In author Ryan Holiday's blog, "How to Handle Parenting Fears" he confronts a father's worry in protecting their children from harm. One line stood out for me, pointing out a fresh fear—a fear that is less about bodily harm or social harm. Holiday writes: "We brought our children into the world, made the conscious choice to share our whole selves with them."
But what if we didn't make a conscious choice to share our whole selves?
For many fathers, this may mean a child who was conceived unexpectedly, without prior intention or preparation. A situation where the parents were not actively trying to have a baby or did not expect to become pregnant. A complex entry point to parenting may be a situation where the father is in a toxic relationship or a child could be the result of a one-night stand. Many men in this situation may experience feelings of guilt or uncertainty about their ability to love and care for their child. They may experience feelings of doubt, financial insecurity, or the inability to work collaboratively with the mother.
In this blog, I will break down the stigma associated with these feelings and provide practical tips from my experience, including others, to help men take back their lives and become great fathers.
Now I'm Down in It
It can be tempting not to admit that a pregnancy was unplanned. However, by acknowledging your experience, you accept the situation. Acceptance is a positive leap forward in your journey because it means you are taking control of your emotions. After all, this is the only aspect of the situation you can control; which is how you will react.
Now, consider why you may have conflicting emotions about loving your child. Is it because of past experiences or traumas? Is it because of societal expectations or gender roles? Are you struggling with feelings of guilt or inadequacy? Exploring these underlying causes can help you better understand your own feelings and provide a more nuanced perspective on the topic.
When I was born, my parents were not married. They lived in separate homes, and they shuttled me back and forth. Though they were both very loving and nurturing, throughout my childhood, I didn't experience them together as a couple. In all honesty, it's best they weren't married given their relationship and familial dynamism. But I missed out on growing up within a two-parent household.
Say what you will about the notion of a "two-parent" household. I know for me, it was something I needed as a child. It was that missing piece that continues to shape my emotions and parenting approach towards my children today.
For example, I continue to have self-talk that goes like this: "Eric, you must have your children witness their mother and you working together to raise them positively. Cool? Yes. Got it! Great! Let's move on."
Sure, I am being cheeky when I talk to myself, but that's what works for me. Ultimately, being aware that you have past experiences, for example, can give you the roadmap toward a loving relationship with your child.
Self talk is ok, but keep it positive
What you want to avoid is negative self-talk or what psychologist Ethan Kross calls "chatter". Chatter, according to Kross from his book of the same name, refers to the critical, judgmental, or self-doubting thoughts we experience in response to the events and experiences of our lives. Kross argues that these negative thoughts can be harmful to our well-being, leading to feelings of anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. Kross suggests that by recognizing and changing our negative chatter, we can improve our mental health and increase our resilience.
Throughout the book, Kross provides practical strategies for reducing negative chatter and cultivating a more positive inner voice. One such practical approach I resonate with is the use of my name.
As in my previous example, using one's own name can create a sense of psychological distance from negative thoughts and emotions. This can make it easier to see these thoughts and emotions objectively, rather than becoming fully absorbed in and identified with them.
The importance of self-compassion
By treating ourselves with kindness and understanding, we can reduce the impact of negative self-talk and improve our overall well-being. It is normal to feel overwhelmed and self-compassion can help you move through your feelings productively.
As an infant, my son would nap frequently in the afternoon. Though he wasn't a sound sleeper, I had to keep the noise at a minimum. I would often have bouts of extreme boredom. Boredom leads to extreme self-loathing. While I would have enjoyed a run outside on the city streets, I succumbed to lying next to him in bed. So, I would put on my headphones and watch my favorite YouTube videos or music channel. Not the greatest use of my time, but it had some meditative qualities.
Later, as my son became accustomed to the sounds of his environment, I slowly introduced him to my treadmill. Thankfully, the clopping of my feet and the whirring motor lulled him back to sleep. This made for a much more productive nap time and healthy living.
Instead of constantly beating myself up about feeling guilty for not doing the things I wanted, I did them. I fed my soul and fulfilled my duties as a father.