4 of the things they don't tell men about becoming a father!
Nothing prepared me for this. Even though our midwife in Ibiza was a little unorthodox in her preparation (suggested dancing instead of anti natal classes!) nothing prepared me for labour. The most incredible moment when your child is born of course, but the build up.... ask a father you know to be honest with you.
2. Your wife becomes a mum
Very obvious I know. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to predict this. But there is a huge identity change. I am not sure that your wife will even realise the change until it happens. The feeling is that you are no longer number 1. Your child is. And will be for a long time. You are now having a relationship with a mother and a wife. There is a massive dynamic change. Your wife no longer has the same amount of time and energy for you. You are no longer appear to have the same amount of focus from her. And that can feel hard. (violins I know but can have serious impact for many men)
You can suddenly feel rejected, second place to everything, unimportant due to the child being normally heavily reliant on the mother and feeling often completely useless. It makes no sense on the surface but I can understand that if these thoughts and emotions are not processed, especially with mental health, why guys walk away. They shouldn't of course. No one should. But if you get down a bad path with your thoughts you can almost justify that your wife has rejected you, your kid doesn't need you, and you just want someone to love and be affectionate to you.
If this is you stick around. This is what love is all about. This is when you committed through the hard times to stay. And the reward is incredible. To be able to support your wife is an incredible privilege. What ever you are feeling believe me they are feeling many more things. Be there. Be strong. Love your child. The strengthening of your relationship and the building of security for your family is the keystone to your future.
3. Everything changes
When were expecting Sol, I knew that life would change, but I didn't realise that everything would change! I kind of thought that Sol would just slot into the current trajectory we were going and fit into the current structures and plans. Yes we would be tired, and yes we would have less time for ourselves, but I didn't realise the pattern of life would have to change drastically. It is a whole new phase of life.
Every single aspect of life changes; your identity, relationships to others, ability to sleep or have time to wash, you no longer have time to spend longer at the office or lots of free time for pursuing your hobbies or even just space to sit still and watch the world go by. Your vision for your vocation may change, ambition may have to change, pace of life and achieving your goals will have to change. This is not a bad change of course, it just feels that way if you decide not to re-address priorities in our life. This is especially true for those in ministry - how can you be 'effective for God' when you have less time? Well by being a good father is probably where you can be most effective anyway. It might not have the glamour or glory of public persona, but it is the greatest ministry you have.
If you want to flourish, you are going to need to embrace massive change. The most incredible change you have every experienced - I would not trade it for anything - but change none the less. And change, with so much unknown can be crippling to mental health issues. With no anchors to hold onto it can be a very difficult time of coping for many. Take your time, take each day as it comes, learn to see where the patterns can be in the new normal and work with them to find what is helpful.
4. Being a good dad isn't automatic
Its doesn't matter how good an uncle you are, how good you are at youthwork, how calm, loving and generous you are at the moment or whether others comment what a good dad you will be. None of this will make you a good dad. Yes a good play mate, yes a safe person to be around, yes a good person to have around, but to become a father, to help your children to grow, learn, mature and have good boundaries takes effort, learning, discipline and a whole load of mistakes in trying! But try you must! Your previously qualifications as a husband aren't the same ones for being a father - there is a lot more revision and exams to come yet! So if you struggle, if you are not sure what to do, if you are confused most of the time, if your wife looks a you with that look of 'what are you doing?!' then welcome to the club.
And how do you be a good dad whilst struggle with anxiety and depression. Well this is where for many it is crippling.
Desperate to be available, calm, have head space, cope with noise and tantrums, whilst holding boundaries and helping yourself to cope. There is a serious risk here for guys with mental health that they will check out, be cross when they are around the kids and look for opportunities to over work, have jobs to do or be elsewhere.(It is also a risk for those without any mental health issues). Not because they don't want to be around, but being around can be so overwhelming when your trying to cope with life in general. This is exactly how I felt. A huge love for my children, not one part of my being wanted anything except the best for them, yet my outward responses and reactions were related more to coping and wanting them to fall in line, than to enjoy and encounter the changes they bring.
But if the challenge of becoming a father is embraced, even in the midst of the struggles it is the most wonderful challenge.
And men like to be challenged, like something to do, something that they can rise to right? Well rise to that and this will be your greatest achievement. I know it isn't easy believe me, I have experienced all of the above, but being the other side of working many things through, the feeling of enjoying life rather than coping with it, embracing time with kids rather than managing them and being able to proactively think of how to invest in them in the future is worth it.
In reality, those with mental health issues will attempt to bring the same level of control and need they have so far attempted in your relationship into the new phase of children. They will try to manage, cope, control, structure and restrict in order to survive.
It is a sad cycle as they watch themselves withdrawing and adding pressure to their wife whilst feeling the best thing is for them to have time to themselves to cope and recuperate so that when they are present it can be a better version of themselves. There is a level of choice that someone struggling with anxiety and depression need to embrace.
Even though life is hard, it is always the right time to talk through these things and get support in order for your relationship and family to experience you in the way you would desire them to rather than what you can cope with.