“When I signed up, I expected a tonne of advice and strategies. What I didn’t expect was the sense of community I got from a bunch of dads who genuinely understand.”

Loneliness amongst parents is a shared feeling, however at least 90 to 95 per cent of parent groups are mostly attended by mums, which can often leave dads feeling isolated, and disconnected from their child or children.

The ‘Being a Dad’ project is a free, confidential, peer-to-peer group aimed at dads, with children aged 2–11 years, from across the four south London boroughs covered by South London and Maudsley — Southwark, Lewisham, Lambeth and Croydon.

How can ‘Being a Dad’ support with feelings of loneliness?

Parent group leaders, Dom and Kevin chair the group, was introduced by Empowering Parents, Empowering Communities (EPEC) and South London and Maudsley. Dom is a passionate father of three boys, one of which is autistic and has ADHD and uses his lived experience to support other dads.

“We follow the EPEC model but with a dad twist. For the first time, we have a group for dads, delivered by dads. We talk about our feelings and we exchange ideas,” said Dom.

“It can be emotional and quite ground-breaking. Many of the dads are sharing information they have never shared with family and friends. It’s a non-judgemental safe space that allows us to explore how we look after ourselves. We can handle the really powerful stuff but still have lots of laughter.”

What can I expect if I join?

The participants of the group are encouraged to implement ideas such as positive reinforcement, with a focus on becoming an assertive parent, instead of adopting a more passive or aggressive parenting style.

“It’s not about right or wrong or penalising dads for their choice of parenting styles. It’s about making improvements and feeling good enough, which helps you mentally because there isn’t the pressure of trying to be this perfect parent,” said Dom.

“We make a point quite early on in our groups that this isn’t a classroom, and we aren’t teachers. We hold the space, introduce the subjects, get a discussion going and as the weeks go on, we step back, so the dads can step forward. We want everyone to have a voice.”

The pandemic changed the way most parent groups were delivered. While this may have impacted engagement and participation in other circumstances, the group found that the virtual offering led to an increase in the number of dads wanting to participate.

“The first group had dads from across south London. Had it been face to face, we never would’ve got the range of diverse people with different experiences,” explained Dom.

“Working with dads from different backgrounds, whether that be socio-economic, religious or cultural, was brilliant. There were dads with several different parenting approaches or personal circumstances, all together in one virtual community. They all had one thing in common, they recognised they needed some support.”

What have previous participants said about the course?

As the project embarks on its second term there has been time for reflection. Dom and Kevin, are always interested in feedback and being able to develop. Many dads have expressed the positive impact the project has had on their mental health and outlook, Victor*, a father of two from Lewisham said.

“When I signed up, I expected a tonne of advice and strategies. What I didn’t expect was the sense of community I got from a bunch of dads who genuinely understand.”

Julian*, a father of one from Southwark pointed out that the course provides ‘good tools to be the same dad that I am, but better’. He said: “It is also both enlightening and comforting to meet all those other parents that are struggling like I am (including the instructors).”

“The overall benefit of these type of groups have a lot to do with smashing the stigma that attending a parenting course means you’re not good enough, a stigma I had myself,” said Dom.

“We want to reassure dads that this does not mean you are failing; this means you can be better supported. It’s about building stronger relationships and connections with your children. It may feel overwhelming now, but you are not alone in this.”

How can I get involved?

For those who prefer to learn independently a ‘Being a Dad Pack’ has been introduced. The content is lighter but still follows the same structure as the online group. Participants receive weekly emails and are offered three ‘Dad MOT’ sessions which are optional drop-in session to come together to talk about their experiences.

For more information on the ‘Being a Dad’ project or how to get involved in other parent/carer groups email EPECproject@slam.nhs.uk — they can help you, access groups, depending on your borough or area.

*Names changed