioned to repress emotions and to escape and isolate rather than express and confront. In this situation, when the new mother expects her husband to empathise with her and help her out in caregiving, it can be hard for the father to "be present" and support their partner. The sad part is men aren't even aware that they are depressed. Because nobody really talks about PPD/A in men. That is not even considered as a possibility.

When I see these struggling couples, it can become quite hard to help them reconnect after a child is born because the child also requires love, attention, care and nurturing. It can take up a lot of mindspace for one or both partners and it becomes almost an impossible journey to find a reconnection as a couple. A new father's mental health is not even taken into account, especially also because they are completely unaware that they even have a mental health crisis. Here are a few things new parents can keep in mind to ensure better mental health after having a child.

Your world cannot revolve only around your child

What is the most common complaint that mothers have when a child is born? "You are not doing enough". As a mother, you are overwhelmed with numerous responsibilities and need help and support. What happens in this phase, however, is that everything becomes about your child. You have a certain parenting strategy in mind which is different than your husband's. However, being a mother also somehow means that you are supposed to handle and manage everything. The child becomes topmost priority and all your conversations revolve only around the child's growth, milestones, behaviour, disciplining, emotions, etc. Let us not forget that fathers also go through a biological change during this phase. They are neither wired nor experienced to handle these sudden changes within their body and life as well. Men are wired to focus on developing resources to provide for the family, and that is what takes up most of their mind space. Therefore, most men aren't able to empathise and become easily overwhelmed with so many conversations about "the child." Very soon, because of a mother's relentless obsession with the child, the father actually starts emotionally detaching, not only from the mother but also the child.

When me and my husband had our first born, we both were very clear that our world will not revolve around the baby, instead her world needs to revolve around us. We have travelled, worked, played, gone on dates and did not let this new change affect our dynamic as a couple. It turned out to be a boon for our child as well because she also started giving us company instead of trying to hog all the attention. She also understood, even as a baby, that everything doesn't have to be about me and I can still have fun just being around my parents who are happy and relaxed.

It is important to accept that priority for both roles of a mother and father are different

New age parenting has become all about "equal" sharing of responsibilities. What this new belief system has done to us as a society is that it has put unnecessary pressure on both genders to develop a new skill set and exercise it with utmost efficiency regardless of the consequences. Women feel forced to bring in equal income during maternity and fathers feel pressurised to take on home duties. In the current social situation, mothers who don't earn an income and fathers who don't do household or baby related chores are looked down upon.

Parenting can never be equal. And, it should not be equal. You never have two captains on a ship, neither is it wise to have two CEOs in the same organization. One of you has to be a leader in the parenting dynamic. However, roles can be divided where there is clarity of what each partner is supposed to do. Both roles are different in nature but can work in tandem with one another. Also, the roles have to be in sync with the innate personality of each parent. The more nurturing partner automatically takes on responsibility of nutrition, growth, milestones, emotional development. The less nurturing partner then takes up responsibility of providing, protection, safety, security, social skills. Most of the time, it is the father who takes on the latter role, and is never appreciated for the same. When a time comes to prove his fatherhood, the only question their partners ask is "why don't you spend enough time with the child?". The problem is the latter role, has no real tangible value in child rearing, as there is no direct connection with the child's development. Hence, new fathers end up going through another roller coaster which generates a fight, flight or freeze response, ultimately affecting the relationship.

Can both partners earn a good income, do household chores, conduct baby duty? Yes, they can. However, the couple needs to understand the difference between the primary role of a parent and a supporting role. This classification can give a lot of peace to new parents and reduce conflicts.

You need to let go of a few demands from yourself as a parent

Mothers can let go of certain demands they make from themselves as well as their partners to "successfully" parent their child. The problem starts when a mother feels "my way is the only way". Not only is this overwhelming to take on but also unrealistic in a sense. There is nothing such as "the right way" of parenting or "perfect parenting". Any parenting can have pros and cons, and is ultimately the choice of the child to absorb and perceive what they are exposed to. For example: lack of enough attention in childhood can lead to abandonment issues. However, on the contrary, lack of enough attention in childhood can lead to emotional resilience and finding self-love. Both possibilities of a particular parenting strategy exist. You have no way of predicting what outcome a certain strategy is going to lead to. Once mothers learn to ease up some mind space for themselves, they will be able to be more functional. Remember, merely 20 minutes of play or presence around your choice, filled with joy and lightness has a much higher value than 12 hours of presence like a zombie.

Staying true to your identity while embracing new parenthood

I took a mere 3 week maternity leave before I started working again. One of the reasons was that I had highly critical clients who could not take a long break in therapy and were reluctant to see another therapist. However, dipping my feet back into work really helped my sense of self. It helped me stay connected with who I am beyond a mother. As a result of this, motherhood gave me more joy because I could be in a state of fulfillment while I was fulfilling my role as a mother. The tedious tasks did not frustrate me after a point. I did have post partum depression and the length of my episode was shortened because soon I started doing things I was doing during and before pregnancy.

Fathers too, sometimes get torn between working a full time job and wanting to be around the baby. However, it is important to note that fathers need to stay in touch with their identity so that whatever time they spend with the baby, comes from a space of self fulfillment. And I'm not talking only about work. But even travel, hobbies, some "me" time, is necessary for fathers to want to engage and be involved in supporting and nurturing the child.

Much is talked about mental health crisis in new mothers. And yes, mothers do go through a lot. What impacts most women after child birth is the quality of their marriage or relationship with partner. Once we open ourselves to a possibility that men can also go through an emotional shift after child-birth, may not be as severe as what women go through, but a shift, nonetheless, it can help create a space for empathy and understanding between a couple.

26 views0 comments


bottom of page