Why Some New Dads Feel Isolated

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Photo: Vanessa Davies/Getty Images

Even during an age when traditional gender roles are being aggressively questioned, the notion of the goofy, hapless dad is still pretty entrenched in our cultural imagination. Moms are expected to be constant (and constantly nurturing) big-time problem solvers, while dads are seen as having a more peripheral role that can be broken down to discrete, practical tasks — someone’s gotta teach the kid how to ride a bike, after all.

Even though this idea is a pretty outdated and silly one — just ask any dad-blogger how they feel about the portrayal of dads in commercials — fathers really do go through some serious identity issues when it comes to the question of how they fit in to their newly formed families, if a recent study in the Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology is any indication.

This wasn’t a comprehensive or fully representative study — just interviews with ten middle-class, employed British fathers who were married to their partners — but, as the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest explained in its rundown, there are some important insights here. It isn’t all laughs and bungled attempts at setting up Ikea cribs for new dads and dads-to-be: At times they feel genuinely isolated from their wives and kids.

A lot of this, unsurprisingly, has to do with physical differences. The BPS pulls a quote from a dad who said, “I feel that it has to feel different with the mum as they are carrying the baby and feeling it move and grow inside, that must mean that the emotional attachment that must build must be extraordinary and I don’t think that any bloke could ever understand that.” The researchers note that new dads have to contend with the notion that while the mother-baby bond is powerful in some powerfully primordial way, their own connection to their kid isn’t quite as profound.

Obviously, new dads don’t have to deal with all the huge physical changes new moms have to deal with; it’s understandable that so much of our societal focus is on how moms are doing. But in those ideal situations where both partners are around to raise a kid, getting a better sense of how dads adapt to their new lives can only be a good thing.