This second part of the blog shall continue delving into some of the experiences of fatherhood that might be challenging. I would like to note that such experiences are subjective and do not reflect what all fathers go through. However, what I have written here is what is often shared by men who try their best to be loving and responsible fathers but who might sometimes struggle along the way.
A struggle that men who are supportive of their partners often share is that they worry about their partners’ career prospects. When discussing parental leave, most men feel that they are expected to continue working and to find ways of how to earn more money for the family. Very few men in Malta take paternal leave and stay home with their children whilst their partner continues to pursue her career goals. Even though this is a decision that the couple need to make together, many men might feel that their children would be better off with their mother, especially if they are being breast fed. Even though some fathers might want to be a stay-at-home dad, they worry about how their partner would look at them and how they would be perceived by society. Since it is uncommon for men to take paternal leave, for stay at home dads it is also challenging for them to have colleagues or male friends who are able to understand that lifestyle and be supportive of their choice. Both men and women who continue working after having kids express their difficulties to juggle their work and family life. Fathers may very well experience guilt if they feel that they are not working enough for the family (especially if for a period of time the family starts relying on just one paycheck), but will also feel guilty if they do not have enough time with their children.
Throughout the course of parenthood, fathers face different struggles. I would like to encourage men to feel more empowered to speak up and to talk to their partners, relatives, friends, and perhaps even professionals, about their identity as fathers and how they experience it. For many men, it might feel shameful to show emotions and allow themselves to be vulnerable because it might be looked down on by society. It is very hard for fathers to say that they are overwhelmed with the arrival of their new child, that they worry that they won’t be good enough fathers, that they worry that their child would fall seriously ill or that something bad would happen to them. Unfortunately, in many societies, men are not generally encouraged to be true to their emotions and say what they need, and are generally expected to be driven by duty and obligation.
As a society there are many things that can be improved in order to promote proactive fatherhood. One small example is that in most restaurants and public places, there are no nappy changing stations in men’s toilets because these are usually only found in women’s toilets. There are also some parenting groups and other social or educational meetings that are open to women and their children, but not open for men. If people start challenging the idea that women are more naturally inclined to be the nurturing, organised parents, whilst men are the fun, spontaneous parents who are mostly involved during weekends, perhaps it would be less challenging for men to feel as equal as their female partners when it comes to the rearing of their children.
Claire Borg is a gestalt psychotherapist at Willingness. She works with adolescents and adults. She has a special interest in mental health. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 79291817.