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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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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.

The 8 Communication Traits of Happy, Healthy Marriages

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Friday, May 22, 2020

The 8 Communication Traits of Happy, Healthy Marriages

They're essential for a long lasting union.

By Jeremy Brown Jul 12 2018, 5:49 PM

In all aspects of life, communication is key. But in a marriage, if there’s a communication breakdown, it can bring the whole thing down. As such, it’s vital for couples to communicate effectively. Unfortunately, however, that’s usually a lot easier said than done.

“The number one thing is that people want to be understood and they want to feel like their emotions are being valued,” says Jonathan Robinson, a couple’s therapist and author of the new book More Love, Less Conflict: A Communication Playbook for Couples. “And when that doesn’t happen, marriages start to have problems. I never have couples come into my office saying, ‘We really understand each other, that’s why we want a divorce!’ But of course the opposite happens all the time.” But how can couples start on that road to understanding and better, healthier interaction? Here are eight traits that all happy marriages share.

They Do Daily Appreciations

A simple note, text message, or compliment can go a long way in a relationship, Robinson says. Just letting your spouse know that he or she is appreciated and that their efforts aren’t going unnoticed can help them to feel validated and understood. “The number one correlation with happiness in couples is the number of appreciations they give to each other,” he says. “We forget to do daily appreciations.”

They Listen Actively

As your grade school teacher likely chided you about, there’s a difference between “hearing” and listening.” This is a big part of a happy marriage, too. In order to fully take in what your spouse is saying to you, Robinson recommends what he calls ‘empathic listening,’ which means listening and responding not with solutions or options but with such phrases as, “I can see that you’re upset because…” That level of understanding can help husbands and wives diffuse arguments relatively quickly. “It’s hard for couples to do this because they get triggered so easily, and they don’t know this skill,” says Robinson. “So it’s really important that they practice it with small things before they get triggered. So that, when they’re triggered, they’ll still be able to do it.”

They Write Down Criticisms

No matter how things are going in your marriage, good or bad, if you criticize your spouse aloud, there will be flare-ups. That’s why Robinson recommends writing down some things about your partner that might rub you the wrong way and presenting them to your partner. When criticisms are presented in this fashion, your partner can take them, process them, and formulate an answer, rather than just firing back a retort.
“I usually have couples do that once every three months so it doesn’t get overwhelming. Just say, ‘These are some of the things I’m having a hard time with,’” Robinson says. “Complaining and shaming your spouse into trying to change does not work. I think direct criticism is to be avoided completely. But if you need to say something, do it in written form.”

They Practice Positivity

Research shows that happy couples who practice a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative behaviors are more likely to be happy and healthy. Robinson does agree that that sentiment has shown to be true, but also acknowledges that very few married couples realistically practice that. However, he says that saying positive statements out loud on a regular basis helps build equity in a relationship and can be key in diffusing arguments down the road.

“It’s really important to have those positive statements,” he says. “It’s like money in the bank. So that, when you need to make a withdrawal because of life circumstances or stress, you have something in the bank to withdraw from. And if you don’t say positive statements on an ongoing basis, then your marriage can easily go bankrupt.”

They Embrace the Power of the Time Out

A marital disagreement can go from a spark to a five-alarm blaze with one wrong word. To keep that from happening, Robinson recommends putting the brakes on a disagreement before it gets out of hand.

“If you see you’re getting hot and heavy and upset, use the phrase ‘red light,’” he says. “That’s a signal that you should take minutes to just quiet down and say nothing and calm down. By the time you’re back after two minutes, you’re more likely to be in the rational part of your brain and not be upset.”

They Make Contact

Don’t underestimate the power of simple gestures. You can say a lot without saying a word just by holding hands or giving a hug. “All these things are really important, because in this culture, we don’t have enough physical touch,” says Robinson. “So I have couples do that every day. And it’s not to be overlooked.”

They Use “I” Statements

What you say during an argument matters. When you do argue with your spouse, try and shift the focus by not casting blame and saying, “You did this” or ‘You need to fix this’ and instead use “I” statements. “When you use ‘you’ statements, they feel blamed and their ears turn off,” says Robinson. “So, when you use ‘I’ statements, you avoid that. You can take responsibility by using a statement like, ‘One way I see I contributed to this upset is…’ What you’re trying to do is not have your partner become defensive and ‘I’ statement or taking some responsibility helps with that.”

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kent-county-father-daughter-dance

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Monday, April 30, 2018

KENT COUNTY LEADERSHIP COALITION cordially invites you to our

FATHER & DAUGHTER DANCE


SATURDAY, JUNE 23, 2018

Outlook at the Duncan Center
500 W.Loockerman St., Dover, DE 19901

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT : Sade' Truiett 302-674-1355 ext. 214 (office)
302-278-5449 (cell) struiett@dffcdads.org
www.dffcdads.org | email: admin@dffcdads.org | phone: 1-855-733-3232


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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