Beating the New-Father Blues
Dec. 6, 2016
Many fathers in Japan are struggling to find a balance between work and childrearing, and experts say it's leading to problems with anxiety and depression.
It was once common for fathers in Japan to focus on working outside the home while mothers raised the children. Now more women work full time, so fathers are discovering the challenges of maintaining a work-life balance.
A recent survey suggests that 80 percent of fathers think taking an active role in raising their kids is just as important as being a good worker. Workplace practices have not kept pace, however, and that's taking a particular toll on fathers.
One man began suffering from depression shortly after his child was born. Both he and his wife work full-time and they took turns taking their child to daycare and doing household chores.
"Since the beginning, I've wanted to be more involved in caring for my child," he says.
But that idea didn't sit well with his employers.
"When my kid gets sick I need to leave the office, but if that happens too often, people ask why my wife can't deal with it," he says.
He was exhausted from working overtime and when he got home, there were still chores to do so he got very little sleep. His wife asked him to assume even more responsibility at home and the pressure mounted.
"I thought it might be tougher for my wife, and I shouldn't complain," he says. "I felt I had to try harder, and that added to my stress."
He developed insomnia, and was diagnosed with depression. He had to take a leave of absence from work. Anxiety and depression are becoming all too common among fathers of young children.
Midwives are learning how they can help.
"Some dads say they have a hard time when they're told to do more to support their wives," says Kenji Takehara, who studies the mental health of fathers, at the National Center for Child Health and Development.
He says that nearly 17 percent of new fathers show signs of depression within 3 months of the birth of a child, and that the issue deserves more attention.
"Maternal postnatal depression is a very big problem. But not many people know that it's common among fathers as well," Takehara says. "I think we should lend support not only to mothers but also to fathers."
Experts say that society must adapt to current realities.
"Men feel more pressure to get involved in childcare, but society is not ready to allow them to cut back on their work commitments, so that only compounds their anxiety," says Toshiyuki Tanaka, an associate professor at Musashi University. "People who work hard to do their best both at work and at home tend to get exhausted."
Tatsuya Mochizuki found his own way to cope with his new role as a father. He and his wife constantly disagreed about their duties.
"My husband and I didn't see eye to eye when it came to raising our child," says his wife, Sae. "In certain areas, I think I was too demanding."
"I would suddenly start crying uncontrollably," Mochizuki says. "I didn't know how to channel my emotions, so I threw things."
Mochizuki now turns to other fathers in the neighborhood for help. They talk about housework and childrearing, or other things they're reluctant to discuss with their wives.
"My wife is very picky about the laundry, like when to add softener or how to fold clothes," Mochizuki says. "So we decided she does the laundry and I do the cooking."
He says it's a relief to hang out with fellow dads.
Some couples are now trying to head off problems before their children are born. A local government agency in a city near Tokyo is offering this class to help would-be parents work on their communication skills.
"Once a child is born, the relationship between husband and wife changes completely," says Masayoshi Yanagida, who lectures in the classes. "Unless you take time to talk, it becomes harder to understand each other... and that makes it harder to live together."
Participants write down their hopes and fears, and talk about them. Organizers hope that learning how to communicate will keep small problems from becoming more serious.
"We hope that couples will learn that speaking their minds can be part of a caring relationship," says Mihoko Osawa, who organizes the training classes. "They should learn before they become parents that it makes a huge difference."