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What I Wish I Knew When I Was a New Dad

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Thursday, August 06, 2020

What I Wish I Knew When I Was a New Dad

Thirteen experienced dads share some of the words of wisdom they wished they heard when they were first starting out.

By Matt Christensen Mar 11 2019, 2:04 PM

New dads have one thing in common: They don’t know what they don’t know. That is, until they’re not really new dads anymore, and what they know now becomes what they wish they would’ve known then. A lot can happen during those years between the trip home from the delivery room and, well, what comes next. And it’s those years that experienced fathers often look back on with precise hindsight, wishing not for a do-over, but maybe for a do-wiser.

To provide some insight to those of you who are just starting down the road of fatherhood, we talked to a variety of experienced dads about what they wished they knew when they were just starting out. If you’re a veteran dad, read on and reflect. If you’re a new dad, take notes.


1. Give Their Growing Brains More Credit

“I wish I knew how absorbent kids were. Not for cleaning up spills [laughs], but how much stuff they’ll remember about being a kid. Their brains are just constantly taking stuff in. My son is 12 now, and he reminds me about stuff we did when he was, like, three years old. Not detail-by-detail, but definitely much more clearly than I can remember some of those things. The rub is that he remembers the good — like pony rides and the ceramic owl that inspired his first word — but also the times when his mother and I were going through rough patches. Again, he doesn’t remember exactly what was said or anything, but he says he remembers the feelings around the house. Looking back, I wish I would’ve given his growing brain a little more credit.” – Keith, 43, Ohio


2. Time Goes by Very Quickly

“I wish I knew how fast the time really went, and how to be more present in the moment. You think they’re going to be little forever and you’re always going to have enough time to play and just do silly kid stuff. And then, all of a sudden, they’re driving themselves to the movies with friends, or you’re bringing them to their girlfriend’s house. I loved their childhood, but I wished I’d slowed down a bit more and really took stock of how fleeting those years really are. Because they’re definitely gone now.” – Jeremy, 44, New York


3. There’s Never Enough Space

“I wish I knew how much storage babies required. We had a nursery, and I thought that would be good to go. But, man, babies require stuff! All kinds of stuff. There’s the basic lot of diapers and toys and clothes, but then there’s space you need for the strollers, the car seats, the gates, the special furniture. It’s a lot! And the bummer is, most of it is obsolete after about six months or a year because the baby just keeps growing. Thank God for Craigslist, ya know?” – Jonathan, 39, Maryland


4. Relax, Poop Isn’t that Bad

“I wish I knew that poop isn’t that gross. Before your first kid, poop is sort of a mythical element. You only experience it in very private situations, or during rare, extraordinary events. With a new baby, though, it’s literally shit all the time. I was terrified to have to change diapers — I believed all the hype. But, it really wasn’t/isn’t that bad. It’s like watching the Saw movies or playing Mortal Kombat. You just get desensitized to it after a while.” – Brian M., 38, Ohio


5. Not All Arguments Need to Be Won

“I wish I knew how to pick my battles. For some reason — I say some reason, but really it was crappy parenting blogs and friends with kids — I thought I had to ‘win’ every argument with my daughter when she was young. I felt like it was necessary to establish myself as an authority figure. I had to be my own iron regime, or my kid would start taking advantage of my weakness, exposing my flaws, blah, blah, blah. The truth is, it absolutely did not matter if she ate all of her vegetables or stayed up an extra 20 minutes. In fact, lightening up and not arguing with her about every little thing probably would’ve saved me a few wrinkles.” – Brian R., 38, Ohio


6. It’s Okay to Ask For Help

“I wish I’d asked for more help. Not just to lighten the load of raising a child, but because I was surrounded by people who knew what they were talking about. I was so determined to, like, forge my own path that I think I put a lot of pressure on myself — and probably my wife — that I really didn’t need to. There were people around us who loved us and wanted to help, and we did let them, but I definitely could’ve been more flexible, I think.” – Adam, 44, Georgia


7. Your Bed Is No Longer Yours

“I wish I knew that our bed — mine and my wife’s — wouldn’t be ours anymore. As soon as our son was old enough to start running away from nightmares and monsters in the closet, he was in our bed just about every night. I can’t really complain, though. Those memories — just lying there with him and my wife, rubbing his head while he fell back to sleep — still melt my heart.” – Jordan, 35, Florida


8. Screen Time Isn’t As Evil As It’s Made Out to Be

“I wish I knew how full of shit baby boomers are when it comes to technology. ‘Oh, your kid is always in front of that screen! He should be outside playing with his friends!’ Why can’t it be both? In fact, why can’t one help the other? My son’s hand-eye coordination is probably better because of all the apps and games he loved playing on our iPad when he was little. And when he goes outside to play, he finds bugs, plants, wildlife – all sorts of things that he wants to learn about. And guess what? Now he knows where and how to look them up. There is a balance between Angry Birds – that’s what he played when he was little – and tapping a metal hoop down the street with a stick, old farts.” – Allan, 37, California


9. It’s Okay to Make Mistakes

“I wish I knew it was okay to drop a baby. Now, let me clarify: it’s not good to drop a baby. But, despite what your first-timer parent fears will tell you, it’s not the end of the world if your baby rolls off the couch, falls off your lap, or even just gets a cut or bruise. As soon as your first kid is born, the absolute worst case scenario is anything having to do with that baby being harmed. If you even come exponentially close to something like that, you’re beating yourself up for weeks. Maybe months. Don’t. There’s a chance it won’t happen. But there’s also a chance it will. And, if it does, it’s important to remember that, if it were something you could’ve prevented, you would have. And, for the record, when they get older, kids love hearing the stories. Especially if they happened to siblings.” – Rudy, 41, Ohio


10. There’s A Lot of Nonsense to Keep Track Of

“I wish I knew how much there would be to remember about kid culture. When your kid starts getting into stuff — like how we got into Transformers, Ninja Turtles, etc. — it just becomes this flood of ridiculous names, and logos, and noises, and songs, and toys in which you can never, ever get sure footing. You have to know the difference between Shopkins, Hatchimals, Fingerlings…these are all real things. That brain we used to have for remembering comic book issues and baseball card stats? It’s gone. You’re lucky if you can get part of it back. It’ll help in a big way.” – Al, 44, Pennsylvania


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How I Stopped Being an Angry Dad

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Tuesday, August 04, 2020

How I Stopped Being an Angry Dad

I used to be angry. It took me a long time to admit and even a longer time to improve, but I've finally arrived at a better place.

By David Willans Jul 15 2020, 2:51 PM



I used to be an angry dad. I remember the moment I realized it, feeling as though I’d slapped myself in the face. It was a cold morning, but I was sweating through my work clothes, carrying three bags, stomping along after my children on their scooters. In my rush to get out of the house and to school and work, I got angry.

Not just raised voices, but really angry. I lost control of myself, physically manhandling them into their coats and shoes, picking them up and putting them outside the front door. Later, I remember the deep feeling of shame, guilt, and regret. My only saving grace was that nothing really bad actually happened, but it could have. I wasn’t in control.

I’m an angry dad, I thought. Something I never wanted to be. I needed to fix it fast. That was five years ago. Since then I’ve worked very hard to become patient and understand what it means to be a good dad. I’ve learned about child development, what happens in our brains and bodies when we get angry, and how to create the space between emotional reactions and real-world actions. There are some important takeaways.


When we get angry, two things happen. We focus on ourselves and the moment — how they’ve made us feel, how much we’re trying — and we assume malicious intent.I’ve realized that kids aren’t really trying to wind you up. It’s not about you, it’s about them.
The trigger for their action is either:

Something physical. They’re tired, hungry, thirsty or need the bathroom.


Something emotional. Friendship problems or not getting enough of your attention, because a sibling, work or something else is getting more of it. Remember: You are one of the few people they love and depend on more than anyone else in the world.


Something evolutionary. They’re growing, their job is to learn about the world. The only way to do that properly is to try new things and see what happens. While the unintended consequence of their action might be your angry reaction, it wasn’t the motive.

Often when we get angry, we separate ourselves from the people around us. We say ‘Just give me some space’, or ‘I can’t deal with you right now’. We need this space to get back in control, but we need to create it in a way that our children know we will come back to them.

Our children need our love and attention. When we get angry at them, we attribute blame to them. This leaves them feeling regretful, sad, and, at worst, ashamed. These are heavy emotions for a child to be left alone to deal with, especially a little one.


And try to give yourself some grace. It takes some maturity to think back over a situation, realize what went wrong, admit your role in it, and tell yourself you can do better next time. It’s much easier to accept the story that you’re a bad person. When I learned this was the impact of my anger, I felt ashamed, but I used that feeling to help me change.

We’re going too fast. Emails, WhatsApp messages, deadlines and to-do lists rule adult life. There’s always more to do and get done faster. Children move at a different pace. They’re learning how the world works and how to get what they need and want in it. That’s a big job.

They’re learning to emotionally self-regulate, to start and grow healthy relationships, they’re learning self-respect, perseverance, resilience and they’re learning about themselves. This is hard work. It takes time. We’ve forgotten how hard and how long it takes because it’s mostly, automatic for us now.

When we put our expectations ahead of what our children are developmentally capable of, we create a gap that gets filled with our impatience, frustration, anger, blame, and their shame, because they haven’t met our expectations. When we expect a 2-year-old not to act like a 2-year-old, the fault is ours. We may as well get cross because the moon doesn’t glow green. You overcome this by learning where to accurately set your expectations.

I had an opportunity to put these lessons to practice recently. I only left the room for a few minutes, when I did, my two boys, aged 10 and 8, were reading quietly. When I returned, one had the other pinned to the floor with his forearm. I reacted calmly, something that hasn’t come naturally to me over the years, but something I’ve worked very hard to change.


I walked in, told one to get off the other, then lifted him off. I knew I needed to separate them before we could come to any sort of resolution. But the son I’d picked up saw my physicality as an injustice. We’re being very careful to teach our children to respect other people’s bodies and physical space. I’d seen the need to physically intervene as perfectly valid, to end the suffering of the one on the floor, but the son I’d picked up saw it as an act of aggression towards him and stormed off.

Upon reflection, I realized I was in the wrong. Every behavior is really an act of communication that’s louder than words. Despite the fact that I believed my actions to be justified in the name of my son’s safety, to my son they were unforgivable – an infringement on his personal space and autonomy, despite it being exactly what he inflicted on his brother.


I know from my work in behavior change that getting someone to behave differently means meeting them where they are. With children, this means acknowledging their point of view and feelings. Not validating, but acknowledging how they felt and why they did what they did. There’s a subtle difference, but an important one.

After checking the one on the floor was fine, I got his version of events. “I asked him to give me my book back, when he didn’t, I went over and grabbed it. Then he pushed me over and sat on top of me because I wouldn’t let go of the book,” he said.


Then I turned my attention to the one who had stormed off. I had given him, and myself, a bit of time to cool down, which is crucial, few things escalate quicker than two opposing points of view mixed with a temper. I went and spoke to him, getting down on his level, so I could look him in the eye. This always helps me get into a calmer, more empathetic role, because it reminds me of how grown up I am in comparison. I apologized for my actions first off, acknowledging his feelings so he knew I understood him. That feelings bit is a critical step because it helps rebuild, or build a relationship.


I explained why my physically removing him was wrong, and I gave the reasons for my actions. He listened quietly, no talking back or exchanging cross words. This doesn’t always happen. Then I asked him to apologize to his brother, and once he’d had a bit more space, he did. I set a natural consequence, of no borrowing of brother’s books for today. It wasn’t a big thing, but did make logical sense — if you can’t be sensible with your brother’s stuff, you don’t even get to ask for any of it. His brother would have probably set this boundary himself, but by me doing it, the chances of repeat problems were reduced on a day when the last thing I wanted was to do more than mess around with my kids.

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What Makes Men Successful? Resiliency in Both Failure and Success.

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Tuesday, July 28, 2020

What Makes Men Successful?
Resiliency in Both Failure and Success.

Money is good. Sex is good. Power is good. But nothing lasts without resilience.



Thanks to the charismatic sociopathy of the fictionalized Jordan Belfort in the Wolf of Wall Street and his ward Bobby Axelrod on Billions, the high-performing asshole became the most popular figure in pop culture while also becoming, courtesy of disgusting performances by Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein, and Eric Greitens, the most reviled figure in public life. Celebrated on film and castigated on Twitter, immoral climbers inspire hero worship and hatred, while sharing a unique appeal. They put achievement first — above health, happiness, and social connection — and, in so doing, they exhibit a sort of unsustainable masculinity many men aspire to despite its extraordinary costs.


“Men are socialized to be achievement-oriented, and it’s well documented that rigidly internalizing that socialization can lead to men who have some pretty serious struggles with work and family balance,” explains psychologist Ryon McDermott who co-authored the recently published APA Guidelines for Psychological Practice for Boys and Men. McDermott notes that characters like Don Draper, Belfort, and President Trump, who has actively rewritten his own story, have more in common than their ruthless pursuit of achievement. “They are able to get money and success, but engage in some very risky behaviors and ultimately experience psychological distress and social isolation.”

And, yes, art imitates life. McDermott’s research has led him to believe that achievement-orientation can sometimes put men at extraordinary psychological risk. Chasing achievement, he says, is similar to being aggressive for some men: It is a traditionally masculine behavior that isolates and antagonizes when taken to an extreme.


This is particularly difficult to accept because achievement is not a bad thing. Specifically, it’s great for kids. Children who perform better in school, sports, and other extracurriculars are generally set up for healthy physical, psychological, and social development. The problem occurs when kids begin to equate achievement and self-worth — something particularly common in boys. At that point, both achievement and lack of achievement become destabilizing because success is implicitly understood to not be sustainable and failure is absolute. There is a reason that words like loser, deadbeat, and burnout are, gendered. In America, men have both more opportunities to succeed and the opportunity to fail in a way that permanently defines them.


“My hunch is that nine out of ten times when those terms are used it is aimed at men,” says Matt Englar-Carlson, co-director of the Center for Boys and Men at California State University and co-author of the APA guidelines.


Although masculinity is often misunderstood to be a constellation of manly traits, psychologists believe it is actually a sort of status that can be constantly earned, challenged, policed, and taken away. Because of this, masculinity is inherently precarious in a way femininity, which is more biologically and physically defined, is not. And achievement is one way boys internalize this early in their development. This can look a lot like male privilege. Parents are two and a half times more likely to ask Google if their son is gifted than if their daughter is and tend to invest more money in boys’ college educations as well. This teaches sons to value themselves — maybe a little too much — but it also drives home the idea that worth is tied up in accomplishment, which leads to disaster when accomplishments become scarce. Think of the high school quarterback and homecoming king who refuses to move on. More than one stereotype has emerged from truth.


“For some men — especially those who rigidly focus on achievement as their indicator of worth- what was once something positive in childhood can become a straightjacket as an adult,” Matt Englar-Carlson says.


It’s not just that achievement gives boys a place to fall from, but that other aspects of masculinity rob them of tools to get back up. Of course women fail and of course they are judged for it, and of course they tie achievement to self-esteem. The difference is girls learn from an early age how to express themselves and seek support. And their need for support — a universal human need — is not treated as a failure unto itself. Boys are taught that they’re even more inadequate after failing if they express shame or regret — unless it’s in the form of anger or aggression. Men bottle it up and suffer psychologically, which reinforces a negative feedback loop.


Psychologists at the APA are not the only ones who are concerned about men’s inability to fail gracefully. Psychotherapist Richard Loebl, who was not involved in the recent guidelines, sees this play out in his clinical practice regularly.


“Women know how to express their feelings and they feel revived by the nurturing they receive. When adult men are nurtured they often feel ashamed,” Loebl says.

Men are far more likely to internalize than process the emotions that follow failure, and the physical and mental health consequences of this are well-documented. Unemployment increases men’s risk for substance abuse, divorce, aggression, depression, and suicide. For some men, the loss of a job takes a bigger toll on mental and physical health than the death of a spouse. And the more men believe in traditional masculinity norms, the more likely to respond to romantic rejection with anger, aggression, and violence. Violence in societies with high unemployment is often horrific.


“Failure is about shame. We didn’t just get a B or C on the test. It’s much worse than an account that didn’t pan out. And rejection by a woman is nearly fatal to a man’s ego, which is all too fragile due to relentless and unreasonable performance demands,” Loebl adds. “Messages from our fathers and from society in general tell us that we must score points, make a lot of money, get the right girl, and win against the other guy.”


The most telling example might be this: Data shows that men who fail to get their partners pregnant are more prone to committing acts of domestic violence.


There have been some shifts in recent decades to how achievement is gendered, most have short-changed boys. Since the 1950’s, boys have been falling behind in school compared to girls. They currently account for a majority of D’s and F’s in most schools as well as the majority of disciplinary cases. They are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD and other learning disabilities, more likely to be medicated, and represent 80 percent of high school dropouts. Many studies suggest that the reason boys are falling behind is not because boys are less intelligent or capable, but because the education system plays more to girls’ strengths biologically — namely their ability to sit still and concentrate — while providing antsy young men with too many opportunities to define themselves through failure. This has already begun to gender academic success, which no longer seems to constitute a masculine achievement. Perverse incentives proliferate.


“The social costs associated with engaging in academics, which has become coded as feminine, coupled with men’s socialization to not appear feminine is greater than the perceived short-term social benefits,” explains psychologist Christopher Liang, who also co-author the APA guidelines.

In other words, men’s willingness to be defined by achievement can turn genuine achievement into an identity crisis at speed.

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Black Dads Need Therapy. They’re Not Getting It.

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Monday, June 15, 2020

Black Dads Need Therapy.
They’re Not Getting It.

We need to have difficult conversations.
Doing so without mental health support is nearly impossible.

By Damon Brown Jun 11 2020, 10:21 AM



Most cognitive behavioral therapists start by asking a simple question: “Where do we begin?” When you’re a black man in America, the answer is never as simple as “childhood” or “adolescence.” There is present trauma — a video of someone who looks like your cousin being asphyxiated slowly under a blue polyester blend-covered knee —  but also historical trauma. There’s what your parents told you and what their parents told them and, back further, what your emancipated great-great-grandfather imparted to his children. 

And then there’s what you tell your kids. That leaves a mark as well. The conversation,, the one about the looming threat of police violence, takes place in the painful present. It requires a level of honesty that takes time to muster. I had the conversation with my six-year-old just a few days ago, but I’d been preparing for years.

How had I prepared? I did something too few black men and far too few black fathers do. I put myself in therapy. And I’m not talking about “the gym is my therapy” or “I have therapeutic chats with my bro.”; I’m talking sit-your-ass-down, $100-an-hour therapy.  I’ve been going as needed for decades. 

While all dads probably should have an emotional sounding board, black dads need more significant support. We must work through our fears of state-sponsored violence, our experiences with institutional bias, and our own internalized attitudes about our worth in order to exist in the world with the same reassuring confidence so many of our white friends inherited from their fathers. We must learn to handle backhanded compliments about “sticking around” to raise our children and our neighbors’ fetishization of our difference (particularly in the suburbs). 

Unfortunately, only half as many black people receive mental health counseling or treatment as white people. And the number may be even lower among black men. Why? Distrust. Lack of Access. Cultural misunderstanding.

“In my family, there’s no such thing as therapy,” says Mitchell S. Jackson, author of the autobiography Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family. “I know my mom needs it. Everyone in my family has trauma. My mom’s mom died at five. I have relatives in prison. And no one I know of went to therapy.”

“There was a tacit understanding that you have to figure it out on your own to survive,” he adds.

My grandparents were born a year before the United States Health Service promised rural African-Americans free health checkups and secretly gave 600 men syphilis just to see what would happen. Four decades later, when I was born, the American Psychiatric Association was still linking schizophrenia to “aggression”, specifically African-American male rage. Known as drapetomania, it was much easier to call black men crazy than to acknowledge protests, violence and frustration being a natural reaction to systematic oppression – and to own one’s part in it.

This is our history with therapy and care, when black males can even get access.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than one out of ten African-Americans under retirement age are uninsured compared to about half that number for whites. For many black families, which boast one tenth the wealth of white families, the expenditure is simply not feasible. And even getting to the office is impractical. Looking up therapists on ZocDoc, I generate a map of blackness. Want to see where the therapists are? Look where the black people aren’t.

I started my first therapist relationship when I was 19. My parents were getting a divorce. Both grew up in the hood, but split years later as college educated, middle class yuppies. Neither had been in therapy. I don’t think anyone in my entire family tree had been in therapy. It was, like their divorce itself, a grand experiment. And I was lucky enough to see someone across from me who looked like my dad. He was my father’s age. And he was black. 

I didn’t know how lucky I was. According to the American Psychological Association, only four percent of U.S. psychologists are black. You’d have to reach out to 100 therapists and hope one of those four black psychologists was someone you actually liked.

“Do you know how hard it is to find a black therapist? I’m already skeptical, and it’s hard to find a black person, or even a person of color,” says Jackson. “As much as they are trained, if they are moving to the world as a white person, that’s a different experience.”

It is deeper when people of color get guidance from another trusted POC. My first therapist helped me on two levels: Providing guidance within the context of my culture and giving permission to be in the therapist office simply by his existence. My therapists after were not black, but my experience with him allowed me to access a level of vulnerability that allowed the later ones to truly help.

“There is the question, ‘Can I trust this person?’,” says psychotherapist Karen Carnabucci. She does her best to support black clients, she says, but understands there are limitations to understanding our culture. “Although there are many African-American therapists, more are needed.”

My wife and I didn’t have the talk with our eldest son in a therapist office. It was in our living room, strewn with LEGO blocks. Our son stared intently.  His younger brother listened in-between doing couch jumps and giving random hugs. I used all the tools from being an entrepreneurial coach: Validating his feelings, making analogies relatable to his life, and keeping my voice as level as possible. Remember your friend who isn’t your friend anymore? Because you saw him bully someone else? Same with officers, teachers, and others. Use your instinct. If you observe something funny, then it’s okay to get away or to get another adult you trust.

He nodded, and we started talking about what we were going to eat for dinner. Perhaps the biggest lesson from therapy is learning what is in my control. As blacks, we’ve been told to not make eye contact with white women, not walk in our neighborhood in a hoodie, not to gather in a group. Not to breathe. It has systematically always been on us.

Guiding my children, coaching the next generation of diverse entrepreneurs,  supporting organizations making a difference and using my power to vote are in my providence. 

But stopping black people from being murdered? It is not something I can fix alone. It is not something I can upwardly mobile away. 

It is a collective responsibility.

Perhaps the biggest lesson from therapy is learning what is in my control. As blacks, we’ve been told to not make eye contact with white women, not walk in our neighborhood in a hoodie, not to gather in a group. Not to breathe. It has systematically always been on us.

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How to Talk to Young Kids About Racism and Racial Bias

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Wednesday, June 03, 2020

How to Talk to Young Kids About Racism and Racial Bias

Two specific questions can get the ball rolling for parents hesitant to talk about race.

By Patrick A. Coleman Aug 28 2017, 4:30 PM



The conversation about racial bias taking place in America right now isn’t really a conversation. It’s more of a shouting match. And there’s a reason for that: The idea of racial bias inflames long-standing social tensions and the insecurities of white people who’d prefer to believe that they’re playing on a level field. Both research and history indicate that this isn’t so. And both research and history indicate that talking to children, specifically young children, about racism and racial bias can help them better contextualize not only the news cycle – all those weird words they hear dripping from the television – but also the experience of existing in a less than perfect union.

“It is essential that all parents speak to their children about race, the importance of compassion, and empathy to truly make this world a better place for us all,” explains developmental and behavioral expert and American Academy of Pediatric fellow Dr. Eboni Hollier. “We should not pretend that racism does not exist.”


Hollier notes that efforts to protect kids from issues of racial bias does both children and their community a disservice. Children not being engaged in a conversation about race may come to believe that the subject is taboo. Silence breeds silence, inaction, indifference, and ignorance. So it’s important that parents do make the effort to talk about the differences between peoples’ experiences, acknowledging that those differences do exist and pointing out that this is all the more reason to treat everyone with respect. It’s also important that they understand the whole thing is pretty complicated and kids are likely to have some follow-up questions.

“In general, keeping the lines of communication open between parents and children is essential when discussing race,” explains Hollier.


She also notes that, even before kids are verbal, parents can communicate their views on racial bias through modeling appropriate behavior. Parents who interact with and talk about people of other races with kindness and empathy teach children behaviors that combat racial bias. Having a diverse group of friends doesn’t hurt either, though there can be regional and social barriers that make that a bigger ask (keeping friends when you’re a new parent is a big ask in and of itself). Regardless, kids pick up on what parents do, even before they are able to hold a conversation. But once they’re in school, things change significantly.


She also notes that, even before kids are verbal, parents can communicate their views on racial bias through modeling appropriate behavior. Parents who interact with and talk about people of other races with kindness and empathy teach children behaviors that combat racial bias. Having a diverse group of friends doesn’t hurt either, though there can be regional and social barriers that make that a bigger ask (keeping friends when you’re a new parent is a big ask in and of itself). Regardless, kids pick up on what parents do, even before they are able to hold a conversation. But once they’re in school, things change significantly. “This is also a time when children become more aware of ethnic stereotypes,” Hollier explains. “Children may begin to associate inferior status and superior status of groups based on race and these thoughts may come from their exposure to media or the world around them.


At this time parents may want to start addressing issues of racial bias in the news, or even out in the world, should something be observed by their kid or themselves. For parents who don’t know how to start the conversation, Hollier suggests it’s as simple as asking a questions like: “What do you think about what is happening?” and “How does that make you feel?”

It’s then a process of listening and answering questions as honestly and openly as possible. The idea is not to solve the problem of racial bias, but rather to show that it’s a conversation that can occur thoughtfully and meaningfully. Diversity trainer and community organizer Dr. Froswa’ Booker-Drew notes that, for some families, the conversation will be more personal and will draw on the power of life stories. “Starting from your personal experience, your narrative is the most effective,” Booker Drew explains. That might mean being honest about instances where parents have experienced or overcome racial prejudice. It might also mean being honest about bad behavior and family biases. “It’s about owning your experience or your family’s history which is also important. It’s not about sugarcoating the issue.” Booker-Drew notes that many communities don’t have the luxury of entering gently into conversations about race. Sometimes it kicks down the door, as it did with her own family.


“Our conversation started when a kid in elementary called my daughter the ‘n’ word,” she says. So the dialogue has to be deeply personal and explicit in some cases. Booker-Drew remembers her own father being explicit about what she might face as an African-American girl in the seventies and eighties. “He explained I might encounter people who make a decision about me because I was different,” she says. “He also told me that I would be missing out on something really good if I did that to others.”


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Let's Talk About Stress, Baby

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Let's Talk About Stress, Baby

written by Fatherly 


Kids aren't stupid. Nor are they obtuse. They hear you discussing COVID-19 news, they see headlines on your social media feed, and they understand that, to a large extent, the stuff they once enjoyed doing is no longer in play. Playing epidemiologist isn't going to work. Kids don't need specific answers. What they do need is broader certitude that they are loved and will be taken care of — certitude that makes the ambiguity of the moment manageable.
 
"We want to teach them how to tolerate not knowing. You should let them explain how they're feeling and why, and you can help them validate those feelings by saying things like, 'I have similar worries. Let's brainstorm ideas on how we can make things better.' Instead of just giving answers, you want to have a conversation and compare notes," says Bubrick.




 
Ask the Good Questions
 
Getting kids, regardless of age, involved in problem-solving makes them feel empowered and like they're part of the solution. But as Bubrick points it, if you ask vague questions, you'll get vague answers, including the dreaded "I'm fine" (the quintessential conversational dead end). Bubrick's advice is to lead with curiosity and ask open-ended yet specific questions. 

  • What did you learn about today?
    What is something interesting or funny you heard about today?
  • What was the most fun thing you did today?
  • What are you most looking forward to tomorrow?
  • What was the toughest part of your day today?
  • What was something you didn't like about your day?
  • What got in the way today of you having a fun day?
  • What can we do together to make it better? 

Timing is Everything

Picking the right moment to talk is crucial to having a conversation that actually goes somewhere. Bedtime is not the right time per Burbrick, because kids are starting to wind down for the day and anxious kids have more worries at night. The last thing you want to do is lead them down the path of more worry and a restless night. "And don't talk to them about this when they first wake up," he adds. "Find a time, a neutral time, when there hasn't been a big argument. Look for a calm moment."
 
So what does work? Burbrick suggests having laid-back discussions either during dinner, or while taking a family walk. And he relies on a simple yet clever approach that gets people to open up.
 
Try a Game
 
When talking with his own kids, Burbrick suggests a game called Like a Rose.  "It's an icebreaker and it's our thing," he says. "You start and model the game. There are three components to the rose. The petal: 'Tell me something you liked about today.' The thorn: 'Tell me something you didn't like.' The bud: 'Tell me something you're looking forward to in the future.'" This relies on good modeling. You have to set a good example to get a good response, so come prepared to share.
 
No Success? Try a Feelings Chart
 
If your children aren't able to articulate how they're feeling, use a feelings chart and work your way from there. Some 5-year-olds can explain, with total clarity, what upended their emotions and why. Some teens, meanwhile, can barely manage a two-word response and won't dig deeper without gentle prodding. You want to have children be as specific as possible about what exactly they're feeling.  "If you can name it, you can tame it," says Bubrick.
 
Stay Focused
 
Burbrick's final note is just as applicable to kids as to their adult minders. Don't spin out. Don't catastrophize. And remind kids that no, their friends aren't having secret sleepovers or hitting the playground. We're all stuck at home together. 
 
"We want to help kids stay in the moment. It's so easy to get wrapped up in the unknown. All we know is what's happening to us right now. We have each other. We're connected to our friends. Let's focus on that. We'll deal with tomorrow, tomorrow," he says.

Divorced Dads and Co-Parent: Respect a Child’s Love

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Once upon a time, there was a happy family—dad, mom, and their little boy. One year, Dad and Mom gave their little boy a puppy for his fourth birthday. That little boy and his puppy became best friends, as little boys and puppies do. The puppy was involved in his whole life as a playmate and confidant. Every night the puppy slept at the foot of the little boy’s bed and helped him eat the crust of every sandwich he enjoyed. Later, the little dog waited at the door every afternoon to meet him when he got home from school. They did homework together, talked about friends at school, and cried over losses together.

Then one day, Mom and Dad decided they needed to divorce, and the family changed forever. During this frantic, frustrating time, Dad was having a particularly upsetting day, angry about Mom, the divorce, money, and other grown up things, when he walked into the living room and saw that dog with those important papers in his mouth! And not only had he torn them up, he had also left a “gift” right in the middle of the room … again.

Dad lost it, yelled at the pup, kicked it across the room, then grabbed it by the scruff of the neck. Then he turned toward the little boy, who was witnessing all of this, and said, “This dog is going away! Don’t you ever play with him again! He is a bad, bad dog! I’m calling the dog pound to pick him up right now!” Then he threw the dog out the door.

Can you imagine how that little boy felt as he saw his best friend kicked and then thrown away?

However badly that little boy was hurt by what happened with his dog, and however much he loved his constant companion, I can promise you that he loved his mother a thousand times more than his dog, and his heart was broken a thousand times worse when his father said the same things about the mama the boy loved so much.

Our children are quite literally made up of us—fathers and mothers. Deep inside every one of the trillions of cells that makes up your child is pieces of his mom and dad, in DNA, curled up together. Your child is honestly a “chip off the old block” of his two parents. You know that, but too often you probably forget.

And whether it was intentional or not, maybe you have tried to turn your child against his mother—either directly by telling him mean things about her, or indirectly by just hinting negatively about her. Maybe you have said things like, “Oh, that’s just your mom, you know how she is.” Or, “Well, I’m not surprised she did that ….” And make no mistake, these kinds of comments move you dangerously close to placing yourself between your dear, sweet child and someone he loves more than anyone else, except you.

The danger is that, when you talk trash about your child’s other parent, three things happen:

First, you break your child’s heart. Children love their mamas and daddies, even when they don’t act right or when they hurt each other. And you cannot change that.

Second, you’re damaging your relationship with your child. Even if what you are saying is gospel truth, in your child’s mind you’re like a schoolyard bully or anyone else who says something bad about his mother. His natural reaction is to defend her, prove you wrong, or just separate from you emotionally (if not physically). It’s like you’re intentionally closing down your child’s heart toward you, because you’re attacking his mama.

And third, you’re likely not bothering your ex at all. Usually a divorced dad talks bad about his ex-wife to feel like he’s getting back at her somehow, but in most cases, she quit caring about what he says a long time ago. What a waste—especially if you’re damaging your relationship with your child in the process. It’s like shooting yourself in the foot.

In over two decades of working with broken families, I have never seen one parent’s attempt to turn a child against their other parent to be successful. Never. Sometimes it just breaks the child’s heart. But often it will create deep, festering scars in the relationship with the manipulative parent that may never heal.

Permit me to say that bad-mouthing your child’s mother—especially when your child can hear—is wrong, damaging, and just plain foolish.

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10 Tips for New Fathers

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Tuesday, January 28, 2020

10 Tips for New Fathers

If you are a new dad, guess what research shows is one of the best things you can do to bond with your new baby and make your marriage stronger?



1. Time and tolerance.

The most important thing you can do is simply spend time with your newborn. Serious research about fatherhood is only a scant 30 years old, and what we know is that the more time fathers spend with their infants the better. Researchers in the early years of father-infant bonding couldn’t find fathers spending enough time with their infants to study them. In other words, dads weren’t spending an adequate amount of time with their baby to even start measuring the impact. What we know now is that the time you can just be with your infant is valuable.

Along with time, you will need to have some tolerance for you and your new creation to get to know one another. This is your first time being a father and your son or daughter’s first time being a human being. Be kind and gentle with yourselves. Allow for some learning, experimentation and mutual tolerance. Give yourself time to learn and grow into the role.


2. Eye contact.

We have known for a long time that infants are drawn to the human face, but with computer-enhanced research we were able to realize what they look at: the eyes. Babies have a preference for the human face in general, and eye contact in particular. The one thing to remember about this is that they can only see clearly about a foot in front of them, so remember to smile, stay close, and look ‘em in the eye.


3. Repetitive sounds.

Particularly something called the bilabials; Pa-pa, Ma-ma, Ba-ba are the first and most common sounds infants can make. They are simple because the two lips are pressed together with a puff of air pushed through them. That is why most first utterances around the globe for mother, father and bottle use these sounds. They are easy to make and the infant can get some quick language control and feedback from their environment in this way. (Trust me, the first time your little one says Pa-Pa to you will be a peak experience.) To strengthen the connection, when you hear them making the sound, make it back. Eventually the two of you can start your own bilabial chorus.


4. Infants are fans of motion.

They love it and crave it, and need it. They love to be held, jostled, bounced and jiggled. There is good reason for this. Movement helps infants develop everything from their brains to their sense of balance. When you hold your baby, give them a feeling of security, but not too tight or too loose. Don’t be afraid to hold and sway and bounce and cuddle. Learn what he or she likes and cultivate that motion. You want to be the one with that magic touch when baby needs a motion magician.


5. Change that diaper!

Researchers early on found out that the fathers who helped diapering their baby had stronger, better, and more long-lasting marriages. So if you want to score points with mom and with your baby — learn the art of diapering and treat it as a shared duty with mom. If you don’t want the feces to hit the oscillator in your relationship, learn to deal with it at the source.


6. Make a play date with baby.

Maybe Tuesday is girls night out, or you don’t start work until noon on Thursday, but whatever the schedule can permit, have planned time to be the one and only caregiver for your baby. One-on-one bonding is important. When mom is in the room there is typically a preference by the infant for her to be the one in charge. Take time to figure out what your relationship is with your newborn — just the two of you. This is important. You need to be able to manage this baby thing solo, and there is no other way to get this experience.


7. Teamwork.

The above point having been said, you also need to realize you are part of a team. You and mom are a tag-team. This may be a different set of skills than when you are one-on-one. As an example, when mom was out and I was joyfully bottlefeeding my daughter with breast milk we had pumped for her, everything was wonderful. But the moment mom came home from her classes, my daughter wasn’t in the mood for Mr. second-best. She could hear and, through the magic of pheromones, smell mom and wanted to be with her. This was the transition time. Recognize that the three of you function like a mobile hanging from the ceiling and are in balance with one another. As the infant’s needs change, the balance of mom and dad will need to change along with it.


8. Keep your promises.

As your child grows and as you develop as a family, remember that dads have to be absolutely certain to do one thing: keep their promises. If you promise your spouse you are going to be home at 6:30 p.m., make that the priority in your life that day. As your child grows, these promises to him or her become the backbone of your relationship. Deliver on what you promise and the ease and security of the relationship will evolve. Renege on these consistently and an insecure bonding, something you definitely do not want, can happen. I encourage parents I work with to only make commitments and promises they can keep. I’d rather them keep one promise than make three and only keep two.

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The Involved Father

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Friday, January 24, 2020

The Involved Father




Fathers are just as essential to healthy child development as mothers. Psychology Today explained, “Fatherhood turns out to be a complex and unique phenomenon with huge consequences for the emotional and intellectual growth of children.”“Shuttle Diplomacy,” Psychology Today, July/August 1993, p. 15. Erik Erikson, a pioneer in the world of child psychology, asserts that a father’s love and a mother’s love are qualitatively different. Fathers “love more dangerously” because their love is more “expectant, more instrumental” than a mother’s love.As cited in Kyle D. Pruett, The Nurturing Father, (New York: Warner Books, 1987), p. 49. A father brings unique contributions to the job of parenting a child that no one else can replicate. Following are some of the most compelling ways that a father’s involvement makes a positive difference in a child’s life. 

Fathers parent differently.

Fathering expert Dr. Kyle Pruett explains that fathers have a distinct style of communication and interaction with children. By eight weeks of age, infants can tell the difference between their mother’s and father’s interaction with them. This diversity, in itself, provides children with a broader, richer experience of contrasting relational interactions. Whether they realize it or not, children are learning, by sheer experience, that men and women are different and have different ways of dealing with life, other adults and children. This understanding is critical for their development.


Fathers play differently.

Fathers tickle more, they wrestle, and they throw their children in the air (while mother says . . . “Not so high!”). Fathers chase their children, sometimes as playful, scary “monsters.” Fathering expert John Snarey explains that children who roughhouse with their fathers learn that biting, kicking and other forms of physical violence are not acceptable.John Snarey, How Fathers Care for the Next Generation: A Four Decade Study (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993), p. 35-36. They learn self-control by being told when “enough is enough” and when to settle down. Girls and boys both learn a healthy balance between timidity and aggression.


Fathers build confidence.

Go to any playground and listen to the parents. Who is encouraging kids to swing or climb just a little higher, ride their bike just a little faster, throw just a little harder? Who is encouraging kids to be careful? Mothers protect and dads encourage kids to push the limits. Either of these parenting styles by themselves can be unhealthy. One can tend toward encouraging risk without consideration of consequences. The other tends to avoid risk, which can fail to build independence and confidence. Together, they help children remain safe while expanding their experiences and increasing their confidence.


Fathers communicate differently.

A major study showed that when speaking to children, mothers and fathers are different. Mothers will simplify their words and speak on the child’s level. Men are not as inclined to modify their language for the child. The mother’s way facilitates immediate communication; the father’s way challenges the child to expand her vocabulary and linguistic skills — an important building block of academic success.


Fathers discipline differently.

Educational psychologist Carol Gilligan tells us that fathers stress justice, fairness and duty (based on rules), while mothers stress sympathy, care and help (based on relationships). Fathers tend to observe and enforce rules systematically and sternly, teaching children the consequences of right and wrong. Mothers tend toward grace and sympathy, providing a sense of hopefulness. Again, either of these disciplinary approaches by themselves is not good, but together, they create a healthy, proper balance.


Fathers prepare children for the real world.

Involved dads help children see that attitudes and behaviors have consequences. For instance, fathers are more likely than mothers to tell their children that if they are not nice to others, kids will not want to play with them. Or, if they don’t do well in school, they will not get into a good college or secure a desirable job. Fathers help children prepare for the reality and harshness of the world.


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Father’s Day: A Father’s Bond with His Newborn Is Just as Important as a Mother’s Bond

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Father’s Day: A Father’s Bond with His Newborn

Is Just as Important as a Mother’s Bond

Dads, you’re not alone if you’re feeling out of bounds with your newborn. I know life with a new baby can be overwhelming, particularly for new dads. This Father’s Day, I want to emphasize the importance of daddy-baby bonding with your newborn. Daddy-baby bonding is a topic that is not discussed enough but needs to be addressed. Did you know father-infant bonding is just as important as a mother-infant bonding during the immediate postpartum period? It is vitally important for a father to interact and bond with his newborn to help the infant’s development and to reduce the risk of paternal postpartum depression. That’s correct. Postpartum depression is not exclusive to new moms. Delayed bonding over the course of the first couple of months can increase the risk of paternal postpartum depression.



According to a new study published in Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing (JOGNN), from the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN), when fathers delay bonding with their newborns, they risk altering the long-term course of paternal involvement as the infant progresses throughout childhood and adolescence. In addition, fathers “reported that they didn’t start to experience fatherhood until birth” while, mothers reported that they started to experience motherhood as soon they received news that they were pregnant. This difference influences the amount of time it takes for a mother and a father to feel a loving connection and bond with their newborn. Most fathers enter parenthood expecting an immediate emotional bond with their newborns, but many reports that forming that bond takes time.

Moms can help by encouraging dad’s involvement with their newborn. As a mom, I know that we have a ‘take charge” approach with our infants but this attitude can have negative effects on dads. Fathers have reported delayed onset of feeling bonded with their infants for as long as 6 weeks to 2 months after birth. In an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the authors reviewed 43 studies on depression in new fathers. They found that prenatal and postpartum depression was evident in about 10% of men in their studies and was relatively higher in the 3- to 6-month postpartum period. We can help fathers reduce the risk of paternal postpartum depression by getting them more involved with their newborns from the time of birth.

Successful father-infant bonding during the immediate postpartum period has been shown to have several benefits for the infant: it reduces cognitive delay, promotes weight gain in preterm infants, and improves breastfeeding rates. Dads can start to bond with their newborns by practicing these tips found in AWHONN’s magazine Healthy Mom&Baby:

       Jump right in. Don’t be afraid to begin immediately caring for and loving your baby. The more you hold your baby, the more comfortable and natural it will feel

       Take a night shift. Once mom is breastfeeding well, she may want to let you give the baby a nighttime meal. This way she can get more sleep and you will have the opportunity to bond with your newborn

       Read your newborn a book. Your newborn will enjoy the rhythm and pace of your voice while you read a book. In the early months, it’s not about what you’re reading; it’s about reading itself

       Initiate the bath. Bathing your newborn will enhance bonding and provide a multi-sensory learning experience.

       Create a bedtime ritual. Infants will learn to depend on the consistency and predictability of a nighttime routine.



About DFFC

The Delaware Fatherhood & Family Coalition is an extension of the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program and the Responsible Fatherhood Initiative created specifically to give a voice to fathers and the importance of their involvement for the well-being of their children.


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