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   Inside Out - South East: Monday February 21, 2005


Be my baby - childcare is hard work for young parents

Being a father is one of the toughest jobs anyone can take on. But being a dad when you're extremely young is an even harder proposition. Young mums complain that these dads haven't got the maturity for fatherhood.

Inside Out meets three young dads who became fathers when they were barely more than kids themselves.

Parenthood is hard work a the best of times, but being a young parent is one of the most difficult situations to be in.

An increasing number of young men and teenagers are becoming dads at a very early age.

For three young South East dads it's a situation they know all too well. We asked them about their views on fatherhood today.

Martin's story

Martin Dykes is 23-years-old and has six children with two different mothers plus another baby on the way.

When it comes to parental responsibility Martin has more heaped on his shoulders than most.

Martin  Dykes
Coping with young children can be a juggling act for dads

Martin has one child of his own, plus five step children from his wife Karen's previous relationships.

Karen is now seven months pregnant with Martin's baby.

As well as inheriting a ready made family Martin also has a child from a previous relationship too.

He was just 14 when he first became a dad, and he could become a grandfather before he's 30.

The price of parenthood

Martin is currently unemployed and looking for work, which makes life tough when it comes to the family's weekly budget:

Parent power

Research findings:

* Babies with involved fathers smile more, develop faster and do better as they grow up.
* A strong and positive relationship with a male partner can be a huge help if their mother is finding it hard to cope with a new baby.
* Depression in new fathers often lifts when they take more responsibility for their newborn babies. It's good for dads to learn through their own mistakes.
* The more fathers are in charge of parenting, the more confident they become. Hands-off parenting diminishes confidence.
* Fathers involved in baby care courses take on more care of their babies and become closer to them.
* When fathers are involved with their children before the age of 11, the children are less likely to have a criminal record before they're 21.

Source: Fathers Direct

"Bills are around £200 a week. I only get £100 off the Job Centre a week."

So does he ever think about why he got involved in all of this parenting in the first place?

"No, no... I don't mind it. I had lots of brothers and sisters - you get used to it."

Karen is 15 years older than Martin, but she's impressed at how he's coping with fatherhood:

"The younger ones look at him as dada. They don't know any difference. He is good with them.

"He has got the body of a young man, but he's an old man already," she laughs.

But although Martin enjoys family life, his advice to other young men considering fatherhood is salutary:

"Wait. Go and have fun. Wait until you're older - that is my advice."

Chris' story

"Teenagers need to know what it is like to be a dad." Chris Miller, 22-year-old father of two children.

Chris Miller is 22-years-old and has two children by different women.

Chris has a five-year-old a son called Callum who lives with him - he had the baby with his then-girlfriend when he was just 17.

At the time it was a huge shock and pressure. Chris explains how he felt when he attended the hospital and first saw his son.

"It was like someone had just parked a lorry on my chest."

Chris Miller with baby
Looking after baby - the huge responsibility of playing dad

When the relationship ended, Chris met someone else and then had a baby called Shannon.

Chris split up with her mum last year and rarely sees his daughter.

With two children before his 21st birthday, Chris needed help so his mum Jenny came to the rescue.

She's now the official guardian to Callum and looks after him full-time.

"He's a very good dad, he loves his son. He's an idiot but he's young," she says of Chris.

And Chris is the first to admit it, "I've been irresponsible in the past - definitely. It was really my irresponsibility that split me and my son's mum up".

"I look at blokes aged 31 having kids and I understand why. They've got a mortgage, a life built, a full time job - everything that I haven't."

Luke's story

Luke Denson is a good mate of Chris' and he is also a young dad - he has one child called Reece who is nearly two-years-old.

He broke up with the child's mother last year so he only sees Reece once a week.

Luke Denson
Luke is a "one day a week dad" which is hard work

"I really did try to deal with it but I don't think you should stay together if you're arguing.

He's the first to admit that parenthood is no walk in the park:

"Yeah, it is tough - they either want a bottle, their bum changing, the dummy or they want a cuddle."

"Eventually I've learned what the baby wants".

Luke has decided that he now wants to wait before having another baby until he finds someone to marry him.

Caring clinics

When it comes to dealing with young mums and dads it's the local GPs who are on the frontline.

But it's often hard to get young dads to come to the surgery, as GP Julian Spinks explains:

"Young men have always been the most difficult group to get into a surgery."

Traditional family
The family with 2.4 kids is a thing of the past

Health workers have found that young dads are happy to go to the pub to talk about their parenting issues.

But it's a different story when you try to bring them over to a family centre to chat.

With a large number of teenagers starting families early, he knows how important it is to engage young fathers in their children's health care.

"Odds on I get young mums coming in on their own - very rarely I'll get a father coming along too."

Last year the Twydall Family Welfare Association decided to run a weekly parenting group exclusively for fathers.

"We are now putting adverts up behind the bar in pubs and social clubs, anywhere where young men gather so we can let them know this advice service is available."

"We've really got to go to the settings where they enjoy life."

Changing times

Times have changed and the family unit of two adults and 2.4 children is no more.

The message from the three young fathers we spoke to is clear - wait, bide your time and go and have some fun before having a family.

Luke and Chris both agree that being young and immature doesn't help fathers to understand what mothers go through during pregnancy.

"Wait until you are older - and have a proper job first, that's the best thing. That's where I made the mistake."
Martin Dykes

Very young dads lack the emotional maturity to understand what their partner may be going through during and after the birth.

However, for those who have started a family, there's increasing practical support and advice to help dads with practical parenting.

Think twice

Although our three young dads learned their parenthood skills the hard way, other teenagers and young men need to think twice about becoming a dad so soon.

The proportion of British families headed by a single parent now tops 25%.

There's also a huge number of couples with children from previous relationships.

The message is that responsible parenting is more important than ever before, whatever a father's family situation, as Chris explains:

"They should really teach teenagers and let them know what it's really like to be a dad. They don't give you a handbook... it's tough."

The best way forward is clearly to educate our future parents.

See also ...

Inside Out: South East
Food - school
Generation gap

On the rest of Inside Out
Surrogate motherhood
Young carers

BBC Parenting

On the rest of the web
Fathers Direct
Practical parenting
Home Dad
One Parent Families
Families Need Fathers

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