Joys and challenges of fatherhood in the bush

  • Father and baby daughter on a tractor
  • Father and baby using mobile phone

In a bid to understand the different challenges faced by rural dads, SMS4dads took to the road and headed west to Gunnedah and Tamworth, in north-east New South Wales.

Accompanied by a video crew, we interviewed dads about their experiences on a range of topics including the joys of fatherhood, dads’ role in pregnancy and childbirth discussions, ways of supporting each other through the journey and the impacts of mental health struggles on parenting.

We are grateful to these rural dads, who generously shared their feelings of vulnerability, their struggles and fears, as well as the joys that come with fatherhood.

The recurring theme of distance arose – a perennial challenge for people in rural and remote communities – such as increased anxiety levels when a sick baby meant a four-and-a-half-hour car trip for medical treatment. These stresses, compounded by juggling work commitments and trying to remain financially stable, impact mental health.

Dads told us that receiving the SMS4dads messages helped them feel more in touch with being a father, understand what’s ‘normal’ and access information that enabled them to look after their own mental health as well as their partners’.

Rural dads typically don’t work nine to five, so the convenience of being able to read the messages when and where they chose was seen as a real advantage.

Developed by researchers and clinicians, the messages are then reviewed by fathers, mothers and clinicians to ensure that they are easily understood and clearly reflect what is happening during pregnancy and the first year of life. Like all dads, the rural dads were impressed by the timeliness of the messages in relation to their partners’ stage of pregnancy or their babies’ development.

So, how does SMS4dads work?

SMS4dads is a free service that helps fathers understand and connect with their baby and partner through text messages that provide info, tips and encouragement. Dads can join up from 12 weeks into a pregnancy and throughout the first year of parenthood.

Once enrolled, dads receive brief text messages with tips, information and links to other services to help them understand and connect with their baby and support their partner. Dads who join up receive three messages a week.

When enrolling, dads enter the expected date of delivery or bub’s birthdate, so the texts are linked to the developmental stage of the baby. Some messages provide tips and encouragement. Others are health related, with information on looking after their baby or about being mindful of their own health and ways to support their partner. 

Checking in with dads is also an important part of the program. A set of MoodTracker interactive texts are interwoven within the messages to find out how dads are coping. If a dad says he’s not doing so well and doesn’t have anyone to talk to, a health professional from a relevant service makes contact to check in and see if he would like some support. 

Do you want to sign up for SMS4dads?

Are you a health professional and would like to try our sample messages?

Any questions? Email us at [email protected]

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