Dads who are finding the festive period a struggle are being told not to suffer in silence - because there are fellow fathers from across Lancashire who are ready to help.
The county’s Dadsnet forum - part of a national network inspired by the similarly-named support service for mums - has seen a spike in members in recent months.
There are now around 800 Lancashire dads who are part of a Facebook group which offers advice and support for any men dealing with the daily challenges of fatherhood. And founding member Graham Sims, from Preston, says family problems can be magnified at this time of year.
“Over the Christmas period, everybody is very family-focused and it’s thrown in your face to do this or that with your family,” Graham explains.
“The most important thing is spending time with your children, whether you’ve spent a fiver on them or five grand. Try and enjoy the extra time you’ve got with your family and not worry too much about the added pressure.
“At the end of the day, they’ve got you - and that’s what is most important to them.”
But Graham, dad to two-year-old Chloe, realises that he is one of the lucky ones who gets to see his child every day - and adds that it will be a “tough time” for fathers whose circumstances mean they will be apart from their children over Christmas.
The Dadsnet Lancashire group is designed to offer support whenever men might need it. Its burgeoning membership means there is usually at least one person online at any time of the day or night.
But Graham has arranged formal cover from the group’s moderators over the festive period, when he expects to see more requests for practical help - or just a listening ear.
“Whether a dad has experience of a particular problem or not, they might just be somebody to talk to.
“There are new dads going through things for the first time, who aren’t sure what to do and may be sleep deprived. So the older fathers can offer advice to the younger ones coming through.
“And then there’s the older dads who’ve maybe got issues with teenagers and just need advice,” Graham says.
He formed the Lancashire outpost of Dadsnet when he took shared parental leave to help look after newborn Chloe - and found little in the way of online support tailored for dads.
“Men don’t often get things off their chest - we keep it in,” Graham admits. “The primary role of the forum is to give men somewhere to vent.”
Two years later, the group is largely running itself and the support network - made up mostly of men aged between their mid-20s and mid-30s - now straddles the online and the real worlds.
“The support lasts for as long as it's needed. There are people in similar situations to each other who now meet up for a coffee - half the time, the group doesn’t need to get involved, as dads do it for themselves.
But the message this Christmas is that dads do not need to do it all - and should seek the support which others are only too willing to supply.
DELIVERING A BETTER BIRTH FOR DADS
The trust which runs the Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble Hospitals has enlisted the Lancashire branch of Dadsnet to make childbirth a better experience for fathers - and help new mums in the process.
Three of the group were invited to take part in a walk-around of the maternity wards to give a “Dad’s eye” opinion.
“The maternity process can be so difficult for mums,” founder Graham Sims says. “And the midwives were great with my wife, but I was just a shadow.
“If dads knew more about it all, they could try to help it be as peaceful a birth as possible,” he adds.
Cathy Atherton, Director of Midwifery at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals, told a recent board meeting of the trust that it had traditionally proved difficult to get feedback from new fathers about their experience in the delivery suite - and the build up to the big day.
“Now we can ask a question via the forum and get dozens of opinions the next day,” she says.
“We were even told that dads liked the fake flowers which we were going to get rid of.”