What's your parenting super power?

Parenting in New York City can often seem like a competitive sport. Is it the same where you are? Maybe this is just a Brooklyn or Manhattan postpartum parenting phenomenon. But, I suspect it's a bit more global! There's always someone at the playground or school yard mentioning how early their kid walked, talked or slept through the night. The choices to work or not, opt for a nanny versus group childcare, stay in the city or split for the suburbs can make it feel like no matter what we do, we're not making the best choice. The pressure to get it right for the sake of our kids is extreme. And what a price to pay for both us and our kids: stressed families where nothing is ever good enough. We feel like we're always behind-- working really hard scurrying on the hamster wheel but never feeling like we're doing anything well. Sound familiar?

I've seen both professionally and personally that the moms and dads who are most at home in their own skins, most confident in their parenting choices and just less preoccupied about attaining some unreachable goal of perfection, all share a secret. They know that they will never be "that mom" or "that dad."

You know "those parents," right? The ones who are PTA president, grow their own organic food, pack gourmet lunches for their children and spouse, maintain an impeccable apartment, have some awesome work from home gig, and always look fabulous? Well, the rest of us could take some lessons from those that are okay with being good enough. Why? Because those folks know that they have their own super powers in other areas; that they don't have to excel in every single aspect of parenting and life, because it's just not possible. They know they can't be perfect and they are okay with that. And these are moms and dads that absolutely shine as parents. Maybe they know that they are awesome huggers and all-around great organizers of games and family activities. Or that they remember and share family stories so that their child will pass the family lore on one day. Or that they always know where the lost teddy bear is. Whatever it is, they know that we all excel in some areas and not in others. Yes, even "that mom" and "that dad" have room for improvement. And I suspect they're paying quite a price to maintain the aura of perfection. So why not focus on what we're great at as parents and people?

After all, do our kids notice or care that we are knocking ourselves out, sweating the small, unimportant stuff? Nope! Would they prefer to cherish memories of us as calm and happy to be around them? Absolutely!

So, what's your super power?

New dads have it rough

New fathers have it pretty rough. The baby and mother get all the attention, leading to feelings of abandonment and possibly resentment of the new interloper. Subtly or overtly, many moms and grandmothers shunt aside new fathers as they swoop in to take care of baby, leaving dad feeling feckless and incompetent.  On top of it, the pressure to provide for a child hits home. Combine these feelings with a lack of sleep and a steep new fatherhood learning curve, and you have a recipe for turbulence. 

While the occurrence of Postpartum Depression (PPD) and anxiety in new moms is fairly well known and discussed -- though still mostly undiagnosed-- PPD can occur in new dads as well. Some studies report that one in ten new fathers experience PPD! Surprised? Unfortunately, the vast majority of new fathers get neither diagnosed nor help for their symptoms.

The symptoms of PPD can look different in men and women, with men often becoming withdrawn, perhaps distancing themselves by working longer than necessary hours at work, or by exhibiting greater irritability and lashing out in anger. Women more frequently have symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, bouts of crying, a sense of helplessness and of feeling overwhelmed. In either case, the ramifications for a new family can be severe and troubling if left unaddressed.

During the transition from pregnancy to new parenthood, many fathers feel that  they have to be "the strong one" to support their partners through the difficult physical and emotional adjustment period that comes with giving birth. Unfortunately, new fathers often neglect their own well being in the process. 

So what can be done if you are a new father who doesn't feel like yourself and may be depressed? Here are four suggestions:

  1. Check in regularly with your partner. Share what it's been like during this time. Sometimes just getting the feelings off your chest can be a huge relief. Make a point of taking at least a few minutes every day to talk. Send texts or emails when you're apart during the day. Don't stop communicating.
  2. Reach out to other new dads through meet ups, support groups or friends that are new parents. Commiserating with other guys can really help to avoid feeling isolated and it's helpful to know that you are not alone. There are parenting listservs in most neighborhoods in New York City, check out groups.yahoo.com to search for one in your area. 
  3. Take care of your needs. Rest, exercise, and eat well. You are no good to anyone if you are tired and burned out.
  4. Finally, consider getting professional help if your symptoms don't seem to be getting better after a few weeks. Talking over your experiences and feelings with someone neutral can make a big difference and can help you enjoy this time as a new family.