Early Parenthood: Supporting Fathers — [Geraint Davies in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:49 am on 30th January 2019.

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Photo of Paul Masterton Paul Masterton Conservative, East Renfrewshire 9:49 am, 30th January 2019

Thank you, Mr Davies. I congratulate my hon. Friend Tracey Crouch on securing this debate, and I thank her for her support for new MPs who are also fairly new dads. I very much valued the advice that she gave to me in conversations in the Tea Room in my early days here, as I tried to struggle with the largely impossible balance of being an MP and having a young family.

I will touch on a few things from my own experience as a dad of two under-fives. Both my kids were born between midnight and 2 am. It is quite difficult, about 90 minutes after a child is born, for a father to have his wife and child go to the maternity ward while his is simply waved off to drive home. I am lucky; I live about 20 minutes from the hospital, the roads are good, and both my kids were born in May. Lots of dads will drive home in very difficult conditions and will be mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted. Would it not be nice if dads could spend a bit more time on the maternity ward in those early days? It sets the tone for how dads feel a lot in those early months—as if they are one step removed from everything that is going on around them.

After I went back to work, my two overriding emotions were guilt and jealousy, neither of which are very healthy. I felt guilty that my wife had to do all the legwork, and jealous of the fact that she was spending all the time with the kids. I really welcome all the stuff that is being introduced by NHS England—and now also up in Scotland—to try to include dads more in those early parts of the services. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford said, things are quite good on the pre-birth element. Dads go along to the scans and classes, but then they are just chucked to the side in a lot of ways. We need to involve dads much more.

A lot of the support groups are very helpful. I always used to try to get away from work as early as possible and rush home, and I wanted to do loads when I got home. My wife used to say to me, “Well, no, actually, I need you to be the best version of yourself, so don’t feel guilty about getting a good night’s sleep. Don’t feel guilty about going to the pub or seeing your friends, because if you’re in a better frame of mind and feeling better, then you’re a better support for me.” It is important to help new dads to have that confidence in what they are doing.

The last thing I want to mention is although new dads are lots of things, they are not counsellors or trained mental health professionals. It is very difficult for a dad if he is not sure whether his partner is just feeling a bit down or whether there is something that he should be more worried about. I will never forget my wife saying to me one day when she was a bit upset, “I just feel like my world is so small and I don’t know where I stand anymore.” I did not know what to do about that or whether it was something that I should be bothered about. If I am supposed to speak to somebody, who do I speak to? The health visitor comes when I am at work, and I am not going to speak to my colleagues about it. I am not going to sit at my computer at work and type in, “Is my wife depressed?” on Google.

We should not think of support for new dads as just support for them as individuals; we should think about it as supporting new dads to support their partners better. That is the best way to ensure that kids get the best possible grounding in their early years, and to keep a strong, solid functioning family unit that is needed to give children the best start in life.