There’s often more focus on a mother’s mental health once children come along but a dad’s mental health is equally important for the growth of kids.
There’s an increasing focus on mental health in Australia and the western world, with increased suicide rates and the personal battles of some
high-profile public figures focusing attention on the importance of the issue.
That attention encompasses the relationship between mental health and parenting. A growing body of research highlights the impact on children of poor mental health of both parents. Evidence of lowered immunity and increased susceptibility to psychological disorders in children with mothers who suffer poor mental health has been found in many studies.
There is a lot less research dealing with the impact on children of a dad’s mental health, though those studies that have been conducted suggest it is just as important on a child’s development. What’s going on between your ears, and how it can affect co-parenting relationships, can be a powerful influence on your child, including their social skills, language and overall learning, let alone general measures of wellbeing like self-confidence and happiness.
Fathers who experience problems with their mental health are as likely as mothers with similar problems to have children who manifest behavioural and emotional problems.
A review of some of the research done in this area by Catherine Wade of the University of Sydney and Julie Green of the University of Melbourne cited data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children which showed fathers who experience “snowballing distress” were “less consistent in setting and enforcing clear expectations and limits for their child’s behaviour”, and were also less warm and more hostile towards their children by the time the child is eight to nine years of age.
They also highlighted a specific Australian finding from the Parenting Research Centre which found that one in five dads reports symptoms of depression and/or anxiety since having children, including nearly one in 10 dads who experience postnatal depression.
Specifically, dads who experienced poorer mental health felt they were less effective, less confident, less consistent and less patient in their parenting of their children.
They also spent less time with them, were less likely to be involved with their child’s school or early education, and less likely to feel confident about helping them with their school work.
Men being men, the problem is we’re also less likely to seek help when we feel under siege, mentally speaking. This supports other research which finds that men who do receive support and guidance early on in their new life as a dad, generally become better, more engaged parents who are a more positive influence in their childrens’ lives.
Parenting programs, particularly those undertaken in conjunction with the other parent, and access to online resources (more likely to be used by men) are considered two of the important ways men can find support early on in ‘dad-life’ if they feel they’re mentally not at their best.
Read more about a dad’s mental health here