The father is a unique creature. He is a shepherd. He is also described as the pillar of strength for his family. A leader, a caretaker, a provider. Often he does it all in the absence of gratitude. The father is a unique creature. He is a shepherd. He is also described as the pillar of strength for his family. A leader, a caretaker, a provider. Often he does it all in the absence of gratitude.
But even a shepherd needs a stick to lean on; and pillars do crack. Yes – fathers can and do experience stress and mental health issues. Yet they silently steamroll through it all, to fulfill their role as much as they can.
Part of the issue is the stigma attached to needing help. Society equates fatherhood with certain standards of hegemonic masculinity: control, strength, stoicism and self-sufficiency. When men and fathers fail to meet such standards, society views them as transgressing socially constructed boundaries. This leads to stigmatisation. The presence of mental illness further complicates things by intensifying the stigma.
Often, the mother is the sole focus of the childbirth journey. After all, the mother suffers the aches and pains of pregnancy, childbirth and the baby’s post-partum care needs. Additionally, much research has gone into protecting and preserving the mother’s mental health.
Many articles have been published on mothers’ post-partum depression and the emotional needs of the father can be easily forgotten in all of this. Perinatal depression, which encompasses the time leading up to and after delivery, can also affect fathers. They can lose self-confidence, feel a lot of self-doubt, become short-tempered, and experience financial stress with the arrival of an additional family member.
Yet there is this belief that if they show vulnerability, they won’t be able to protect their wives and new mothers. Fathers often suffer in silence, therefore, they are less likely to ask for help – even though this is what they need the most.
It’s not uncommon for self-doubt to enter the hearts of many fathers. If the father is more in tune with his thoughts and feelings, he might question his ability to care and love his child. Some thoughts fathers may have include:
Will I be a good father?
Will I be able to care for my child?
Will I be a sufficient provider?
My wife needs me now more than everHow will I balance my parents’ needs with those of my family?
What do I need to change in myself now?
I need to work harder in my religionI need to find better work
Do I know enough to teach my child?Will I be able to protect my child?
Is my life over?
For some fathers these thoughts become driving forces. The pressures are short-lived if the right protective factors are in place. For others, who perhaps are more sensitive or are in the process of healing from their own childhood or parenting experiences, these thoughts can precipitate into feelings of low self-esteem, self-worth, anxiety, and eventually depression. Fathers finding themselves in this latter category must reach out and seek professional help.
Still, there are ways to curb some of the anxiety new fathers face. Firstly, a proper understanding of the religion is a must. For instance, Muslim fathers must remind themselves that all provision is from Allah. If a morsel is destined for their family it will reach them without doubt. Additionally, it is important to internalise the verse from the Qur’an that informs us that the birth of a child brings with it provision from Allah.
Stories from the Qur’an should also be a source of guidance and trust. In the Qur’an we find that good parents were tested with bad children and good children tested with bad parents . This point should especially serve as motivation to supplicate to Allah SWT.
Some important supplications to learn and recite are:
Making wife and children coolness of our eyes: Rabbana hab lana min azwajina wa zurriyatina qurrata aa’yun wajalna lil muttaqeena imama Being merciful/righteous to our parents: Rabbir hum huma kama rabbayana sagheera
Seeking forgiveness for our parents: Rabbanaghfirlee waliwalidayya wa lil mu’mineena yawma yaqumul hisaab
Asking for a righteous child: Rabbi hab li milladunka zurriyati taiyiba innaka sami’ud du’a
Seeking halal rizq: Allahumfinee bi halalika wa haramika wa aghninee bi fadlika amman siwak
New and soon-to-be parents should recite these supplications and put them in practice often. The supplication around caring for one’s parents is important, especially if you want your children to care for you.
Priorities change with age, marriage, and children, which can be shocking for many young men raised in a highly individualistic society. A shift in focus from self to family can be a drastic change, leading many young Muslims to often be emotionally and psychologically unprepared for the demands of marriage and fatherhood.
These fathers need much compassion, support, and guidance from loved ones around them. A child’s first school is the household in which he or she grows up. Children will imitate and model their parents’ behaviours.
If you are a newly-wed husband, start servicing your parents and your relatives more. This will build in you the capacity for care so that caring for your child is not overwhelming or a shock. It will help you as a father to develop into a caring leader at the service of those who need and want you.
Soon-to-be fathers may not feel much bond with their unborn child initially. For a lot of fathers, the bond is felt the day their child is born, or later. However, fathers should not sit back and wait. Fathers can begin to connect with their child during pregnancy.
They can lie or sit next to their pregnant wife’s stomach and talk to their child, particularly in the second and third trimesters. Reciting Qur’an is recommended, and children may even remember this recitation and are soothed by its familiarity after birth. Such an activity is important in pregnancy so that fathers don’t feel distant or isolated from their child post-pregnancy.
Raising children can involve significant unexpected costs which can be a stressor for new fathers. To overcome this, pregnancy is a good time for fathers to sit down and explore their finances.
Have a look at current spending habits and debts. Ask yourself the following:
What do my financial habits look like currently?
If my wife was previously working will she return to work post-partum? What spending habits can I continue?
What spending habits do I need to cut back on now?
If I have savings, how can I make the money grow through investment?
Are there any child benefits I need to apply for?
How much do I estimate will be my child’s expenses per month?
Do I need to pick up a side income?
After childbirth, young fathers and mothers should take advantage of the elders in their families. Ideally, make sure that your wife is giving birth close to her parents or any relatives with whom she is close. Because childbirth is an intense and often arduous experience for the mother, she needs to be close to her loved ones.
Fathers can also feel overwhelmed by having to care for the mother and baby during this time. Therefore, having experienced family can help ‘rein the horse in’ and get the new parents on steady ground.
Many new fathers have reported feeling grateful for having grandparents around who taught them skills for example, swaddling, bathing, shaving hair, holding, feeding the baby, etc. and also cared for the new parents – giving the husband and wife some alone time, allowing parents to enjoy some uninterrupted sleep, etc.
Life is not over once you become a father. Yes, you have more responsibility now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do the activities you used to. Most likely, they just can’t be done as frequently. It’s still important to take out some self-care time to rejuvenate. Whether is meeting up with family and friends, or playing soccer once a week, try to take time out for yourself and encourage the same for your spouse.
Ismail is a registered psychiatric social worker working full-time in Toronto, Canada. He has been working in the field of mental health for 10 years. Ismail provides online mental health counseling services for Muslims at www.carekhalifah.com. His passions include reading, blogging, and spending time with his baby daughter Aaliyah.