There’s no such thing as a perfect parent. Instead, aim for ‘good enough’. This concept of a ‘good enough’ parent was coined by Donald Winnicott, a British paediatrician and psychoanalyst. He observed thousands of babies and their mothers, and concluded that babies and children actually benefit when their parents fail them in manageable ways. Instead of trying to be the perfect parent all the time, make space for mistakes. Being a dad can be challenging and it’s important to understand that loads of dads struggle with their own beliefs and expectations about father-child relationships, which are often shaped by their own experiences of being parented by their fathers. The best thing we can do is bring all this stuff to consciousness, be aware of it, and take an active position in the kind of role you want to take. And there’s no one ‘right’ role when it comes to being a father.
It gets easier. When you become a father, it’s not uncommon for old wounds to resurface – you may not feel good enough, and feel pressure to live up to your own positive childhood or not become your own parents. You may feel judged by those around you, and you may experience anxiety or find relationships with friends and family that were once strong are suddenly floundering. You may grieve for the old version of you, feel overwhelmed by the task at hand and sleep-deprived, all at the same time as being repeatedly told how lucky you are. Of course, you might also feel overwhelming love, contentment, purpose and an invigoration for life, or a mixture of it all at different times. Just remember that adjustment can, and will, come.
Self-care is important. As a dad, the best gift you can give your children is your own wellbeing. This doesn’t mean neglecting other responsibilities but seeing your own care as being an essential part of being a good dad. By taking care of your own wellbeing, you’ll demonstrate to your children the importance of healthy coping strategies. Children are more likely to adopt positive mental health practices when they see their dad taking care of themselves. Don’t be afraid to reach out for support – there aren’t enough spaces for dads out there. Start groups via local Facebook community groups – you’ll be surprised how many dads are desperate to connect. After the birth of my son, I found a real opportunity to connect with other dads in my local community and set up a regular meet-up for local dads – it was like a dad’s version of NCT. We came together to talk about being a parent and how to navigate everything that comes with it.