When my husband and I were in prenatal classes, everything we learned for eight weeks was about moms and babies and how the dads could support us. Until the last week, when the midwife’s husband, a rugged tugboat captain, showed up to take all the fathers to a separate room to discuss the emotional challenges of being new fathers. They were gone for a long time, past the slated end of the class, and returned to the group with changed faces. My husband still talks about that three-hour window as one of the most important conversations of his life, one in which he realized he wasn’t the only man full of worry and anxiety about the future. He says he still feels bonded to those men from the group all these years later.
Why Join a Men's Group?
That experience was just a taste of what it’s like to be in a men’s group, which are support networks, brotherhoods if you will, in which men feel safe expressing their feelings and learning new interpersonal skills. There are all types of men’s groups, from general groups with no specific niche to groups focusing on body image, finances, addiction, relationships, grief, trauma and more. An especially popular type is the men’s group for fathers.
In new parenthood, both parents face the challenges of loneliness, isolation, sleep deprivation, financial strain and more, but while women are likely to discuss these issues with a friend, family member or therapist, most men are less likely to talk about their challenges and emotional responses, making them prone to anxiety and depression.
“Men are taught to relate differently,” says Lee Povey, owner of Pilea Coaching and a men’s group leader. “Women have face-to-face relationships and make it a point to talk to other women, while men tend to have side-by-side relationships where they are together alongside an activity.”
For men who are not taught to connect growing up, having a new baby can be very isolating. And many people don’t realize that postpartum mental health is also a men’s issue. “One in 10 dads get postpartum depression, and up to 18 percent develop a clinically significant anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder at some point during the pregnancy or the first year postpartum,” according to Postpartum Support International. The organization recommends support groups as a healthy course of action to ensure that men have a place to connect and express their challenges and frustrations.
What Do Men's Groups Talk About?
Povey says he was led to men’s groups as an adult because he did not have a healthy masculine role model growing up. He learned firsthand the value of a men’s group when he joined up with Mankind Project, a worldwide organization of men’s groups. “I learned how to deal with conflict healthily,” Povey says. “And I learned tools on how to relate to others and develop healthy male friendships.”
During the pandemic, when he saw friends struggling with loneliness, Povey began to lead his own men’s groups. “It’s very rewarding work,” he says. “Every guy impacted by the group will have an impact on 20, 30 or 50 more people, from their children to their friends, coworkers and family.”
Povey points out that new fathers can benefit from a general men’s group just as much as a fatherhood-specific group. “We all need the same kind of support,” he says. “It’s a powerful thing to talk to a group and not get judged. When guys are met with love and support, it’s amazing how quickly they open up in that scenario. And whenever one guy shares how he feels, a lot of other hands go up to express that they have experienced the same thing. It causes an enormous shift.”
No matter the focus of the group, one of the benefits Povey most appreciates about men’s groups is the redefining of masculinity.
“There’s no one way to be a man,” he says. “Each man has a different way of showing up in the world. An MMA fighter is not more masculine than a stay-at-home dad. We need to learn about mature masculinity, in which all emotions and ways of being are healthy. We all have emotions, and expressing and talking about them is a vital part of the human experience.”
How to Find a Men's Group Near You
Some of the benefits of men’s groups, for new dads or anyone, include learning to connect with others, learning to express your emotions, improving listening skills (which will improve every relationship), learning to communicate your needs with less anger, making friends and deepening the quality of friendships, learning the gift of presence and finding more joy.
To find a men’s group, an internet search will turn up a variety of options, both in person and virtual. You can also ask a therapist about finding a group.
What it all comes down to is love, Povey says. “We’re all little kids inside who want to be seen and loved. Keep remembering that and try to meet people with that compassion. Even having that on your mind makes a huge difference in how you relate to people.”
Molly Harrison loves her life on a sandbar in the Atlantic Ocean. Her home, Nags Head, is on a barrier island as far east as you can get in North Carolina, and she spends as much time as possible in and on the water, at the beach and in the maritime forests. In between she works as a freelance writer and editor, yoga instructor, retreat leader and Reiki practitioner. Helping people feel their best through exercise, energy healing and nature are her passions.
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