Supporting Fathers

It seems timely on father day in the UK (and at the end of Men’s Health Week) to reflect on the need for support for men as they transition to and navigate parenting. This week has seen a number of fathering related topics in the media spotlight, with discussions of the impact of Postnatal depression in men being highlighted after research suggests 1 in 3 men are likely to experience Postnatal depression (PND in men). Another major piece of work relevant to the fatherhood landscape which was released earlier in the week was a major report was launched by MenCare (in collaboration with other organisations) called the ‘State of the worlds fathers’ (SOWF). This report then assesses the role and value of fathers worldwide, as well as the things needed to allow men to be more positive parents. The report suggests more involved fathers could ultimately help facilitate greater gender equality, as well as having other health and wellbeing benefits;

‘Hands-on fathers also help produce happier and better-educated offspring, as well as gaining significant benefits to their own physical and mental health’ (Guardian). Therefore the value of involved fatherhood appears far reaching for children, men and families as a whole.

However, being able to be involved, to parent in a positive way, requires time, ability, skills and confidence. Men often struggle to find the support they may need to be the fathers they want to be, which the SOWF report highlights.  The idea that men may find it challenging to balance work with being a positive parent is not new, and this has previously been suggested as something family policy could address to assist men (and resultantly families) (Henwood et al policy paper). Young fathers particularly may face multiple challenges as they become parents and adults, they may lack the social capital to enable positive parenting, and are often on the sharper end of media dialogue about ‘fecklessness’ or absent fathers (University of Leeds research).

Whilst we know young men may need further support to father, a large gap between ‘knowing’ and ‘doing’ exists. Group projects aimed at young men who are fathers exist, and these can offer an important context for young men to explore support. Health for All : Supporting Families Young Dads Project in Leeds is one such project. The work for this project, among other things, provides space and support for young men who are fathers. I have been privileged to spend time with the group, and find the atmosphere warm, and one in which men are encouraged to grow, where they can share space, activities and a meal together, and where they are being offered different opportunities within their lives that they may not be able to otherwise access in the communities in which they live. Groups like this do not however exist everywhere, and being able to access such support would perhaps offer a good starting point for allowing young men to be more involved and positive fathers.

Growing awareness of postnatal depression in new dads, or of the need for men to be supported to be more involved in their children’s lives, are both then good examples of how narratives are now starting to shift towards what men might need. This reflects awareness that supporting men as fathers is good for families. The move towards the recognition that men can need support is an important step within society, however translating the ‘knowing’ into ‘doing’ remains a challenge.  As more groups emerge that offer effective support for those men as they navigate fatherhood, then hopefully the landscape will begin to change and supportive approaches to fatherhood will become more normalised.

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