Q: I’m a stay-at-home dad and I’m finding the whole thing incredibly isolating. I’d like to hook up with some other parents, moms and dads, but don’t feel comfortable (or welcome) at mothers’ groups. Got any suggestions?
A: You’re absolutely right, being a stay-at-home dad can sometimes be a lonely experience. There’s not a lot of social support for dads out there and we’re still often looked at as something of a novelty when we’re out with our kids.
One of the best ways to overcome your feelings of isolation or loneliness is to join or start a fathers’ group. Because guys aren’t usually drawn to support groups (smacks too much of asking for help), this may sound like a silly idea. But here are a few great reasons why getting involved in a support group is a better idea than you might think:
* You’ll learn a lot. Your wife-and just about any other mother you know-gets a huge amount of parenting information and advice from other women: where to buy the best used kid’s clothes, places to take the kids on rainy days, sure-fire cures for illnesses, ways to deal with summer sniffles, the names of incredible babysitters, and more. As a guy (aka someone who’s supposed to know everything about everything), chances are you’re not going to ask a woman for the answers to your questions. And you’re not likely to turn to the parenting magazines, which, because they’re generally targeted at women, will make you feel somewhat out of place. But you-and the other dads you meet know more than you think and you can help each other a lot.
* Support. Yes, men are getting more used to sharing their feelings these days, but we still don’t do it as often as we probably should-particularly in front of women. But a group of guys provides an opportunity to talk about things you may be too embarrassed to discuss with your wife, such as the changes in your sex life. At times like these, you need a couple of guys who are–or have been–going through some of the same things you are experiencing.
* The feeling that you’re not alone. Whatever worries or weird or scary or joyous thoughts you’re having about being a dad, you’re not the only one who’s had them. Getting other guys’ perspectives will help you make sense of things. And your perspectives will help them too.
* Encouragement and incentive. Sometimes having a group to report back to makes doing unpleasant tasks a little easier.
* It’s good for you. Research has found that fathers who join support groups are happier than those who don’t. The fact is that no matter how tough a guy you are, you can always benefit from some extra advice and support.
Finding other dads to join a group won’t be easy. But if you put the word out at your church or synagogue, your wife’s OB’s office, your pediatrician’s office, or even to the women in those mothers’ groups you’ve seen, I guarantee you’ll get some responses. You should also check out Slowlane.com, which has a wonderful collection of resources and articles, a list of dads’ groups across the country, and even a national convention.
Even if you don’t feel comfortable joining a group (and there are plenty of us who aren’t, so don’t feel bad), try to make regular contact with other dads anyway. Go out for a beer with another dad or check out some of the chat groups on the Web. You can’t grow and develop as a father if you try to do your parenting in a vacuum. And trying to do everything on your own puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on you and your kids.