I was in conversation last week, with a group of men who highlighted that they would value safe spaces for them to discuss the challenges in raising their older children.
They underscored this point with the reality of the male struggle with mental health.
Now, I have long been aware that there are very particular challenges that are tied to being a father during this time. Over the years, reports from fathers have highlighted the following:
They are more reactive to the behaviour of their older children.
The reactiveness, frustration and impatience displayed, can lead to their partners – the mothers in this case - stepping in to defend their children, despite their children’s behaviour – needing to be addressed. This defence is often a result of mothers having more of a grasp about the dynamics involved in their child’s behaviour because they communicate more openly with them.
Such scenarios rapidly lead to a chain reaction of complexities that take the focus away from the behaviour and/or needs of the child in that moment. Instead, conflict between the parents ensues where fathers understandably, feel undermined and mothers understandably feel protective of their children. This can then result in fathers withdrawing from interacting with their children – at such a crucial time in their child's development.
Men have also reported that on the back of these incidents – they spent more time at work as a means to avoid home life. This time at work is unproductive – falling into the realm of presenteeism - and their relationships with their partners and their children suffered further as a result.
Divorce and separation are also big issues for men
In these cases, men reported that they often felt a lack of consideration is given to them, their views, and to the importance of their parenting role. They felt side-lined when they should undoubtedly be part of the main parenting act!
Communication with their children is a struggle – particularly with their girls.
Some fathers have shared details about the struggles they faced in breaking through the barriers that many children put up during the adolescent phase of their lives.
Fathers suddenly felt as though they were ‘bumbling’ and inept at addressing their teen’s issues - and with the eye-rolls, sighs, and looks of utter contempt - children in general don’t make it feel any easier for them.
However, it isn’t just the responsibility of ‘mom’ to address all of the uncomfortable elements of raising children.
It isn’t just mom’s responsibility to attend doctors’ appointments with their children, or to take calls from and have meetings with the school.
Fathers have an invaluable role to play and they should not be excluded or excused from the adolescent developmental process.
So, from the conversation I had last week – it became very apparent that:
- men need safe spaces
- they need support to navigate the intricacies of family life
- they need to be heard and
- they need to be empowered with the tools and confidence
to address the precarious conditions that arise during their children’s transition towards adulthood.