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Sad Dad during divorce

Separation, stigma and support: dads dealing with divorce

November 2, 2023

At Parenting Expert, we are aware that when it comes to supporting dads through divorce, there is far less support available to them than there appears to be for women. We spoke to Chris Trott from Helpu about divorce and how it affects men.

As a counsellor and divorced dad-of-three, 45-year-old Chris Trott has a valuable perspective on men’s mental health. He is an ambassador for Helpu, a recently launched mental health charity for men in Wales: www.helpu.org.uk

While November is men’s mental health awareness month. Chris firmly believes that it’s crucial for men to explore their emotions and support their mental wellbeing every month, not just during Movember.

Chris became a single father to three young children seven years ago (then aged eight, six, and two). He is using his experiences to share some key advice for men, especially dads, dealing with divorce. Here’s what he had to say:

Seek support from your employer and trust in time as your friend

“At first, I tried to go straight back to work, but it just wasn’t possible. I am a children’s councillor in a school, so I was in an incredibly fortunate position where my employer already had an employee mental health support system in place. I was able to take three months off work to re-build my mental health.

Not everyone has this privilege, and it can also be difficult to seek support when society expects you to throw yourself back into work. But I encourage, actually plead, for every man to utilise the support on offer and take leave so that you can face your emotions head-on and focus on getting better.

It saddens me to know that many men, especially tradesmen and those in manual industries, don’t have that support. A high number of male suicides are committed by men in manual roles, where they’re expected to feed into the macho masculine stereotype and don’t speak about mental health. Please, men, seek support, talk about your emotions, and break the stigma so you can get better.”

Be sure to fill your mental battery so you can give your children 100%

“I’ve always viewed myself as a great father, but in the weeks following my divorce, I was plagued with guilt because I wasn’t seeing my children as much as I once did. To give them a sense of family unity, I tried to fill our time with countless different fun activities, but I was in such a negative mental state that I wasn’t really present for any of them.

It wasn’t until I sought support and began to care for my mental wellbeing that I regained my perspective as a father and discovered my single parenting personality. My son even turned around to me and said, ‘you’re an even better dad than you were before.’ That just goes to show that you have to show up for yourself to be able to show up for your children.”

Vulnerability, honesty and transparency are always the best policies

“No father wants to have the conversation of divorce with his children, but I found firsthand that talking openly, honestly, and vulnerably with your children can actually turn it into a bonding experience.

It’s an opportunity to educate them on what divorce is, what it looks like from family to family, and how your new dynamic will look. Use this time to show them that you’re also hurting and express to them how much they’re loved. By being vulnerable and willing to talk, your children are more likely to react reasonably and even make a conscious effort to support you. My daughter was very compassionate with me when she saw I was hurting, and it has made us closer than ever.”

Adopt your own parenting method

“I really struggled with feeling like I should adopt my ex-wife’s parenting method when we first separated, which just didn’t align with my relationship with my children or my own parenting persona. Then, counselling introduced me to the idea of parallel parenting, which I’d never heard of before.

Parallel parenting is when both parties with joint custody adopt individual parenting methods. These rules don’t cross between homes, and the children abide by one set of rules for each parent. This was important for me, as it encouraged me to have limited, formal contact with my ex-partner and set core boundaries that were vital to my mental state at the time.”

Please, please, join a local men’s mental wellbeing club

“A few years after my divorce, I reached out to the men’s mental health charity, Brawd (Welsh for brother), based in Cardiff. Sitting in a room with men who are experiencing similar emotions to what you’re feeling, regardless of their situation, is liberating.

It really helped me to hear their stories and, eventually, voice my own, although I didn’t have to. I still attend their weekly sessions, despite being in a much healthier mind space, because I know how important my story and presence are to someone else.

I’ve turned my experience into an opportunity to help other men feel supported. Our mission at Helpu (Welsh for help) and Brawd, is to show other men that they’re not alone and that, most importantly, you can overcome mental health barriers, just like we did. In Wales, men are four times more likely than women to die of suicide, and this needs to end.”

Men sat in a circle at a therapy session

If you need help and support through a divorce, contact Helpu.

Read more articles from Parenting Expert aimed at supporting Dad’s mental health here.



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