Project Resilience: Positive Impacts Of Fatherhood On Mental Health
Being a new parent can be exhausting.
Jordan: “You’d be falling asleep and you’re so tired and then you have some kind of thought of, ‘Oh, he’s in the bed with us,’ and you forgot that you put him in his crib, so he’s in the crib, but then you’re all stressed looking through the bed trying to find him.”
Kenzie: “Then as soon as you hold them in your arms, your heart just grows but at the same time you’re like, Oh, my gosh, I have to figure out how to take care of this tiny little helpless thing.
Kenzie: “We definitely had to take an extra hour to plan to go anywhere. And by the time we got him all ready either he had to get changed again or he had to eat, or something.”
So what does parenting do for your mental health? Not just for mom, but for the dad?
Kay Bradford: Men benefit very clearly from fatherhood.
Bradford: Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development, for example, posits that that’s the job of men and women, men included, to take care of the rising generation, and men do that primarily through fatherhood, but through other ways, through their work, through volunteer work and so forth.
Kay Bradford is a Utah State University researcher who studies relationship education for couples and fathers.
You’ve also heard Kenzie and Jordan Neilsen of Lewiston on their experience as new parents. Their little girl, Brexlie, is just 3 months old, and their oldest, Rykker, is 19 months. They are dealing with it all: sleepless nights, diaper changes. They didn’t hear Bradford’s interview, and he didn’t hear theirs. But they said a lot of the same things.
Jordan: “I enjoy it a lot. It definitely can get stressful, and you always have a little tag team partner with you, so I’m out with the horses, Ryker’s out with me, taking up one arm while I’m trying to do stuff with the other arm. But overall I enjoy having him there, and the older he gets I think it’s more fun and it’s awesome to teach him things and to see him learn them is what I enjoy too.”
Bradford: “There’s even empiricism that shows that younger fathers, those especially in their 20s and early 30s, are more likely now than older dads to prioritize family over career, so we’re seeing that shift happen.”
Jordan: “I think the generation has kind of changed as a whole, but I feel like our parenting is a lot different than how I was raised. When I was younger, my dad was always off working. My mom was taking care of us, feeding us, and I feel like Kenzie and I have done more of a tag teaming parenting, where we’re both interacting as much as we can.”
Kenzie: “We had to get on the same page with TV time, or with sleepovers with cousins, or bedtime routines, and different things like that. But we’ve both been really good about saying, ‘OK, I need, or I want, to get this done today, can you hang out with the kids?’”
Bradford: “One might not be surprised to find that fatherhood really helps men to develop good habits and ditch bad ones. When we become fathers, we men tend to eat better, for example. We tend to exercise more, as fathers, we tend to become more active.”
Kenzie: “That’s my favorite thing, is seeing him with our kids. I fell in love with this young college football player who was this cool cat, who played for Utah State and he was athletic and he was spiritual and all of these different things. But as soon as he found out he was going to be a dad, I saw a huge change in him, and then, not that he was irresponsible before, but his responsibility and growing up and just being the man that I want to help me raise my kids, that’s been amazing.”
But just because something is good doesn’t mean it isn’t hard. The positive changes people may see because of parenting don’t just happen—they require work, as does meeting the needs of the children.
Bradford said parenting can bring mental health challenges. Both women and men may experience depression after a baby is born. Parents may need support throughout the lives of their children. There are community resources for Utah parents, a list of which can be found at upr.org.
But while parenting is stressful, it can have benefits, too.
Bradford: “For us as men, raising kids forces us to look beyond ourselves, which is very good for our mental well-being, and it’s because we share the hopes and dreams of our children, and that tends to make us hopeful.”
Resources for Parental Support:
Free Relationship Classes
Utahns statewide can participate in free relationship education classes offered through Utah State University Extension. These focus on smart dating, couples, fatherhood, parenting and stepfamilies.
The Family Place in Logan and Smithfield offers fun, family-focused events in the community. They also offer services such as therapy and educational workshops. Visit their website for a number of resources.
Reduced-cost therapy is offered through USU’s Marriage and Family Therapy Clinic.
This story was produced in partnership with the Center for Persons with Disabilities.