Some fathers feel trapped by fatherhood. Multiple factors can lead to this feeling, including; loss of freedom, the endless responsibility of raising a child, parental burnout, and depression. Seeking support and certain lifestyle changes can alleviate this feeling.
Being a father today isn’t the same as being a father was in the 50s. The role of a father today is much more involved and hands-on. Responsibilities have doubled and not all fathers were ready for children in the first place, making them feel trapped by fatherhood.
There’s a certain stigma attached to admitting to feeling trapped by parenthood, or more specifically in this case, fatherhood. Children are supposed to give us direction in life, instantly converting us into responsible parents, without a moan or a groan from the parent’s direction. Speaking about it and seeking support can help fathers who feel this way cope with the demands of fatherhood.
Related Reading: Understanding Expectant Father Anxiety – Brief Guide
Why Do Men Feel Trapped by Fatherhood?
For some men, the f-word is a swear word, a description of tremendous loss and unwanted gains, summed up in three terrifying syllables; father-hood. The loss of freedom and the unwanted gains are the responsibility of raising kids and all that comes with this unrelenting task.
A few reasons why some men may feel trapped by fatherhood are:
Men Feel Trapped into Being in a Relationship with the Mother
Some men may find that after having an unplanned child with a woman, they become trapped in the relationship, whether they are in love with the mother of the child or not. They spend their lives in a relationship they never chose and no longer want, for the child’s sake, as it plays on their minds the effect a separation will have on the innocent child.
The Loss of Freedom
We all love to do what we want when we want to do it; men included. When a child is young, they need a lot of attention, and it’s all hands-on deck. The freedom to go and do as you please go right out of the window, along with the first cries of a new baby.
The Endless Responsibilities of Having a Child
Not all men embrace the responsibility of children with open arms. As we all know, a child is probably the biggest responsibility you will ever have in life. Taking care of a child on a financial, emotional, and physical level is a responsibility that can make some men feel trapped, as the demands are high and seemingly never-ending.
When someone, in this case, the child, demands everything from you, the regrets of what you have not done in your life can come into play. Men can feel trapped when their dreams start to die. In reality, it is more like they allow them to die, blaming the kids and the family life, which can lead to resentment towards their ‘new’ life.
The added responsibilities of caring for a child demands that a father becomes less selfish in his ways. Men are known to fulfill their needs as they arise, and when this is slowly but surely taken away from them, pity parties can quickly fuel the fire that one is trapped.
Gone are the days of dads being the provider and disciplinarian while moms were tasked with the actual raising of the little ones. Today, fathers are expected to be as hands-on as their better halves, cleaning, cooking, and changing diapers, while also being the perfect playdate.
Men Become Depressed
Anthropologist Lee Gettler conducted one of the biggest studies into the decline of testosterone levels in fathers during and after pregnancy and found that some men suffer from a sort of pre-and post-natal depression due to their dwindling testosterone levels during this cycle.
Studies suggest that lower testosterone levels made for a more supportive partner and a less-depressed mother. Still, in the long run, it can also create a dad who feels “trapped” by the responsibilities of being a father.
Lower testosterone can lead to feelings of disinterest in activities that were pleasurable in the past and lethargy, all characterized by feeling depressed. Other contributing factors are disrupted sleep, increased overall stress, and not getting enough exercise. Depression can make you feel trapped, no matter the scenario in which you find yourself.
Parental burnout happens in three distinct stages and can often contribute to parents feeling trapped by parenthood, according to the Parental Burnout Assessment:
Stage 1: Exhaustion
Parents of younger children tend to be physically exhausted, whereas parents of older teenagers tend to be emotionally exhausted due to constant conflicts with their teens.
Stage 2: Distancing from the Kids
Parents will start to distance themselves from their children to preserve the energy they have left.
Stage 3: Loss of Fulfillment
Stage 3 of parental burnout is when the parents notice that they have lost all sense of fulfillment that parenting previously gave them.
Unlike when you experience employment burnout, where you get to take a well-deserved holiday or switch to a different form of employment, there’s no vacation from parenthood. This can leave parents with suicidal thoughts or escape ideations.
Parental burnout highlights the contrast between the parents they were at one stage and the dysfunctional parents they have become, causing feelings of shame, guilt, and distress on top of feeling trapped in a parental nightmare.
Fathers Should Focus on Their Wellbeing First
Feeling trapped by fatherhood is an emotion or feeling experienced by many a dad. It doesn’t matter if you are the most dedicated dad on earth, you are human, and there will come a time(s) when this feeling will consume you.
To get through these trying times and feelings of despair, you must ensure that you are healthy in mind, spirit, and body. Taking care of yourself first allows you to better care for your children and partner.
Putting you first will automatically put your children first in the long run. It doesn’t mean you must book a solo vacation. Rather, the following:
Practice Spiritual Principles
There is a certain serenity in living spiritually, or better yet, when you live a life that allows for spiritual growth. Here are a few principles that can alleviate your feelings of being trapped:
Be Honest and Open About Feelings
The worst part of feeling trapped in the shame that comes with it. Dads are supposed to be the strong figure, the one who has all the answers, the one who captains the ship. However, feeling depressed and trapped is one of the best reasons to become honest and open about what you are experiencing.
Keeping the feelings in will do nothing to alleviate them. Speaking about them will result in you actively seeking a solution instead of living in the problem. If you can’t speak to your spouse about what you are going through, speak to a friend that listens, join a father-support group, or seek professional help. There are many supportive dad forums that you can join online where you can be your honest self without judgment.
Acceptance Is Key
Maybe you have not fully come to accept that your life is not yours alone anymore. Maybe the responsibility of raising a child is making you feel trapped as you have not fully accepted that this is your life path from now on. The responsibility that’s not owned will always be a burden, and accepting it as your own can help change your mindset and emotional connection to it.
Most new fathers foster a dream of being the perfect father for their children, being better than their fathers, and when it doesn’t play out in the foreseen way, they become deflated and defeated. Accepting that you won’t always be the picture you formed in your head regarding fatherhood is the first step in accepting life on life’s terms.
Simply trying to be the best dad is already a feather in your cap. Nobody is perfect, and trying to control outcomes is an exercise in failure. Accept that you can only do your best and that life will happen nonetheless and leave outcomes to your Higher Power, whatever that may be.
Related Reading: 11 Reasons Sober & Straight Edge Parents are Better!
Fathers Should Take Care of Their Physical Health
Don’t allow the arrival of children to become the excuse you use for not taking care of yourself. Partaking in a hobby that allows you to exercise should be continued or taken up at all costs. Physical exercise releases feel-good endorphins to keep your body healthy and increase energy levels.
Making sure you get enough rest is not always practical with a screaming baby in the house. Taking turns with your partner to ensure rest periods away from the kids works well. Two tired parents are of no use to the kids, and constantly being fatigued will only lead to irritation.
It may be easier to stop for takeout than to prepare a healthy meal, but it will catch up with you physically at some point. Eating healthy foods has numerous advantages for you and the kids, so try to stick to a diet that nourishes your body.
Fathers Should Make Time for Themselves
Your life has not turned into a prison sentence. You are still allowed ‘me’ time now and again. Have a coffee or drink with your friends, unwind, vent, and relax. Get a relative to babysit, and go away together for the weekend, ensuring you can spend quality time with your partner. Watch that football game, socialize with loved ones, and come back home refreshed.
Parental burnout is a thing, and it affects millions of American parents each year. Taking microbreaks like a 10 –minute meditation session in-between chores or a 5-minute break in the bathroom can help parents recalibrate their thoughts and attitudes, no matter the challenges. Sometimes, the small amount of time we make for ourselves gets us through the day.
Fathers Must Find Meaning in Life
Find happiness in life. When you’re happy, you automatically become a better parent. Remind yourself that parenting is, most of the time, a happy and rewarding experience. Fake it till you make it. By reinforcing your love for life, life becomes more colorful and less stressful. Even if you don’t want the moniker placed on you, the meaning of life is raising your children as best you can.
Fathers Feeling Trapped by Fatherhood Is Normal
The occasional feeling of entrapment due to being a parent is quite normal. Operating from a place that can often only be described as uncontrollable chaos, especially when your children are young, is no mean feat.
Children can sometimes bring out the worst in us, and there’s no shame in acknowledging that; at times, we wish we never had them and feeling trapped is an understatement. Children change your whole life, ready or not!
When you think about what new parents have to endure for the first couple of years after conceiving a child, it can be expected that they feel a little trapped in a life dominated by a cute little being that can do absolutely nothing for itself, often directly contributing to the following:
- Loss of social life
- Loss of self
- Loss of sexual intimacy
- Unrealistic societal expectations
- Poor diet
- Working/staying in dead-end jobs
Continue Reading: Should a Working Dad Get Up With Baby?
Sometimes, feeling trapped by fatherhood is normal. When this feeling becomes a way of life, alarm bells should start to ring. Seeking help and taking care of yourself should be high on your priority list when you constantly feel trapped by fatherhood.
After earning his Master of Social Work from the University of Toronto, Stuart gained experience working with families in community mental health settings and in the child protection sector. Since becoming a father himself, Stuart now works in private practice offering psychotherapy services. FatherResource is an opportunity for Stuart to share what he learns on his journey as a father with a larger audience.