Young fathers

Support on the path to life with a child

A rollercoaster of emotions as a young father

Being a father is a new and unknown challenge. Anyone who becomes a father at a young age experiences a rollercoaster of emotions in the first few weeks and months: Joy, happiness, uncertainty and excessive demands are closely intertwined and determine everyday life. In this article, you will find helpful tips for a good start to family life with a child.

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And suddenly life is different

Having a baby changes everything - this applies equally to all first-time fathers, but especially to men who become fathers at a young age. Friends and acquaintances of the same age may not even be thinking about children yet because they are busy with education, university, starting a job and generally finding their way in life. While your friends' lives revolve around partying and traveling, you are suddenly looking after a little creature that demands your full attention.

The feeling of missing out on something is completely normal at this moment. And it's also normal to feel overwhelmed at first. The good news is: it's the same for everyone who has their first child. Be patient. Your life is by no means over, quite the opposite: becoming a father at a young age has its advantages. Taking responsibility for a child gives your life a new direction. New and enriching perspectives open up. If you talk to other young fathers about fatherhood topics, but also about other things that interest you, you will soon realize: Being a young father is very enriching! And when your child grows up and becomes more independent, you will still be young and fit.

Tips for young fathers

The birth of a child is a significant event in life and a challenge for any relationship. As a father, you often deal with children differently than a mother. And that's a good thing!

Babies love and need this difference. The interplay of gut feeling and intuition is often a good guide. So everyone finds their own way. Jens Fechtemeier, fatherhood advisor and project coordinator of "Yup! Power for young dads", gives tips for your new fatherhood:

  • The dormant pole
    When your partner and the baby come home, you first have to get to know each other. Everything is new and exciting. A baby often makes you forget everything else. As long as there is no paternity leave, it is helpful to have time off and enjoy the new impressions and moments. Of course, breastfeeding is not possible, but the father can do everything else such as changing, washing, dressing and giving the bottle just as well as the mother: sharing tasks is a great help. The midwife will help you with any uncertainties and often has good "life hacks" that you can use to strengthen the bond with your baby.
  • To-Do's
    Of course there is also "paperwork" to do. Anything you weren't able to do before the birth must now be organized: Registering the child at the registry office, child benefit, parental allowance and much more. Some things can already be done online, but your partner will certainly be happy about every administrative task you take care of for her. If you are still unsure: Advice centers know what needs to be done and here on the Familienportal.NRW there are checklists to help you get an overview.
  • Partnership
    The partnership often changes after the birth. This is normal, after all there are new tasks and different roles for you and your partner. You often don't know whether you're doing everything right; the lack of sleep makes both mother and father more irritable and this can cause patience to break. It's also helpful for fathers to say exactly that, for example: "I'm tired", "I feel insecure" or "I can't take any more!" Often your partner feels the same way and you will understand better what is good for both of you now and can encourage each other. Your baby will thank you for it! And if things don't work out the way you want them to: Fathers' and men's counseling services will be happy to help you!
  • Leisure time
    Free time is very important for both parents. Everyone needs to catch their breath and recharge their batteries. That's why it's great to divide up tasks according to different strengths. Maintaining your own hobbies and interests creates energy. One arrangement could be, for example, that you and your partner each have a fixed evening a week to do sport or meet friends. Many fathers enjoy spending time alone with their child and actively taking on challenges. This also makes you an important family factor.
  • Patience and composure
    Many fathers ask themselves again and again how they can manage the many new tasks and expectations in order to fulfill their role as an active father. A good piece of advice is: patience! Nobody is perfect and nobody can do everything the first time. It often takes a few weeks or months for everything to settle in and for you to find the new tasks easier. It is not uncommon for emotions to go crazy after the birth. The hormonal changes after pregnancy can lead to temporary mood swings in mothers. Your partner may be irritable or sad if something is not working so well, e.g. breastfeeding. Your male understanding for these little emotional outbursts, your calmness and when you react with a loving hug right then, it's a nice feeling for your partner and your relationship.

"Fathers can do everything - except breastfeed!"

"My life changed completely from one day to the next," says Rafael* about the most drastic experience in his life so far. It was January 17, 2023. "I'll never forget that date," claims the young father, who was unexpectedly confronted with the situation of having to take on full responsibility for raising his son. He is traveling in the Ruhr region on business when he receives a call from the parent-child home where the mother lives with their son. He is told on the phone that he has to pick up his child at short notice or he will be placed in a foster family within the next 48 hours. He doesn't know exactly what happened, only that the mother is mentally ill and unable to look after the child. From now on, Rafael has to decide about his own and his son's future with all its consequences. Nico* is just eight weeks old.

"Of course I was shocked, but I didn't hesitate for a second," says Rafael. Everything had to happen quickly back then. Fortunately, his employer was very understanding of the situation. Rafael was able to drive home immediately and was with his son within two hours to receive him. "It was a strange feeling with Nico in my arms. I had nothing - no baby equipment, no crib, no furniture," he recalls. He was still living with his parents at the time, which turned out to be a great blessing. Rafael's mother and Nico's grandmother are a great support in looking after the baby, while his father initially helps with dealing with the authorities. After all, there's a lot to sort out.

Professionally, financially, domestically - everything changes from one day to the next. Rafael has to take care of the children and is currently unable to pursue his job as a long-distance driver. "I really underestimated how much attention such a small being requires," he admits. Questions about baby care, nutrition, development and upbringing - he has to learn everything. Everyday life also needs to be reorganized, including restless nights. But it works well. Also thanks to the support of his family. Rafael takes parental leave, applies for parental allowance and has now extended his parental leave to three years with his employer's consent. "I really miss my job as a long-distance driver, and of course the freedom of being independent. But my son's smile when he wakes up in the morning and smiles at me is simply the best thing that can happen to you and it makes up for everything," he says happily. The young father proudly talks about his son's good development. Every milestone is a success, for example when Nico starts to crawl, takes his first running steps or says "daddy" for the first time.

The young father receives support from the help system. He gladly accepts offers such as the family meeting with baby, even though he is the only father among mothers. Rafael has no reservations. On the contrary. He says: "We men often want to do it alone. But that's not the right way. It's much better to accept help where help is available." At the Familientreff, a specialist advises him to contact the SKM counseling service for young fathers. They have the "JUP! project - Power for young dads", which focuses on advising and supporting young fathers. Rafael says he would have liked to have known about this help earlier. Without any complications, he is provided with men's counselor Jens Fechtemeier from SKM. The two meet twice a week to organize the single father's everyday life, submit applications to the authorities, apply for funding, discuss parenting issues and organize childcare. Or simply to have a chat over a cup of coffee. Talking from man to man is important. "Help in the head" is what Rafael calls it. It's valuable to have a different perspective sometimes. And knowing that you have someone behind you who you can rely on when help is needed.

It's these little impulses that remove stumbling blocks and are also useful when dealing with the authorities, for example when it comes to permits. Rafael also has concrete ideas for the near future. He wants to build a nice home for himself and his son in a stable social environment. This is particularly important to him. He has just moved into his own apartment. Nico will continue to go to a childminder for the next two years and then to nursery when he is three years old. The application for a daycare place has already been submitted. Thanks to the childminder, he has some time for himself and his hobbies, and in future he will have a part-time job. In the afternoons, he looks after Nico intensively: children's gymnastics is on the agenda, among other things, and a baby swimming course is coming up soon. Rafael also wants to get back to his job soon, get off the income support and become financially independent. His employer has already signaled their full support.

And what advice does Rafael have for other fathers facing similar challenges? "My experience as a single father has taught me that you shouldn't be afraid. Approach everything calmly, the routine comes with time. And if it doesn't work one hundred percent the first time, it will the second time. My motto is: never let it get you down and, above all, seek advice and accept help! If there's one thing I've learned, it's that we fathers can do everything just as well as mothers, except breastfeeding."

The interview was conducted in 2024. *All names have been changed

Where can I find help and advice?

The joint project "Young fathers in view" by SKM Bundesverband e. V. and the local associations in Düsseldorf, Osnabrück and Rheydt - funded by Aktion Mensch - addresses young fathers and provides low-threshold individual and group offers. With support, advice and guidance for young fathers, practical training and offers to help them come to terms with their new role, the aim is to enable men to establish contact with their children.

You can find information about the project here:

SKM - Sozialdienst katholischer Frauen und Männer Düsseldorf e.V.

Ulmenstraße 67, 40476 Düsseldorf, phone: 0211 4696-0

info@skfm-duesseldorf.de

SKM - Katholischer Verein für soziale Dienste Rheydt e. V.

.V.

Waisenhausstraße 22, 41236 Mönchengladbach-Rheydt

Telephone 02166 130970, info@skm-ry.de

SKM Osnabrück e. V. JuP!- JuP!Power for young dads

Johannisstraße 24, 49074 Osnabrück, phone 0175 4385792, j.fechtemeier@skm-osnabrueck.de

For challenges with early fatherhood, Caritas' online counseling service Echte Männer reden also offers easily accessible and helpful support.

As a young father, you should not be afraid to visit parenting advice centres or youth welfare offices to clarify organizational and legal issues. Even if you have the feeling that you can't get out of conflicts on your own, you are welcome to take advantage of the free advice offered by a parental advice center. You'll get answers and support there!

Do you have questions about pregnancy or being a father? (Expectant) fathers can get professional and confidential advice at pregnancy advice centers. You can find more information here on the Familienportal.NRW.

Are you still in vocational training?

If your training relationship is based on an employment contract, you can take parental leave during your training.

Are you already working?

Many employers offer variable working time models. If you are taking parental leave, you can find relevant information and tips in the article Parental leave for fathers too here on Familienportal.NRW.

Are you enrolled at a university?

Student fathers can find advice on important topics relating to studying with a child at most universities. The Studierendenwerke also provide information and support.

Real men talk: These counseling services by men for men of the SKM Bundesverband e. V. offer support with questions or in crises - at many locations in NRW. Low-threshold, anonymous and free of charge, online and offline.

The Fathers in Cologne association is a recognized provider of independent child and youth welfare services and provides emancipatory family education. The focus is on fathers. The offer: Information and advice on various topics relating to fatherhood.

Helpful checklists on financial aid and state benefits for families and children can be found here on the Familienportal.NRW: