Coping Strategies for Fathers


Coping Strategies for Fathers

This article was written by “When Pregnancy Isn’t Perfect:
A Layperson’s Guide To Complications In Pregnancy”

There are ways to deal with what is happening to you and your partner. This discussion of strategies certainly can’t change your situation, but it may help you get to the end of the pregnancy and beyond without feeling like a total wreck.

“Don’t Just “Tough It Out”

“I didn’t look for any support systems. I usually just handled my problems alone. I just lived with them.”

“I didn’t seek out anyone.”
— Aaron

“Emotionally.…boy. I just kept going. I don’t really have a true friend that I turned to to share my feelings with.”
— Mike

When faced with a pregnancy crisis, this is how most men respond. In our society it’s customary to view men as “strong” when they are unemotional, and this is what many men believe is expected of them. Ron’s example is typical: He felt that somehow, he “wasn’t supposed to cry. I was supposed to be the strong one.”

Even when a sympathetic ear is offered, many men say that they would turn away the opportunity to let off steam or share their feelings. For instance, one man I spoke to said that in retrospect, “If somebody had approached me while I was going through it and tried to get me to open up, I would have pretended to be strong enough no to do it.”

Handling emotions by holding them in and just getting on with it works to a certain extent: At least you get things done. But, you’re still left with the emotional baggage that will leave you feeling rotten somewhere down the line with a permanent distaste for the entire experience. From a mental-health standpoint, it’s better to look for outlets for the natural and normal emotions that you are going to be experiencing in the days, weeks, and months ahead. There are a number of ways to do this.

Talk It Out

This means emotional support. You tell how you feel, and the listener just listens and offers some sense of understanding. You may be surprised at how little you need to make you feel better. A few thoughtful words, an acknowledgment that it must be very hard for you, can give you the support you need to go on with a tough day. It won’t take your feelings away, but it will help you to deal with them in a healthier manner.

When looking for people to talk it out with, be aware that not every person you know or to whom you are referred will be a good and sympathetic listener. If you run up against platitudes or attempts to make you “behave like a man,” look to someone else for support. Here are some suggestions of where to turn:

  • Friends (or colleagues you feel may be good listeners)
  • Your clergyman
  • Your partner (she’s probably not as fragile as you might think; and sharing your feelings can also help the two of you feel closer during this period of stress)
  • Another man who has had or is going through a similar experience
  • A professional counselor (If you don’t know one, ask for assistance from your physician; talking to a therapist or social worker doesn’t mean you’re admitting you’re nuts, or that you have to make a long-term commitment. Just one or two sessions may make the difference between being miserable and being able to tolerate the situation.”
  • Family members who have the patience and are good listeners.

Take Time Out For Yourself

You’re probably going to be busier in the next few weeks or months than at any other time in your life. And the temptation may be to give up all of your normal outside activities because you don’t think you could focus on them.

But it’s important for your sanity and health that each week you squeeze in some time during which you do focus on something that’s pleasurable. When you give yourself some breathing space in this way, you’ll find you have more of yourself to give to your partner and other children. And you won’t end up resenting the situation quite as much. Some suggestions:

  • Schedule lunch or drinks with a friend
  • Go to a movie or play
  • Find a way to jog or work out for an hour several times each week
  • Take an hour or two for yourself to pursue a sport or hobby, or just spend time relaxing

You may argue that doing these things is impossible because you can’t leave your wife or kids alone. Then don’t leave them alone! Arrange for someone you trust to stay with her/them during the couple of hours of well deserved R&R.

Getting Help With Caretaking Responsibilities

Now is no time for you to be a martyr. You’re going to be doing enough as it is. Getting help with logistical things does more than just take some of the burden off you. It clears some time for you to spend with your wife (and kids, if you have them). There will be few, if any, times in your life when your support and presence will be more important to your wife. And your need to be with her may be so powerful that it will feel instinctual. Here are three ways to free up some of your time:

  1. Enlist Your Partner’s Help Discuss your responsibilities with your wife, and ask her what she feels she can take on. If she’s bedridden, she can still use the phone, pay bills, and so on. In fact, remaining intellectually active and involved in household planning will help her feel useful and like less of a burden. Among other things, she can make shopping lists, may be able to fold laundry, arrange for the children to visit neighbors and for friends to come sit with her if she is not supposed to be alone.

  2. Allow Friends And Family to Help Friends and family will want to assist you. Let them. Be specific about your needs. It will make those people who are close to you feel useful at a time when they desperately want to help. Friends and relations can keep your wife company while you go out, bring over meals, take the kids out, pick up necessities for you when they’re out shopping, and take your wife to doctor’s appointments. It is no sign of weakness to accept assistance. It’s just good sense.

  3. Hire Household Help If You Can Afford It If you are lucky enough to be able to afford it, hire a housekeeper or housecleaner to help with the extra tasks. While I was bedridden, we hired a cleaning person to clean the house once every other week. It saved my husband hours of work that he was really too busy to do.

    Although housecleaning is a service you must pay for yourself, you may be able to obtain reimbursement from your insurer for personal care services provided by nurse’s aides, visiting nurses, home health care workers, or social workers who visit your home. Check with the medical insurance companies for both you and your wife on rules and restrictions for coverage.

This Too Shall Pass

“It’s almost like being in a war,” said Gregg. “It’s so long and stressful.” When you’re caught up in the daily stress and crises that complicated pregnancies can bring, it can be terribly hard to remember that this is a temporary situation.

Eventually (much sooner than it feels) you’re going to be new parents. And as time passes after that, these few months will become a dimly recalled bad patch of time. That’s all. Just a fuzzy memory.

“When the boys were born, whatever was balled up inside me totally vanished. It was like a whole new beginning. I feel so lucky. My sons are doing really good.” –Michael“It was worth it. But I wasn’t so sure while it was going on. I’m glad now, though.”
— Bill
“Our relationship got better, and I got stronger because of it. It’s a crisis, and if you survive it, make it through together, you feel better prepared to handle the next one when it comes along.”
— Mike

Remember, the time, caring, and nurturing you are investing now, combined with great medial care and a little luck, will soon bring your healthy baby into the world. Handling a crisis the best way we know how makes us grow. And no matter how tough it is now, when it’s over, you’ll be glad you did it, and did it right.