July 04, 2019
How I overcame the struggles of being a first-time dad
By: Christopher Ong

I wrote this article as a proud dad to a beautiful girl, Sophia, and as someone who has struggled with having a baby for the first time. I hope through sharing my experience and tips it will help other people, and not just first-time parents, to cope with whatever they're going through.

After Sophia was born, I felt tired but otherwise fine. Over time, however, I began to struggle with the demands of being a hands-on dad and husband. Little issues accumulated and became bigger challenges. I reacted poorly to situations that normally wouldn’t bother me, and I said and did hurtful things to people close to me. Feeling angry and lost, it seemed like whatever I did or didn’t do would make things worse. I was not ok.

In hindsight, I was surviving on what I now know as “fight or flight” mode—I felt overwhelmed and unable to cope with my situation. At that time, it was difficult to recognise being in this mode because my mindset was clouded. I was just reacting, rather than responding. I knew then that something has to change.

Enjoying time with Sophia.

Through discussions with friends, family, colleagues and support professionals, I learned a handful of insights that helped me re-establish a sense of calm. I hope these tips will help other people, and not just first-time parents, to cope with whatever they’re going through:

  1. New-parent struggles are surprisingly common.
    As I opened up to family, friends and a support network about my situation, I realised that while my circumstances are unique to me, the broad struggles experienced by new parents are very common.

    Unfortunately, talking about stress and emotional volatility amongst new parents is not easy. It’s not a topic that’s discussed openly because of its sensitive nature and the associated feelings of embarrassment, shame and guilt. But knowing that others have travelled a similar path comforted and inspired me. As unpleasant as it is, what I went through is part of the maturity process.

  2. Don’t be scared to ask for support.
    Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of clarity that you can recognise something isn’t right and you’re willing to get back on track. We’re often conditioned into pushing ourselves to be the best we can be, but we have limits. It’s important to pause and recalibrate when you need help. There is no shame in saying, “Hey, I may need to talk to someone about this”.

    Many people hire a personal trainer to improve their physical health, but there is often a stigma when you seek help to improve your mental health. Fortunately, people are becoming more open about mental health and there are plenty of support avenues available. These include friends and family, your local general practitioner, phone services such as BeyondBlue, Lifeline and Mensline, and work support systems. We have an excellent Employee Assistance Program at work and as an organisation, Accenture offers flexible working arrangements, which is helpful for a young family.

  3. Embrace the chaos.
    I stumbled across a quote that is best summarised as “Stress is when you want something to be different to the way they are”.
    If you’ve ever watched traffic in a city such as Jakarta or Ho Chi Minh, it is utter chaos. An endless stream of cars, scooters, rickshaws and trucks weave amongst each other. It was interesting to watch the faces of the drivers—they were focused and calm. They didn’t let the chaos deter them from safely navigating the traffic.

    Reflecting on the quote above and having experienced traffic at Jakarta, I made a conscious effort to make peace with elements that were causing me grief. If I couldn’t change the external stress factors in my life, then I chose to change the way I handled my emotions, better understand my stress triggers and re-shape how I respond to my surroundings.

  4. Focus on yourself.
    Someone pointed out that I spent 100 percent of my time making sure that my wife, baby, dog and household were ok before I can switch off and relax. While admirable, this habit started to grind me down. I became lost in the busyness of our household and forgot to make time for simple things such as enjoying a hobby.

    The lesson was simple. I need to take care of myself, rest and recuperate. If I’m not able to recover from the stress, I’m more of a hindrance than a help to my family.

  5. Meditate and be mindful.
    A friend advised me to incorporate a meditation app into my daily routine. I feel silly for only recently taking this up, as meditation is key to maintaining a healthy mind and manageable stress levels. Meditation is like eating more vegetables or going to the gym. I know these habits are good for me, but I tend to avoid them if I can. However, meditation can reduce stress, improve your focus and enable you to better control your emotions.

    Today, I set aside five to 10 minutes each day to perform mindfulness or meditation exercises to help centre my mind and calm my thoughts.

  6. Understand that everything’s going to be ok.
    I don’t think I’m out of the woods yet, but my mindset is going in a positive direction. Being a new parent is a great time to reflect on how you shape your child’s upbringing, then using that as motivation to work on personal growth and maturity. The struggle I faced was unpleasant, but I appreciate it as a learning opportunity.

    My challenges in life won’t disappear overnight and there are times when I feel like I’ve undone all my progress. But I now know that I have an opportunity to try again the following day, and the day after that. By embracing the chaos and changing the way I handle emotions and react to situations, I know I’ll be able to sort things out in the end.

Playtime with Sophia.

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