Advice for Dads on mental health and parenting

Becoming a parent can be an amazing experience, full of joy, snuggles and special memories. But we also know that with the joy comes sleep deprivation, stress and a sense of overwhelm that doesn’t go away.

Over the last few years, we’ve come a long way in society with recognising the struggles that many mums traditionally face in those early years. Looking after babies and toddlers while trying to stay on top of housework, paid work and self-care can leave mums struggling with depression and feeling stressed and isolated.

While it can be hard for mums to reach out and seek help, it can often be even harder for dads to let their mates or families know that things aren’t ok. Often, if they’re asked how it’s going, they’ll just say “yeah sweet,” when really things maybe aren’t that sweet at the time.

The founders of the Lighthouse Project

Sweet? Nah…

The common “yeah all good” answer to “how’s it going?” was what encouraged four mates in the Bay of Plenty to start The Lighthouse Project and head out on what they called the Sweet? Nah… Tour to raise awareness about men’s mental health.

The four mates involved are Luke McFarlane, Matt Tope, Jamie Wilson and Rodney Phillips. Rodney is the husband of our amazing recruitment specialist, Pip, and three of the guys are New Shoots dads whose kids attended our Papamoa centre.

The tour saw the guys visiting 24 lighthouses around the country in April with the aim to raise $100k for grassroots mental health groups, and encourage men when asked if they are all good, to honestly say, “nah.”

Why lighthouses? Traditionally guiding ships through storms to safe harbour, they’re a metaphor for people being able to find their own lighthouse in the community and get the help they need. It might be a group or a friend, someone in your family, or even an activity that gives you the time and space to get out there and clear your head and just look after yourself.

Find your lighthouse

Is it really all good?

One of the founders, Luke, shared his experience on the AM Show:

“I had gone through a bit of a rough patch last year, which wasn’t a traumatic event or anything, it was just something happened in my life that put me off kilter. I had some family come visit, and they called me again later that night and said how’s it going? And I said, ‘aw nah it’s all good, I just saw you, you just left.’ Which was answered with ‘Nah, I know things aren’t ok, so what is going on?’ And it took that moment for me to snap out of it, and really recognise that I wasn’t ok sometimes, and I probably needed to do something about it cos I wasn’t being the dad that I wanted to be. So I needed to change.

“Guys pretend it’s just not happening. Men have been raised by that generational belief that you just get on with it, don’t talk about things, bottle it up. The ‘harden up’ mentality. If we continue to bury these things and you continue to bury these emotions and not deal with them appropriately, then we raise our sons to be the same and then they’ll raise their sons, and then so on.”

It takes a village to raise a child, and if you’re a parent and an integral member of that village, it can be really tough sometimes. So we asked the guys from the Lighthouse Project if they had any tips or advice for our New Shoots dads:

What are some of the things you personally do to look after your own mental health?

  • Focus on things that you can control
  • Return to things that give you joy, such as catch up with mates you haven’t seen for a while, get back into that hobby or activity that you’ve stopped doing if you’re not in a good space
  • Exercise helps big time
  • Get outdoors, deep breathing, fresh air
  • Try not to rely on others for your own happiness, take control for yourself
  • Help others, do something for someone else
  • Achieve something, even if it’s small – make your bed, vacuum the lounge, mow the lawns
  • Speak up, speak honest and don’t fear judgement
  • Be self-aware, understand your triggers and consciously make an effort to curb them

What advice would you have for a dad who’s feeling overwhelmed or struggling with parenting?

  • Start a group chat with the antenatal dads, join a Facebook groups for dads
  • Catch up with other dads, talk about it, it’s more than likely others are struggling with similar feelings and knowing others feel the same way can help
  • Let your partner know, get the weight off your chest
  • Coordinate as a family to allow each other time to get out of the house for some breathing space
  • Compromise with your partner, agree to disagree, let some things go

If your dad is ‘old school’ when it comes to emotions and talking about feelings, what are some things you can do to encourage him to share more and chat with you?

  • Be brave enough to role model and encourage healthy behaviour
  • Share more of yourself – understand your dad may have some of the same struggles, but just might be afraid to talk about it
  • Don’t sit down to chat, do something together and if there just happens to be some chat while you’re doing it then it’s less confronting
Help shine a light

Help Shine a Light

To read more about the Lighthouse Project and the organisations they champion, you can visit their Facebook or Instagram pages. To see the interviews recorded visit their YouTube channel. 

You can help support them and the charities they support by donating here.

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