We’re sure that everybody has told you that once you have a baby your social life is all over. Without a doubt, your life will change in many ways. For instance, you will never again know the experience of sleeping in. In fact, for the first twelve months you won’t even know what it’s like to sleep for a couple of hours in a row! You will also never be able to watch another three-hour movie uninterrupted again. Forget about watching Scarface, Goodfellas, Heat or any of the Lord of the Rings movies again. The only thing you’ll be able to watch uninterrupted in their entirety are TV ads.
In short, things will be changing in a big way.
Research conducted by Action for Children shows that 52% of new parents felt both lonely and socially isolated. This happens for many different reasons but most notably this feeling of isolation arises over a drastic shift from a previous life to one we haven’t become accustomed to yet. The reality of it is, for the first month or two, with a newborn in the house, neither you or your partner will be getting out much. You’ll be getting to know your baby and your baby will be getting to know you. These new roles take some getting used to and will take time… lots of time. Let us rephrase that… it will take ALL THE TIME.
But after 6-8 weeks (we know, that sounds like forever) you’ll start to get into the rhythm of this parenting thing, you’ll start to feel more comfortable with being a dad and life will settle down.
Your little one is totally dependent on you. You probably would have known beforehand that the baby isn’t going to change their own nappy, make their own dinner or help you mow the lawn. But you don’t really see how dependant they really are until you have one. It’s a gigantic responsibility. As a result, you throw all your attention and energy into helping them with absolutely everything. You may forget that you need to look after yourself as well.
Sometimes parenting is like being on home arrest with a small, little drunk who yells and screams and vomits and then passes out. That’s when the isolation and loneliness can start to kick in. There are all kinds of isolation that you might feel as a new parent. It could be isolation from work life, your social life, geographical isolation or even financial isolation.
If you’re a stay at home dad, the isolation you feel can be even greater than what stay at home mothers can feel. We’ve come along in leaps and bounds when it comes to many aspects of society busting old gender norms but one of the areas where we can still improve on is the notion of a male being the leading parent. Men with babies still don’t have baby change tables in all bathrooms, mother’s groups naturally exclude dads and whenever anyone sees a dad with a baby during the week they praise the dad for giving mum a day off. All this can lead to a pretty isolating experience for a new dad.
Getting out and about and seeing your mates is really important for your mental fitness. You see, the best kind of parents are those who are happy and rested, so you need to get over the guilt of leaving the baby or your partner by themselves and head out to spend some time with your friends. Now you’re going to have to readjust your expectations a little. In the old, pre-baby days, receiving a text message from a mate to see if you want to nick down to the pub for a couple of beers would be something that you could just walk out the door and do without so much as a second thought. Now, you probably still can do that, but your partner will probably change the locks on you by the time you get home. Same goes with staying out and partying all night. You probably still can do that too, but getting up and looking after a teething baby at 7AM after a big night out is like living through your own personal war.
This is where your new life and old life clash. But just because you’re now the co-owner of a little person, that doesn’t mean you can never leave the house again. There is a middle ground.
How to avoid social isolation with a newborn
First up, just get out. We know its tough. A brand new little person requires so many bags of nappies, changes of clothes and toys for entertainment that it feels as if you’re packing up the house and moving half way across the world. But you have to go ahead and pack up the car and get out of there. It doesn’t matter if you’re just going down to the shops or the park but the more you get out and have interactions with people in the real world the less isolated you will fee.
Make play dates. For better or worse, kids are great for making you talk to other kid’s parents. Some of these parents may not be your kind of people and that’s cool. But some of them might be. You’ll be surprised with how much in common you have with other parents of little screaming people.
When people offer to help you, accept help. If a relative or a friend offers to come around and hang out, say YES. Don’t be coy, don’t be polite, don’t think you’re putting them out in any way, just say yes. They wouldn’t offer if they didn’t want to do it and you’re likely to need the help.
You can still go out for a beer with your mates, but you just need to plan ahead. A good thing to do is plan a night out about a week or so in advance and give yourself a knock off time so you can still ‘dad’ in the morning. Hanging out with your friends is a great way to touch base with the world outside of home. Just remember when you’re out with others, be cool about your kid. It may be exciting that they rolled over but remember that it may not be as exciting to others and certainly don’t try and re-enact it!
Hang out with other couples. Other couples with kids don’t care how your kid behaves because their kid is probably doing it too. They don’t care that the conversation is broken up by a baby who’s breaking in new teeth. They don’t care if out of the blue there’s been an explosion of poo and the kid needs to be hosed off and redressed. They’ve totally been there and they fully understand.
Don’t be afraid to go solo. If you’ve got friends and family or your partner is willing to look after the baby and you haven’t got any mates available to hang with, there’s no reason why you can’t just go and do something by yourself. You could go to the movies or the football or do anything you enjoy. Even a few hours of respite out of the home/baby environment can do wonders to recharge your mental health batteries.
Plan a date night with your partner. It’s not all about you… if you can wrangle a babysitter go out and grab a meal with your partner. The time away can help you reconnect as a couple and remind you what it’s like when it’s just the pair of you. If going out at night is difficult because the baby is still breastfeeding then plan a special meal at home and recreate that dinner setting.
Sure, it’s going to be a little harder and you may not be able to do the exact same things as you used to do pre-baby, but that doesn’t mean that you still can’t go out and recharge.
If you want to know more tips on how to ‘dad’ check out these articles in our Being a dad section:
If you’re feeling isolated by having a new baby in the house and you’re struggling you can always pick up the phone and call MensLine Australia. We’re available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to help you out with all your mental health and child tantrum throwing dilemmas.