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How we can become the best dad we can be whilst maintaining our mental health?

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Jimmy Hutton is a QCH Practitioner, practising in Wimbledon and online.

Jimmy has a particular interest in working with clients who are experiencing Anxiety or the need for escapism.

June 20th, 2022 is International Fathers’ Mental Health Day

How can we become the best dad we can be? – For me, this was a question that was running round and round in my head before my wife gave birth to our first son Mateo. So many questions fed by limiting beliefs – What if I’m no good at this, what if I don’t enjoy it? What’s going to happen to my old life?  

These (perfectly natural) questions can be the cause of a lot of anxiety for new dads because, let’s be honest, essentially, you have no idea what’s coming. 

They are also tricky questions to provide rational answers to because every child is different and requires or wants different levels of interaction. 

No two children are the same, and neither are the parents, so you can read as many parenting guides and self-help books as you like, but ultimately each parent and child are unique, and so you have to find the balance and discipline that is right for you and your partner. 

I am still a work in progress and probably always will be; however, that being said, I do believe there are some pointers that can help calm your nerves and aid you in this never-ending journey to becoming the best dad you can be. 

All you need is Love – When The Beatles wrote this line, I doubt they were explicitly referring to parenthood, but I’m applying it here, so let me explain why. It might sound corny, but hear me out. I promise you that if you pour your heart and soul into parenthood and show them nothing but love, they will reciprocate. And when they do, there is no better feeling in the world. 

But more specifically, how can we do that? Well, lots of hugs, chats, and interactions throughout the day are a great start. But for me, the key thing here is to be present with them as much as possible. We live in an age with 100,000 distractions everywhere we turn, especially with our mobiles in our pockets 24/7. But if we can shut out all the distractions and show a genuine interest in what they are doing, the results are excellent. So put away your mobile and feed their curiosity.  

Patience – This is essential, and something therapy has helped me with no end. All stages of your child’s development require different patience levels – The spitting out food stage (my least favourite), the biting stage (also pretty annoying), and the tantrums of the terrible twos, to name but a few. There’s no doubt parenthood was designed to test us. But my top tip here is to turn it into a game. How zen can you be? Again corny, but trust me, it helps. When they throw that food in your face, don’t shout or make a fuss. Take a step back and take the emotion out of the situation, and if you feel yourself getting angry, ask yourself (as a wise man once taught us) what’s that about, and how can I use it? 

Be prepared for change, but not the end of life as you know it – You may potentially be worried that this is the end of your bachelorhood. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m very fortunate to have experienced the Latin way (my wife is Mexican) of bringing up children and let me tell you, I think they’re on to something. 

Yes, things change when you have children, but it doesn’t have to be the end of fun. I believe this is key to new dads’ mental health and potential anxiety. There seems to be a general belief or misconception that once you have children, that’s it. You’re out of the friendship group. 

However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The Latin way is to take your children to things. So, my first tip here is not to hide your children away. On the contrary, be proud of them and integrate them into your friendship groups. Take them to that dinner party, go to the pub with them, whatever it is; you might be surprised at how even the most ‘anti-child’ of your friends swiftly come round to their charm. 

Secondly, work with your partner. Negotiate nights off. I’ve found that putting in the time and effort when you’re with your child reaps the rewards when you want a night out with the lads. And reciprocate that. Let your wife or partner do the same. That way, you build a system of trust and a warm feeling that life doesn’t have to change as much as you might have thought. 

And finally, don’t forget date night! This is perhaps one of the first things to slip, and yet one of the essential things to keep up.