COUNSELING FOR ANXIOUS DADS - Justin Lioi, LCSW - Brooklyn, NY

Counseling for New Fathers

Have you recently become a father? How does it feel? Are you an anxious dad? Overwhelmed? Well, you’re not alone.

Do you lie awake worrying about making mistakes? Do you feel guilty whenever you’re in a room with other dads who seem to “get it”? Are you feeling guilty that you are not as excited as you were a few months ago? Has your relationship with your partner changed? Do you find that you are in a bad mood or irritated more often?

Are you overwhelmed at times about thoughts about the future? Worried that you’re going to make the same mistakes your parents made? Are you unsure how to be the father you want to be? Afraid you’ll just always be the anxious dad not knowing what to do? Counseling for new fathers may be for you.

There’s good news. You can figure this out and it doesn’t have to be the reason you’re up all night (let the crying and taking your turn at feeding be THAT reason.)

Self-Expectations

I have never met a new father who instinctually knew what he was doing all of the time.

Never.

The new dads I meet can swing from confident to ‘scared out of their minds’ in seconds. Counseling for new fathers has given these dads the space–away from their partner, away from their parents, away from other fathers–to honestly talk about their unique experience. The highs, of course, but also the lows.

Feeling like you want to run away at times?
Has the realization dawned on you that Junior isn’t going back?

I hear this from anxious dads all the time. New fathers are often surprised to learn that they’re not alone in having these thoughts, but to admit these thoughts to others can feel impossible, especially in Brooklyn: the land where the Progressive Dad reigns.

Merging New Identities

You may be struggling with these feelings in the midst of other men who are jealous of your fatherhood while others are angry that they’ve seemingly lost you as a friend. Counseling for new fathers gives you some needed space to sort out the changing identities you’re struggling with.
What part of you is the independent person who loves his job?
What part is the husband?
What part is the father?

And just how do all of these parts get integrated? Because they do. They really do.

It doesn’t mean that parts of you get lost, but it does mean that parts of you change. And, let’s just say it now: that can be upsetting. As men and women wait longer to have children it means that they’ve had more time to define themselves as individuals. Forging ahead as a couple brought it’s own share of issues and compromises. Negotiating with a newborn or a one year old–not happening. With a toddler, sure, but it’s going to be very different than with your partner. You’re in charge here and for many men that brings up a lot of anxiety. You don’t have to have been an anxious guy pre-fatherhood to be an anxious dad now.

father-son-172349_640The Why’s and How’s of Counseling For New Fathers

Let me tell you about Kirk:

Kirk was lost when he came into my office. Hadn’t slept, or at least not had a full night’s sleep, in a while. In talking Kirk realized that in all the excitement throughout the pregnancy he had not really understood what it meant to have a totally helpless entity taking over his house, his relationship, his free time, his work time. His wife had been the one to encourage counseling, but he still didn’t know what he was doing there. He wouldn’t have called himself an anxious dad at the time, but she did. Counseling is especially hard when you’re there because someone else told you to go. But he dove in. No, I should say he waded in very slowly. He discussed what, first his wife and then, secondly (and most importantly, but don’t tell her) what HE wanted to get out of sessions. Much of his fears and anger were normalized, and then he could focus on what kind of father he wanted to be. His father and mother were discussed. They taught him some great things–loyalty to family, strong work ethic–and they taught him some other things he swore as a twelve year old, and now as a thirty three year old, that he would never do or say to his son. He was worried that his father’s voice would come out when he was angry. Talking about it to someone who was not living in his home, someone he was not co-parenting with, and someone who was not comparing his own experience with gave him the freedom to make his own choices as a father.

Imagine if you could get some of that excitement back!

I’ve been told by past anxious dads that they felt comfortable talking about embarrassing feelings and thoughts because they sensed I would not judge them. They were not looking to be diagnosed with something. They knew they wouldn’t be made to feel that they were mentally ill, but just that they were struggling and wanted a support who was available and who would listen.

But This Should Come Naturally–Why Should I Go To Counseling?

There’s lots of reasons that counseling for new fathers can be helpful. Being a father is one of the most exposing jobs in the world. Those of us who’ve managed to feel in control at work discover that the gloves are off when there’s an 18 month old who’s hungry. We learn how to be a parent by how we were parented and many of us weren’t happy with how that went down. We can still love our fathers and resolve to be a different kind of father. Counseling for new fathers can uncover the dad you desperately want to be and that you’re struggling with becoming.

Can I Afford Counseling?

One of the reasons we get stuck is because we don’t always prioritize our needs–and the first thing everyone tells you when you have a kid is that your priorities need to shift. I don’t disagree, but if I would bet I’ve told every parent, mother or father, who were sitting in my office, “If you don’t take care of your own needs then it’s going to be very hard to take care of theirs.” Part of counseling for new fathers is you beginning to do just that. It can be easy to make a long list of reasons to not spend 45 minutes a week focusing on you.

But let’s cut to the chase and make it more concrete–there’s more and more research every day about how stress, anger and other strong emotions affect our bodies and how we can easily end up in our primary care doctor’s office paying who knows how much for something that cannot be ignored any more. That’s money and time away from your child.

Men,even in Park Slope, are traditionally not always allowed to express their feelings. We all know a few older men who stuffed all those feelings in while meeting the needs of their family–often with great expense to their own happiness. Maybe your dad.

You might not have been told this yet, but ‘modeling’ for your child is where most of the parenting work is done. Not in teaching or providing boundaries. All of that is important, but your child will learn how to take care of him or herself by how she observed you taking care of yourself.
You teach them how to get angry by how you deal with you anger.
You teach them how to be sad by how you express your grief.
You teach them how to have relationships by how you act in your relationships–especially the relationship you have with their other parent.

I Don’t Want Other People to Know

This is a good time to talk about confidentiality and privacy. Part of making the space safe for you to talk about yourself is by making sure that you know that I won’t share what we talk about with anyone. Not your partner, not your friends, not your kid. This is also the law. I can’t do it and I don’t want to. This is your time. The only exception is when someone is in danger: then my job is to ensure safety.

Also it’s important to say that my colleagues and I have not done the best job hacking away at the stigma of going to see a counselor. It’s less of an issue in New York City, but it’s there. The best consolation I can give you is that many of the people you think will judge you are secretly worried about being judged for getting their own counseling for new fathers.

I Have More Questions…

Good. That makes sense. You’ve gone through and are going through a change and the change will be constantly changing. I invite you to look around the site, check out some blog posts about counseling for new fathers. If you’re interested you can also download my e-book.

If you’d like to talk more about counseling feel free to get in touch with me. I look forward to hearing from you. You don’t have to be an anxious dad for their whole childhood!