Figuring out Fatherhood: Is This How Every Dad Feels?

How will I cope? Will I be good enough? I don’t feel ready! I don’t feel anything! Becoming a dad can be one of the most difficult and rewarding journeys a man will ever go on. Our ‘Figuring Out Fatherhood’ workshop aims to help soon-to-be dads face the life-changing transition into fatherhood and embrace their new role with greater confidence and knowledge!

Figuring out Fatherhood: Is This How Every Dad Feels?

The transition into is journey of fatherhood can be a daunting and lonely one, with new dads often feeling overwhelmed and unprepared for the role. Many have important questions but lack access to the necessary resources or opportunities to learn in supportive, father-inclusive environments.

Recognising this, we launched our ‘Figuring out Fatherhood’ pilot workshops in the Highlands and East Lothian to provide the support and guidance that new and expectant dads truly value. Our aim - to equipping them with the necessary tools to navigate the emotional journey of fatherhood and develop meaningful bonds with their newborns, their partner and their family unit as a whole.

Understand the Impact of Becoming a Dad

Sessions begin by surfacing entrenched societal expectations of fathers, highlighting how rigid and unrealistic views can add pressure to dads. Scott Mair, our evidence-based trainer - and dad of seven boys - then draws on his personal and professional experiences of fatherhood to explore how dads can navigate these pressures.

As an experienced facilitator Scott is able to create a natural and supportive environment where dads can feel comfortable, understood, and reassured. A combination of open group discussions among dads, short informative videos, engaging slides, and signposting ensures that the sessions are both dynamic and informative, empowering soon-to-be fathers with invaluable knowledge and connections.

This information is important as the transition into fatherhood marks one of life's most daunting chapters for men. As they carve out space in their lives for their newfound role as dads, familiar routines, friendships, and lifestyles often undergo seismic shifts. In addition to these life adjustments, fathers also undergo lesser-known biological and hormonal changes as they embrace fatherhood. These sessions delve into evidence-based findings, highlighting these changes to dads so they can have deeper and nuanced understanding of the complexities of fatherhood. This allows them to be more confident and readily equipped to confront the psychological challenges they might face during this transformative time.

Coping Mechanisms and Emotional Support

Understanding some of the mental health and wellbeing challenges dads face by hearing first-hand from dads who took part in our research allows participants to recognise some of the challenges they may face and identify support they may need.

The workshops also introduces dads to mindfulness and stress-reduction techniques that are tailored to the unique challenges that are faced by expectant fathers. Furthermore, we encourage open communication at our workshops and provide a platform for dads to share their concerns, anxieties, and coping strategies with one another. This approach was well-received during our pilot sessions, as dads felt comfortable sharing their views and quickly built a sense of camaraderie. Talking to other dads on similar journeys undeniably provided the sort of reassurance and support that can be difficult for dads to come across.

These pilot sessions were geographically focused in the Highlands and East Lothian. To ensure dads understood where to seek further local mental health support and information, we ensured that we had local experts at each session. For the Highlands we had a Mental Health Nurse and Project Lead for NHS North Highland - Susan Ross; and for East Lothian we had Project Lead of DadsWork - with 25 years of supporting dads - Kevin Young.

Bonding Strategies and Techniques

The profound importance of bonding is woven throughout each session, acknowledging that fathers have their own unique - yet equally vital - ways of bonding with their little ones that is distinct from the nurturing that is provided by mothers.

We use the latest research to provide bonding strategies and techniques that have been proven to be particularly impactful to fathers. These include hands-on activities such as skin-to-skin contact, gentle baby massage, and interactive play. We also highlight the benefits that these techniques can bring to long-term emotional development between dads and their babies. Dads can often feel left out during the first few months as their babies seek comfort and nourishment from mum. These sessions, however, emphasise the importance of creating a supportive home environment that encourages shared caregiving responsibilities and promotes mutual involvement and collaboration between partners; knowing that in the long run, this will strengthen the family bond as a whole.

Successful Pilot Sessions!

The Figuring out Fatherhood workshop pilot program represents a significant step towards addressing the mental health needs of expectant fathers and enhancing their capacity for meaningful engagement with their newborns. By providing a supportive and informative platform, the program equips fathers with the tools and resources necessary to navigate the complexities of fatherhood with confidence and knowledge.

We collaborated with NHS North Highland and Dads Work East Lothian to establish these pilot sessions which consisted of three 90-minute workshops in each location. As mentioned above, a representative from each of these organisations attended each session to allow for continued support for dads after our sessions had concluded. Over the course of these sessions we welcomed 25 dads (15 from Highland, 10 from Lothians) and used mixed-methods evaluation strategy afterwards - encompassing post-workshop surveys and qualitative feedback - to assess the program's impact and identify areas for enhancement.

Initial findings from the pilot program showed promising results, with dads reporting increased knowledge and confidence levels. Qualitative feedback underscored the workshop's efficacy in alleviating anxiety, developing a sense of preparedness, and promoting dialogue around mental health. Many dads told us how little support was available to them and how much they appreciated being able to attend a workshop tailored support for expectant fathers, and 100% of attendees who completed feedback said they would recommend the session.

We are committed to quality improvement, so will continue to learn, develop, test new ideas and refine our programme and content to ensure the ‘Figuring Out Fatherhood’ workshop offers what dads-to-be across Scotland need and want.

Why New Dads Mental Health Matters and What's Next!

Paternal perinatal mental health is a critical public health issue: both in terms of the incidence of poor perinatal paternal mental health and the consequent negative impact on outcomes for mothers, infants, fathers and families. If poor paternal mental health is not addressed during this period, then the risk is that not only will there be more immediate consequences for mothers, infants and fathers, but that there will be the increased risk of longer term or lifelong negative impacts on a family unit, as well as a significant socio-economic cost.

Approximately 10% of men experience depression following the birth of their child, which is twice the rate of depression amongst men of the same age in the general population.

Research published in 2023 suggests that: "Fathers with paternal perinatal depression experience many of the same barriers to accessing psychological support as men with depression occurring at another stage of life. These include conformity to masculine stereotypes, a lack of awareness of paternal perinatal depression, exclusion from services, and self-stigma.” It goes on to suggest: “Developing interventions which aim to reduce these barriers at the personal and public level should be a key target in encouraging more fathers to access the support they require for their mental health." (Reay et al,. 2023)

The Scottish Government’s Mental Health Strategy 2017-2027 recognise that: “Prevention and early intervention are key to minimising the prevalence and incidence of poor mental health and the severity and life time impact of mental disorders and mental illnesses. Prevention and early interventions must be a focus of activity and funding.” One of their ambitions in this regard is to provide: “appropriate, evidence-based, parenting programmes… across Scotland.”

We firmly believe that the ‘Figuring Out Fatherhood’ workshops can help realise this national ambition through early intervention and prevention within a particularly vulnerable, important, and yet often overlooked group. We not only want to reduce risk through challenging stigma and increased knowledge of paternal mental health but ensure new dads know where and how to access local and national support should they need it. We aim to roll out this workshop across Scotland with local partners, to help ensure that every child in Scotland gets the very best possible start in life.

Find Upcoming Dates Near You!

A special thanks to:

We would like to thank all involved in the creation, planning and delivery of the project and most importantly the fathers who attended and participated, without you we would not have been able to produce this blog or reports and provide the valuable data.

We would like to extend special thanks to: NHS North Highland and DadsWork for collaborating with us and helping to make our workshops a reality! And to these amazing charities who provided videos and information to offer dads at our workshops further support. We are very grateful to all the help in supporting these sessions: Dadpad  /  Babybuddy  /  PEEPLE

And finally our Funders the Scottish Government, Movember and the Perinatal Infant Mental Health fund who made the project possible.