Post-natal depression is well-documented in new mums, but can new dads suffer from it too? Psychotherapist Phillip Hodson investigates
“Children are expensive and they make you tired,” is one of my more cynical observations, but it nearly always earns a nod of recognition from other dads. But “children give men the clinical blues” – surely that’s wrong?
Well, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from being a therapist it’s that upsides have downsides. All blessings are mixed, even those with tiny, pattering feet. While Chap A welcomes a ‘family addition’, Chap B has ‘another mouth to feed that still isn’t potty-trained’.
Second, once a bairn is born, the daily quality of life suffers. Your partner becomes celibate (and possibly depressed); sleep is fraught; nappies are filled; recreations terminated; money which was previously tight is now as rare as talent on reality telly.
Research into marriage shows that the “quality of your relationship deteriorates with the birth of your first child and never fully recovers – if at all – until your last child has left home”. That’s shocking stuff.
Third, with each new arrival, you realise you’ve been demoted in the Family Pecking Order. With the first-born, you simply go from being Number Two to Number Three. With your second, you move to Number Four. Gone are the days when you thought: “Finally I get all the attention my parents denied me, my school couldn’t be bothered to give me and my best friend only taunted me about”.
Fourth, The Big Question of Existence. Not only are your children intending from Year One to get into your bank account and destroy your credit rating – and in this they will succeed – but they are actually plotting to replace you. When you pass your 42nd birthday, there is a single gleam in their souls: “Has Dad made a will, am I in it and can I have it now?” So I’m not really surprised when men catch women’s post-natal glum.
But does it last? No. Nearly all depressions, whether treated or not, eventually improve. Is it partly a reaction to change and new paternal responsibility? Yes, of course it is. Is it the whole story?
No. I said at the outset there are always downsides to upsides; I didn’t say there were no upsides. If you take some post-natal pessimism as predictable and remember to eat properly and exercise, you will quite quickly rebalance.
And don’t forget that children possess the brilliant survival gift of making themselves endearing to their parents during this unique period of emotional stress and fatigue. They do love you back. They do cling longingly. They do gurgle contentedly in your arms as they chug more milk into their bottomless tums. They do enchant you with the very first word they utter. In my last son’s case it was “Motorbike” and he said it in response to every single object we pointed at for more than an entire year.
And now he’s old enough to drive one I still love him.