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For many dads, the COVID pandemic brought new perspectives on fatherhood

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Monday, September 26, 2022

For many dads, the COVID pandemic brought new perspectives on fatherhood

June 19, 20225:01 AM ET

SHAUNEEN MIRANDA



A father plays with his son at a park in Amritsar, India, on Father's Day in June 2016.

Narinder Nanu/AFP via Getty Images


With the shift to working from home giving dads the opportunity to spend more time with their children, the challenge of striking a balance between work and family over the last two years has given some of them new perspectives on fatherhood.

For Elgin Oliver, a dad of two who lives in Missouri, navigating fatherhood during the pandemic meant also working a full-time job and taking online courses.

"It was difficult, especially the school part, because just trying to have time to sit down and do my schoolwork and then still try to help out around the house with the kids ... so my time was really stretched thin," Oliver said.

Elgin Oliver with his daughter.

Elgin Oliver

"I've come to find out it's not exactly what you do, it's more of the time that you spend with them, and I've learned that our bond has grown and strengthened," he said.

Other dads reflected on the impact of their kids learning remotely during the pandemic.

"You basically have to shift your role from being dad, to your role being dad, teacher, caretaker, phys-ed instructor, nutritionist, because all meals are eaten at home. ... But also kind of finding that sense of balance on how beautiful it was that the family was together for just about all three meals every single day," said Lance Somerfeld, a father of two who lives in New York.


A Pew Research Center survey from February, which polled working parents with kids under the age of 12 at home, found that 43% of fathers and 58% of mothers noted difficulties in child care responsibilities resulting from the pandemic. A corresponding survey in October 2020 had similar results.

Working at home, there's no separation between home and office

The pandemic also forced many fathers to balance life and work while having no separation between their homes and their offices.

"With our kids being young — just 7, 4 and under 1 — they don't necessarily understand the concept of what work actually is if you're working from home versus previously, when I was on active-duty Air Force," said Austin Lieberman, a father of three living in Florida.



FAMILY

How Many Dads Does It Take To Screw In A Lightbulb? Father's Day By The Numbers

The stress of working from home and managing more childcare responsibilities during the pandemic also led dads to look to each other for support.

Oliver started the podcast Call of Duty Black Dads with his friend in 2018 to shed light on their experiences as Black fathers. They continued to record episodes throughout the pandemic about their concerns as parents.

Groups for dads offer a way to connect

Others have looked to dad-focused groups within their areas to foster a sense of community and connection.

Somerfeld, who co-founded City Dads Group in New York City in 2008, said the organization has grown into a collective network of roughly 24,000 fathers in over 40 cities nationwide.

Sean Leacy, a dad of four and organizer for the Puget Sound Dads Group and Tacoma Dads Group, said: "With more and more dads coming into the home because of remote work, it's really given an opportunity for dads."

"Being able to be a part of these guys' groups and really getting a chance to connect with other guys has been huge," Leacy said.


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Fathers’ influence on development and well-being of children

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Monday, July 11, 2022

Fathers’ influence on the development and well-being of children

June 12, 2019

Mary Beth Nierengarten, MA

Contemporary PEDS Journal, Vol 36 No 6, Volume 36, Issue 6

 

Despite the growing involvement of fathers in their children’s lives, there persists a lack of focus on fathers in pediatric care. Updated guidelines can help pediatricians to better engage fathers in the care of their children.



 

Growing evidence shows the positive influence that fathers have on the development and well-being of their children. Longitudinal data published over the past decade or so support that paternal involvement from the prenatal stage through a child’s lifetime benefits the psychosocial and behavioral development of their children, often in ways different from and complementary to maternal involvement.1,2 Other data exploring the biological and epigenetic influences of fathers on their children are revealing the complexity of this paternal influence on their children.3-7 Among the most studied areas of research is paternal depression and the associated adverse effects on children.8-13

In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated its guidance for pediatricians on the role of fathers in the care and development of their children based on the increasing number of “high-quality” studies that now quantify and qualify this role.1 According to the guideline, among the drivers underlying this increased interest in fathers are socioeconomic forces in which the traditional roles of men and women are changing. More mothers are working outside the home and more stay-at-home fathers are taking on caregiving activities. Fathers also are increasingly taking on the primary caregiving role as single parents. Also highlighted are changing social mores encouraging more involvement by fathers beyond their historic protector and provider role. Data show this, with involvement by fathers in childcare nearly doubling between 1965 and 2011.14

Despite this growing involvement of fathers in their children’s lives, pediatric visits largely still focus on the mother-child relationship.15,16 A recent systematic review of father-inclusive perinatal parent education in the United States found only a small number of early parent education programs for fathers.15 In addition, recent survey results of 100 pediatric primary care providers found that less than 50% of the respondents regularly implemented recommendations for engaging fathers as listed in the recent guidelines by the AAP.16 The survey also found that supporting parenting skills and perinatal depression screening for fathers were the least implemented recommended practices.

Craig F. Garfield, MD, professor of Pediatrics and Medical Social Sciences, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois, attending physician at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, and one of the authors of the AAP guidelines on fathers, emphasizes the persisting lack of focus on fathers when it comes to pediatric care.

“Pediatrics has been slow in embracing the roles of fathers,” he says, citing, for example, a recently published AAP guideline on postnatal depression that largely focused only on maternal depression.17

This article reviews some of the data on ways fathers contribute positively to the development and wellbeing of their sons and daughters, and suggests opportunities for pediatricians to better engage fathers in the care of their children.

Defining the role of father

When talking about the role of fathers in their children’s development and well-being, it is important to define what is meant by “father” as the term carries several assumptions that may not be completely accurate given the changing family structure. In the AAP guideline on fathers, father is defined broadly as “the male or males identified as most involved in caregiving and committed to the well-being of the child, regardless of living situation, marital status, or biological relation.” Along with the biological father, this definition includes foster fathers, stepfathers, and grandfathers.1

Underlying this discussion of who is a father is the recognition of the evolving and changing nature of family structures, societal norms, and understanding of masculinity and femininity that is creating additional complexity to understanding the multiple influences on childhood development. Research shows that the influence of fathers on the psychosocial and behavioral development of children is distinct from that of mothers.1 However, it is difficult to tease out of this current research how these different influences are related to the biological distinctiveness of masculinity or femininity. Emerging research on the neurobiology of parenting provides some preliminary signs by showing just how complex the interplay between hormonal and neural circuitry is in men and women and how these biological processes manifest differently in parenting behavior.7

Benefits of fathers’ early involvement

Data show that getting fathers involved early in their children’s lives predicts later involvement. Prenatal involvement by fathers, along with living with the mother, is the strongest predictor of their involvement by the time a child is aged 5 years.1,18

Paternal involvement just after a child is born is also critical. “Good research shows that the more men take time to spend at home with a child after birth, 2 weeks or more, they are almost 2 times as likely to be involved in diapering, feeding, cleaning, and caring for their baby at 9 months,” says Garfield.19

Helping fathers to be more confident in taking care of their children helps their children during all stages of their development (Table 1).1 Garfield highlights 3 main areas in which involvement by fathers is distinct from, and often complementary to, involvement by mothers.

One is in the area of language development. Garfield cites evidence showing that the more words and language to which a child is exposed at an early age, the greater benefit for kindergarten readiness. Children exposed to language and vocabulary through both mothers and fathers benefit by the additive effect of both hearing more words and also more variety.1,20,21

Another way in which fathers uniquely contribute to early childhood development is by promoting more risk taking and problem-solving behavior through greater physical engagement with the child than is typically done by mothers.1,21-25 “Really unique to dads is in the general area of play and in particular what is called ‘rough and tumble’ play,” says Garfield, describing this type of play as a very high-energy and physical game wherein fathers may be changing the rules during play forcing the child to adapt quickly to the changes.26 “It is thought that this is helping children learn about how to make decisions and how to stay focused when they are amped up,” he says, “and that can actually be teaching resilience to the child as well.”

Fathers also influence their children during early childhood years and into adolescence by role-modelling behavior.1 Garfield emphasizes the important influence of fathers as a role model for adolescent sons and daughters. “They are role modelling how to be in a relationship, how to make health and well-being behavior decisions, and that can be important for the child as well,” he says. For example, longitudinal data show an association between father involvement and reduced behavioral problems and enhanced cognitive development in adolescent boys as well as reduced psychological problems in adolescent girls.27 Other benefits of father involvement for adolescent girls are decreased early sexual experiences and teenaged pregnancy,21,28 and for boys the potential for improvement in sexual health through better communication about condoms.29

Interplay of biology with caregiving

An emerging area of research on the biologic and epigenetic influences of fathers and mothers on children is offering further insight into the complexity of parental biology on childhood development and caregiving. For example, recent studies explore the interplay of biologic and environmental influences of fathers on childhood atopic dermatitis,3 the efficacy of treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children,4 paternal diet and breast cancer risk in daughters,5 and increased incidence of childhood autism and cancers associated older paternal age.6

Further research is looking closer at how caregiving behavior is linked to neural and hormonal mechanisms of mothers and fathers as recently reported in a study examining the role of hormones (oxytocin, testosterone, prolactin, and arginine vasopressin) and their interplay on parenting behavior, and brain changes and parenting behavior.7

Fathers and postnatal depression

An important area of research is on the influence of fathers’ mental and physical health on their children. Among the most studied areas is that of paternal postnatal depression and the adverse effects on children. An updated meta-analysis found paternal depression in 8% of men during the first trimester and 1-year postpartum period.12 Data also show that by the time their children are aged 12 years, more than 20% of fathers will experience depression.10 In addition, during the first 5 years of fatherhood, those fathers who reside with their children have reported a 68% increase in their symptoms of depression.9

Despite this prevalence, the recently published AAP guidance on postnatal depression focused almost exclusively on mothers, as mentioned previously.17 “With the exception of a short paragraph talking about the problem of paternal postnatal depression, dads were missing from the report,” says Garfield.

The need to better recognize, identify, and address postnatal depression in fathers is highlighted by data showing the associated adverse effects on children-notably, poorer behavioral and emotional outcomes.13

Additional data show that when mothers are depressed, fathers play an indirect but key role in helping their children by supporting mothers, which mitigates the impact of maternal depression.30


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The science of how fatherhood transforms you

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Monday, July 11, 2022

The science of how fatherhood transforms you

Emerging research has proven it: Men’s bodies are built to parent, and involved fathers bring benefits to almost every aspect of their kids’ lives. (And—bonus!—there’s a payoff for dads, too.)

Micah Toub, Photography by Roberto CarusoJune 8, 2021




Couch: Urbanbarn.com, Clothes: gapcanada.ca, Parasol diapers: Well.ca

When it came to being a dad, my father says he was pretty much flying blind. My grandfather didn’t change my dad’s diapers, didn’t put him to bed, didn’t even play with him that much. One of the most prominent father-son memories he has is of when he was five and his mother was letting him stay up late to watch a show on TV; his father vetoed that and sent him to bed crying. He also remembers his dad coming after him with a belt. Then, when my dad was 13, my grandfather remarried and moved away.

“I didn’t have a role model for how to be an involved father, so I had to come up with that myself,” he told me recently. “But I think it was also instinctive—it just came out of my desire to be close. I felt love for you, so I wanted to teach you things and play with you.” He added that, subconsciously, he was probably making up for the shortcomings of his own childhood.

The idea that a man can possess a parenting instinct, and is not just suited to be a provider or a hapless sidekick, is relatively new. For my grandfather’s generation, it was highly controversial. When I was born, in 1976, the expectation that men should do more was picking up steam, but they were still considered a poor substitute for mom. In fact, up to that point, scientists who studied children’s early development looked exclusively at mothers.

 

“[The mid-’70s] was the heyday of attachment theory, which, as it was incarnated then, was very much focused on the critical importance of the attachment between an infant and its mother in the first years of life,” says Michael Lamb, who became a forerunner of fatherhood research in the ’70s and continues to study it at the University of Cambridge in the UK. “That went along with the assumption that it was the only [primary] relationship kids could form.”

At that time, however, Lamb and a small number of other researchers were all coming to the same conclusion: Babies can form as strong an attachment to their dads as to their moms. From that seed has grown an intriguing but limited body of evidence stating that not only are men built to care for children, but that being an involved dad impacts kids’ physiologies, psychologies and outcomes for the rest of their lives.

In short, dads make a difference. So why is it that when we see a man with an infant on a weekday, we still reflexively wonder where that baby’s mother is, even if we think it’s so darn cute that he’s “babysitting”? The truth is, just as women have always had what it takes to be CEOs, men have always had the power to nurture. Now that we’re recognizing this, the day may soon come when the default assumption that mom is the primary parent will seem laughably quaint—and we’ll all be better for it.

The birth of a father

It wasn’t until the turn of this century that researchers discovered a fascinating detail about men: Our bodies transform when we become fathers. (And I’m not talking about the second trimester–size belly bump we fight into old age.) Whether we’re biological dads or adoptive ones, heterosexual or queer, our hormonal systems alter dramatically when we become parents—an amazing revelation basically implying that despite the narrow role we fathers have straitjacketed ourselves into for so long, our internal chemistries may have always been nudging us toward more involvement.

We’ve long known that oxytocin—the “love hormone”—plays a role in a mother’s initial bonding with her child after birth. But more recently, researchers have observed that the same spike in oxytocin occurs when fathers hold and play with their newborns.

My own discovery of this fact began in an initially distressing way. The fairy tale I’d always heard was that parents experience an overwhelming flood of love for their babies on first sight. Almost four years ago, when the surgeon brought my son around the curtain and passed him to me, I was astonished by the fragile, crying creature. But I didn’t experience that surge of love. “I feel like he could be anybody’s baby,” I confessed to my mother in an anxious phone call from the hospital hallway.

The next two days were a blur, as I alternated between taking care of my son and my wife, who was recovering from a C-section. But once we’d settled at home and I made a habit of putting my son on my shirtless chest, I began to feel it: love. It was transcendent, much like the early-days rush I’ve experienced in other landmark relationships, and it came with similar side effects: the feeling of walking on air, an overriding empathy toward all people and a narcissistic inability to talk about anything else. The oxytocin buzz.

While that love drug pumps through a new father, his testosterone level typically drops, making him less prone to risk-taking behaviour and more able to nurture his newborn. And also, oddly, he registers an increase in prolactin—a hormone best known for helping women produce breastmilk. Its purpose, it turns out, is greater than that.

University of Notre Dame anthropologist Lee Gettler explains that the presence of prolactin goes back hundreds of millions of years to our animal ancestors—before mammals existed (even before breastfeeding existed). Over the past decade, Gettler’s research has come to some conclusions about the hormone’s function in modern-day dads. “Fathers with higher prolactin play with their babies in ways that are beneficial for their babies’ learning and exploration, and the fathers also seem to be more responsive and sensitive to infant cries,” he says. In other words, this ancient hormone plays some role in, as my father put it, increasing dads’ desire to be close.

All of the internal changes can depend on how much time dads spend solo with their kids in infancy and toddlerhood, says Hayley Alloway, who studies endocrinology in fathers at Memorial University of Newfoundland. “Having time where the man is responsible for direct physical interaction with an infant—not just being in the room, but actually providing care—has the biggest influence on his hormonal levels changing,” she says. And indeed, studies have shown that the more intimate time a dad has with his baby, the lower his testosterone dips and the more empathetic and soothing he is with his child.

I experienced the change in myself but wondered whether other involved dads did, too. What it means to be “involved” is somewhat subjective—a complex matrix of quantity of time spent with quality of interactions. But I found that several men who define themselves as “involved” parents all spent intensive and regular one-on-one time with their babies during their first year. None of them went into a scientist’s lab to prove it, but we know their hormones were shifting to accommodate their new role. And while they didn’t always find it easy, they spoke of the transformation with the seriousness of someone taking on the great responsibility that it is.

Josh*, who became a stay-at-home dad when his son was eight months old, told me the physical bonding started almost immediately, as he paced the hospital hallways with his newborn to give his wife some rest. “I didn’t want his crying to wake her,” he says. “I was the only dad I saw doing this, and I got a lot of people saying, ‘Aww, that’s adorable,’ but I was surprised it was so unusual.” Later, when his son was a month old and could take a bottle, he and his wife began splitting the nighttime feedings. For months on end, if he wasn’t rocking and soothing his son, the baby was asleep right on top of him—a difficult, sleepless experience that he nonetheless describes as “lovely.”

“It was important to me to step up and say, I’m here now. I’m not going to wait until my kid can participate in my favourite hobbies. I’m putting in the time immediately,” he says. “Being a dad means doing the hard things as well as the fun things.” The reward for Josh’s effort came during the daytime, when he says his son would often crawl over to him and sit in his lap, which never failed to send that “in love” feeling surging through his body.

Brandon Hay, founder of Toronto’s Black Daddies Club, also did much of the nighttime duty 15 years ago when he first became a dad. And the growing bond he had with his baby changed the way he viewed his own life. “After my son was born, I had a new purpose. Life is bigger than just me now.” Brandon’s own father had been mostly absent during his childhood in Jamaica, inspiring Brandon to do an about-face in one generation, taking his parenting role so seriously that to do even better, he formed an organization—a network of black fathers that has engaged 8,000 families since 2007.

According to Alloway, the hormonal changes in dads during the initial stages of a baby’s life don’t continue once the two have less physical contact—but kids do have a long-term effect on men’s bodies. Although research in this area is scant, one 2004 study that reviewed the literature since 1966 found that men under 40 with children had poorer health than those who had none. (As someone who became a father at 37, my joints and bones can confirm this.) But, in men over 40—who had settled into their parental roles—the opposite was true. And, if a father makes it all the way to 60, a 2017 study conducted in Sweden at Stockholm University and the Karolinska Institutet found having a kid adds about two years onto his life expectancy.

Reaping the benefits

The social movement to create more equity among the sexes, which was in full swing by the mid-’70s, played a role in my father becoming more involved in my care. While feminists battled to create the Equal Rights Amendment in the United States, within my own house in Denver, Colo., my parents were figuring out how my mother—who had stayed home to raise my sister—could go back to school and work. “It wasn’t the old paradigm anymore,” my dad says now. “We decided that we both had to raise our kids and that it was going to be something we did as a team.”

Although I can’t recall the times he changed my diaper or rocked me in the middle of the night, I do have fond memories of him cuddling with me in bed to read books, and I remember that he used to pick me up from kindergarten early at least once a week. In this sense, he was at the forefront of the shift, involving himself in ways that are now the norm.

Although that push 40 years ago may have been for the sake of balancing work and child care between parents, the research Lamb and others began doing at the time attempted to show that fathers were more than just a convenient backup to mothers. After modest initial studies—experiments showing that a temporarily abandoned baby would stop crying when its father returned—researchers eventually came to conclude that active dads can have a net positive impact.

And no, it’s not just that an involved dad makes a kid better at sports—research shows our presence is a boon to pretty much every aspect of a human being’s development. Having an involved dad has been associated with fewer cognitive delays, better school readiness, a decrease in tantrums and aggressive behaviour, and lower rates of depression. In the book Do Fathers Matter?, science journalist Paul Raeburn summarizes findings from a 2007 Swedish study concluding that an involved father may even keep his teenage offspring out of jail: “Children whose fathers played with them, read to them, took them on outings and helped care for them had fewer behavioural problems in the early school years, and less likelihood of delinquency or criminal behaviour as adolescents.”

Of all the studies Raeburn came across, two of the most surprising to him were from the University of North Carolina showing that, no matter how well-spoken a mother was, the father’s use of vocabulary had the greatest impact on a toddler’s language development.

That conclusion reminded me of something my friend Simon* told me about the initial weeks of his four-year-old’s life. “My first impression of being a father was the shift of having another person in between me and my wife,” he says. “It came as a shock, but then I also realized I wanted in. I wanted my son to have a connection with me, too.”

After googling different iterations of “how do dads bond with babies?”, Simon found information that suggested infants can form strong connections with a parent’s voice. “I didn’t have breasts, but I could talk,” he says, and so he did. He talked to his child constantly and, in short order, his son—who is now a skilled and passionate storyteller—responded by gravitating toward Simon whenever he heard his voice.

My friend’s experience may explain one reason for those studies’ conclusions, but Raeburn says his conversations with the researchers suggested something else. “They speculate that because a father traditionally spends less time with the child than the mother, they weren’t as attuned to what words the kids knew,” he explains. “So while mothers might change their language a bit to use words that their kid understands, fathers are more likely to speak using something closer to their normal vocabulary, which stretches kids so they learn more.”

This hypothesis inadvertently raises one of the concerns I have with studies aiming to prove that kids with involved dads do better in life. If the researcher’s rationale is true, wouldn’t a dad who splits care evenly with his partner, or who even does more, stop having that effect? And then this: How do we know what’s due to the gender or sex of the parent and what’s just a benefit of having more than one person investing time in a child’s development?

As it turns out, Lamb—that pioneer of proving fathers make a difference—has come around to the opinion that gender isn’t relevant when it comes to outcomes. While he says he believes all that research has been useful to confirm “the appropriateness of fathers becoming more involved,” he hasn’t seen conclusive evidence that men provide anything women can’t—and he thinks that the less-involved parent just ends up having a different impact, no matter their gender. “Kids benefit from having both parents actively involved because then they have more parent time and more parent stimulation. And because any two people differ in personality and bring different strengths to the table.”

I think Lamb’s insight is something that can apply to having two moms or being raised by a single parent with other family members or caregivers filling in the gaps. But still, for all the families that do have dads in them, it’s worth emphasizing what this research is saying: Yes, we matter. We can be left alone with our kids.

The personal payoff

When you talk to involved dads, you quickly discover that the positive effects of becoming one aren’t just for the children. Fathers’ own ideas of manhood expand during the transition, as do their abilities to form rewarding human connections.

Brandon was 22 when his first son was born, and he didn’t yet have a solid career, a fact he struggled with because, to him, being a father was synonymous with providing. “I knew a lot of friends who were going out west to get jobs in oil rigs, and I thought maybe I should do that,” he recalls. “I thought I would be more impactful if I went away and sent my partner money.” In the end, he stayed—and shared the primary parenting role. Although he remembers feeling judged (and judging himself) for doing drop-offs in his sweats while other dads wore suits, he doesn’t regret that time spent together. “It was important that I was giving my kids what I didn’t have.”

Later, when Brandon worked on a research project with Lance McCready at OISE and Carl James of York University that explored the experiences of and issues facing black fathers, one of the main findings was that they, too, found it difficult to “feel like a father” if they weren’t providing financially. As he told me about this over the phone, he was taking a walk with his third child, now 12—not going anywhere specific, just strolling for the sake of being together. “What I tell new dads is that little things like this, taking a walk, don’t cost money, and they’re the things your kids remember in the longer term.”

But Brandon says the payoff has also been personal. “I grew up in a culture and era when spanking was the go-to. I had to develop the kind of patience you need to not jump to that kind of discipline and instead take the time to talk to them, have conversations with them and really communicate,” he says. “Before I had kids, I never really knew what love was. I’d say, ‘I love my mom,’ or ‘I think I love this girl.’ With my kids, it’s different. I would give them a body part.”

While Josh’s dad lived in the same house, he was largely absent, retreating into his work and sharing little of himself with his son. Although his dad is nearing retirement now, Josh says it may be too late to form a real bond with him. It’s not that they fight, he says, but just that their conversations don’t go beyond the superficial and never dip into their emotional lives. “To this day, I don’t feel as deep of a connection with him as I do with my mother, even though I’d like to,” he says. “We keep reaching out, but neither of us has had practice, so it’s awkward.”

With his own son, Josh is trying to break that cycle. “I’m watching myself pick up some of my dad’s habit of living in his head,” Josh says. “I’ll literally be sitting down looking at my kid but my mind is elsewhere.” Like a kind of mindfulness meditation, every time Josh notices he’s drifting, he reminds himself to come back to the moment. And whereas his father’s emotional vocabulary was limited, Josh is using fatherhood as an opportunity to grow his own. “When my son hurts himself, I honour his feelings instead of dismissing them. It’s affecting my life outside parenting as well—now, instead of just jumping in to fix a problem, I try my best to listen.”

When strangers see Josh with his now 16-month-old in the park, they sometimes tell him he’s an amazing father, simply because he’s out alone with his toddler. “But I’m not going for ‘amazing father,’” he says. “That seems like a very low bar. I’m going for good parent. I want to be a big part of his life and be there for him physically and emotionally. To do that, I need a solid foundation. What better way to form that than to know him well as he grows up.”

While Josh thinks a shift is occurring where dad involvement is more often considered the norm, in his opinion, it’s not happening quickly enough. “When I run into other dads when I’m out, half of them are embarrassed that they’re the at-home parent,” he says. “There’s still a lingering mentality that men should be working, and I talk to a lot of moms who feel guilty about going back to work. I think both of those reactions should be examined—if someone wants to go to work or stay at home, it shouldn’t matter their gender.”

For his part, Brandon believes the many fathers who’ve long been stepping up are under-recognized. “The narrative has been that parenting was only for moms,” he says. “And the narrative for black fathers was that they are non-existent. But when I started Black Daddies Club 10 years ago, I began to meet men who proved that was a myth. I saw fathers showing up and fathers who were engaged, and these were not the dads being depicted in media.”

When I think back to the early ’80s, I rarely saw dads like mine on television. I remember watching Mr. Mom, in which a laid-off Michael Keaton stays home with his baby, behaving as if it were the first time he’d ever spent five minutes with his kid. I didn’t get the joke.

I had a role model for how to be an involved father—one who worked during the day but was there for me in the evenings or the middle of the night. Of course, even if he hadn’t provided that example for me, I believe the fathering instinct—and the internal shifts that have reshaped me into a parent—would have inspired that desire to be close.

 

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25 Pieces of Marriage Advice From Couples Who’ve Been Together 25+ Years

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Thursday, May 05, 2022

25 Pieces of Marriage Advice From Couples Who’ve Been Together 25+ Years

What keeps a relationship going for the long haul? Here are the honest answers from those who've been married for a quarter-century or more.

By Matt Christensen 

Apr 26 2022, 1:49 PM from Fatherly


 

Marriage advice is easy to ignore until you need it. Who hasn’t rolled their eyes at such trite aphorisms as “Say sorry even if you don’t mean it” or “Don’t go to bed angry”? These phrases tend to leak out of people’s mouths around weddings and anniversaries but are barely helpful. True, lived-in advice for a long, happy marriage isn’t so tidy because neither are relationships.

So, what is some honest, real advice from couples who’ve been through the long haul? We recently asked 25 people who have been married for 25 plus years about what makes their relationship work. Cliches didn’t enter the equation. Instead, their answers reflected a simple truth: long-term relationships are both easy and hard, but made better by honesty, fun, and a shared sense of unity. They urged communication and clarity. They underscored the importance of shared meals and spicing things up with dirty jokes. They emphasized appreciation and attention to detail. Here’s what they said, and why it’s helped them stay together for the long run.


1. Accept and allow

“This is a mantra I picked up early on in our marriage, and it’s one my husband and I have come to live by. I forget where I heard it, but it’s basically a nice way of saying, ‘You knew who your partner was when you got married, and you can’t change them.’ There were many things I wished I could change about my husband after we’d been married for a little while. But I realized I loved him, and it was a waste of time to dwell on them. I needed to accept him for who he was, and allow him to be himself. That doesn’t mean we can’t get upset, or voice concerns. It just means that we’re committed unconditionally to the person we married, even when they drive us crazy.” – Lynne, 62, Florida (married 31 years)


2. Imagine life without your partner

“My wife and I talk about this all the time. We imagine what our toughest days would be like without each other. Truthfully, we always agree that we’d make it through. Realistically, we’re each independent and strong enough that we’d be fine. But, it would be terrible. That’s the takeaway: life would be possible without each other, but it wouldn’t be anywhere near as fun, special, or full of great moments. It’s not uncommon for us to ask each other, ‘Can you imagine if I wasn’t here?’ The answer is usually some variation of, ‘Yeah. It would suck. I’m glad you are.’” – Jerry, 56, Maryland (married 30 years)


3. Crack jokes

“We got married when we were both almost 40, and our sense of humor has gotten more juvenile every year. Maybe it’s just us, but I don’t think so. We laugh at rude noises. We roll our eyes at each other’s terrible jokes. We love raunchy movies. It’s just that primitive, human sense of humor we both have. So many couples seem to lose that the longer they stay married. There’s this weird pressure to become more civilized or dignified as you get older. We never got that memo, it seems. And when it’s just the two of us, we’re usually cracking up. We’ve stayed in love so long because we’re too busy laughing to be fighting.” – David, 68, Michigan (married 30 years)


4. Choose your own adventure

“My marriage has never been easy but it’s always been an adventure. Best advice I can give – getting married is like going to a theme park. Know who you are and what ride you want to go on. If you want to go on the carousel (stability and serenity) marry that. If you want to go on the roller coaster (risk and adventure) don’t marry someone who’s afraid of speed and heights. The key is to know yourself and what you want before you pledge yourself to a partnership. Then, once you’ve found your match, run your marriage like a good company. Identify each person’s strengths and weaknesses, and delegate those responsibilities accordingly..” – Kathleen, 57, Nebraska (married 31 years)


5. Don’t be so damn stubborn

“Don’t insist on always having the last word. It’s never not worth it. What you think is a fundamental, bedrock principle might actually be just a personal preference not worth having a spat or holding a grudge about. Be open to that possibility. Even if you get your way, it will take a toll. And if you agree to something, abide by the mutual decision. The loss of trust is also not worth getting your way. We’ve learned to be responsible for and take ownership of our decisions and actions, and we always try to avoid criticizing or guilting. It never helps. Instead, we try to have constructive conversations about specific behaviors that might be troubling, and we’re each willing to listen to each other’s concerns – even if they seem trivial.” – Claude, 68 (married 33 years)


6. Do the work

“Everyone has heard the phrase, ‘opposites attract’, but you don’t really hear the phrase, ‘opposites keep people together.’ They can, though, if you learn how to navigate them. Opposites can create a great deal of conflict over time if you don’t learn how to accept them. It can be a difficult process, but it’s necessary to stay happily married long term. Good marriages don’t just happen. They require a great deal of work and intention. The English language has one word for love. I love my wife and I love spicy food. There is no comparison. Since the term ‘I love you’ is so confusing and vague it makes sense to define what that means to both of you, even if you’re total opposites.” – Monte, 64, Florida (married 40 years)


7. Bite your tongue

“My rule is: bite your tongue for at least 24-48 hours after before speaking when tensions are high. If you are overly emotional and/or upset about something, doing so gives you time to cool off and then reflect on the situation with greater space, perspective, calmness, and clarity. If you still want to talk about it, schedule a mutually agreed upon time to do so. Say something like, ‘I am upset about what you just said/did, but I want to think about it before we talk.’ Mentally, you’ll be in a much better place.” – Romy, 52, California (married 26 years) 


8. You won’t always be on the same page

“And that’s okay. Patience and communication are key to any successful relationship, but especially a long-term one. It’s important to remember that you’re not always going to agree about everything. There will be times when you need to listen more than you talk, and times when you need to communicate openly and honestly. You can do this by making time for each other, even when life gets busy. Whether it’s taking a walk after dinner or spending a weekend away together, do everything you can to keep the bond strong.” – Steve, 49, Arizona (married 26 years) 


9. Keep each other guessing 

“My husband is a quiet man. Me? Not so much. I was surprised when he told me how much he loves the fact that he never knows what I’m going to do from one minute to the next. And I appreciate his willingness to try different things. As our unofficial ‘social secretary,’ I’ve planned trips where he hasn’t really known where we’re going until we get on the plane. Our secret really is just keeping our life interesting. Otherwise, life becomes stale and boring. Do something unexpected from time to time and you’ll learn how much you cherish each other’s company.” – Carol, 72, Georgia (married 49 years)


10. Ask for space when you need it

“I think many couples are afraid to say, ‘Hey, I need some time alone, away from you.’ They worry that their partner will take it personally, and so they avoid the conversation completely. Early in our courtship, we were very clear with each other about the fact that we wouldn’t survive marriage if we couldn’t each have our own space. So, we’re not shy with each other when we need a breather. Sometimes it’s just a few hours with a good book. Other times, one of us wants to get a coffee and run errands on a Saturday. The key is being respectful about the request, considering any commitments you might have, and using that time to recharge yourself for the betterment of the relationship.” – Curt, 64, South Carolina (married for 36 years)


11. Learn each other’s love language

“Any act of love done with the best intentions is good, but knowing how your partner prefers to receive those gestures can make them much more special. My wife’s two love languages are quality time and acts of service. Over the course of our marriage, I’ve learned how happy it makes her when I help out around the house. Simple things, like unloading the dishwasher or flipping the laundry, make her so happy. And because I pitch in, and we work as a team, we’re able to spend more quality time together. You can take the tests and stuff to figure out what each other’s love language is. That’s easy. The more fun part is finding out how you can try to speak to your partner using them every day.” – Gene, 54, Massachusetts (married 28 years) 


12. Always kiss goodnight

“In all of our years of marriage, I think there have been maybe a dozen times my husband and I haven’t kissed each other goodnight. Even when we’ve had terrible, terrible arguments, we always kiss each other on the cheek, or the forehead, just as a way to remind each other that we’ll get through this. When you don’t want to talk to someone because you’re so angry, it can be hard to say, ‘I love you.’ Sometimes, you just don’t have the voice. But a quick kiss can say a lot, and for us it has.” – Renee, 60, Texas (married 31 years)


13. Be patient with your spouse — and yourself

“You need to be flexible in a marriage. You need to understand that, if you and your partner truly love each other, you’re not deliberately trying to make things difficult. But, inevitably, there will come times when you just can’t agree. In those times, you need to remember that you both are only human. We used to get upset with each other, and then beat ourselves up pretty badly because we’d think, ‘I should be better at this…” And our marriage suffered. It wasn’t until we were able to extend grace to ourselves and each other, and remind ourselves that we are both still learning how to be better every day that we really grew as a couple.” – Ray, 47, New York (married 25 years)  


14. Never assume

“If your partner is upset with you, don’t assume you know why. If he’s quiet or down, don’t assume you know why. If you’re upset, don’t assume he knows why. You have to remember that, no matter how connected you both may be, you’re not mind-readers. You need to communicate as clearly as possible, and as frequently as possible. Give each other permission to say you’d rather wait to talk about things, but always let your partner know that you don’t want to assume you know what’s going on.” – Christine, 51, Connecticut (married 26 years)


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This is Fatherhood - 7 Dads Describe The Moment It Got Real

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Thursday, May 05, 2022

This is Fatherhood

7 Dads Describe The Moment It Got Real

By Amy Joyce JUNE 13, 2019 in Washington Post



To mark this Father’s Day, we asked dads to describe a moment when they truly felt like a father, in 500 words or fewer. Here are some of our favorite essays.

 

My wife’s belly protruded as she lay on the couch occasionally asking me to come feel the kicks. Even as I felt the pings of our child’s life against her skin and my palm, I did not feel like it was mine.

 

At the hospital, my wife ached in pain on the bed. I looked into her eyes and told her “everything will be okay.” We deserved a family; I deserved to be a father.

 

Seconds after my child was born, the doctor lifted him up showing me the miracle of birth. They wrapped him up and put him in my arms like that’s where he belonged. Meanwhile, I was lost. Was I a father?

 

The days and nights went on: I slept next to him and my wife in the hospital bed, swaddled him, held him, and changed him. I was amazed at the life smiling up at me. However, the connection was a loose-hanging thread. I had not come to terms with who I was.

 

It wasn’t till nights later that I felt something growing inside of me. The baby screamed, calling me through the monitor. My wife slept in bed as I crept into my son’s room. I picked him up onto my chest and sat in the rocking chair. In the stillness of the night, I realized it was my first moment alone in days, weeks, or months to comprehend this time.

 

The first thoughts were of my father’s passing only months before: the phone call from my brother that he’d stopped breathing, my mother on the phone, the long flight, the disbelief of seeing his jacket still hanging on the chair in the garage. Years before, we had sat in the dining room and I told him I didn’t want to refer to him as my stepfather, he deserved something more. “I want to call you Pops.” I imagined he’d be here to meet my son, but the room was as empty as my heart.

 

As tears pooled on my lids, I pictured the moment when I was standing next to the hospital bed of my biological father. A smile radiated from his frail cancer-ridden body. He told me he was sorry for not being there throughout my life. I said I forgave him and didn’t hate him.

 

And my mind went to my other fathers: Grandpa showing me the twisting of his wrench under the car hood, my uncle leading my pencil to draw.

 

The moment came when my child calmed in my arms, and the ache in my chest beat on his, while I wept like a baby. It was then I knew: He was mine and I was his. I was the father I’d always hoped for.

- Anthony Ellis

 

Feeling like a father is supposed to be easy, and with my oldest it was. There was an instant connection the second I held him and that was that.

 

But Sam, my second-born, was a different story.

 

He never slept, he always cried, and he hated when I held him. It had been a difficult pregnancy for my wife and with so many scares (on top of previous infertility issues), I was more exhaustedly relieved than joyful when he was born. During the next few weeks of colic and crying and hardly a second of sleep, a sudden and grim realization hit me — I was more in love with the idea of a second kid than my actual second kid.

 

While I took my paternity leave and dutifully took up my fatherly duties, it was more of a sleepwalk than an eager call to action. I was just going through the motions, getting frustrated too easily and handing him back to my wife too quickly. I vividly remember rocking him in a glider that had caused quite a fight between my wife and me before he was born, as I didn’t feel we had the room in the nursery (or our budget) for anything else.

 

So naturally we bought it.

 

There I sat, night after night, counting the minutes and trying to get him down as quickly as possible so I could sneak out and do something else — anything else — other than be with this temperamental baby. The cherry on top of all of that frustration — that entire mountain of resentment — was dealing with a kid who wouldn’t sleep while being confined to that penalty box of a chair I didn’t even want in the first place!


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FATHER PRESENCE

- Tuesday, March 15, 2022

FATHER PRESENCE


Research shows that a loving and nurturing father improves outcomes for children, families, and communities. Fathers who live with their children are often more likely to have a close, enduring relationship with their children. Even if you do not reside in the same home as your children, you can still play an active role in their lives and form a close bond. Studies suggest that children with involved, loving fathers are significantly more likely to do well in school, have healthy self-esteem, exhibit empathy and pro-social behavior, and avoid high-risk behaviors, including drug use, missing school, and criminal activity.

The following principles guide father involvement:

  • All fathers can be significant contributors to the well-being of their children.
  • Parents are partners in raising their children, even when they do not live in the same household.
  • The roles fathers play in families are diverse and related to cultural and community norms.
  • Men should receive the education and support necessary to prepare them for the responsibility of parenthood.

Here are some tips and promising practices for staying present in your child’s life.

TIPS & BEST PRACTICES

  • Making a Visitation Schedule Work for Your Family.  Are you divorced or separated? Do you only see your kids on weekends? This can be one of the most significant challenges you face as a father. Give your children and make them feel at home. If you have new living arrangements, provide them their own if possible.  
  • Stay involved, even from a distance. For various reasons, many dads do not see their children regularly. As a result, you may have to redefine your role and responsibilities as a father. Staying aware of your children’s needs and interests is an essential step in remaining connected. Dads who are incarcerated may have more incredible difficulty tracking their children’s development and activities but can find ways to stay involved.


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Black Fathers Find Real, Lasting Support on Facebook

- Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Black Fathers Find Real, Lasting Support on Facebook

93,000 dads on a private Facebook group find the
 support they’ve been seeking.

By Christian Dashiell for FATHERLY Jan 17 2022, 8:00 AM




 

In 2008, Matt Prestbury was tired of the uninvolved Black dad narrative. Similar to how the FUBU changed the hip-hop fashion landscape in the mid-90s by designing and selling clothes from within the community, Prestbury created a space for Black dads with content created by Black dads.

“When I got on Facebook, I figured that was the best opportunity for us to present positive images of black dads to the world so everybody can see who we truly are,” says Prestbury. “We would be able to represent ourselves. I felt like we had an opportunity there where we could show out using our own words and our own images, and all of that good stuff. We don’t need people to tell other people who we are.” 

With over 93,000 members, the Black Fathers group has grown into one of the largest groups of dads on Facebook. It’s a place where dads come to find community, brag about their kids, get support from each other, and get parenting advice. We caught up with Prestbury to talk about mental health, how this support group has opened up after going private, and how what’s happening online in the Black Fathers group is having a positive impact offline. 

What prompted you to start the Black Fathers Facebook group?

When I first started the group, I was still a relatively young father, and I had had two children with my first wife. When we separated, the children came with me, and she kind of went out of the picture. So I began to do things with other fathers because I really wanted to create a community. I invited other dads out to different events and started fatherhood groups at the public schools where I work.

More specifically, as far as black fathers are concerned, we had the reputation of being uninvolved in our kids’ lives, and I felt that people looked at those of us who were involved like we were unicorns. But you know that you’re not, you’re not an anomaly, you’re not the exception to the rule. You really are the rule. There were tons of us. We just didn’t have a space where that was being shown. 

Why did you transition from an open Facebook group that showcased Black fathers to a closed group where Black fathers interact exclusively with each other?

It was about five years ago. We had gotten a lot of publicity early, and tons of people wanted to join. And at that point, we would let everyone in to see what was going on because I wanted to showcase what traditional parenting media wasn’t showing. And I wanted to show the world.

But at some juncture, it became problematic because I couldn’t just keep telling people who weren’t Black fathers that they could observe but not say anything, right? And there were many times when that philosophy would be questioned, and we would get stuck in back-and-forth arguments. So, it just became a thing where it was just more problematic than it was worth. So went the route of making it a private group.

How have the discussions happening in Black Fathers changed since then it became a Black dads group exclusively?

Well, since becoming a closed group just for Black fathers, we’ve seen tons and tons more transparency, vulnerability, and discussions about things that people weren’t opening up about before. Guys are way more comfortable because they feel like everybody in there in some sort of way can relate. We might not all go through the exact same thing, but I can still relate man-to-man and have compassion and empathy.

How do you keep the environment of the group positive?

For the most part, there’s an understanding that we’re here to uplift each other. Like, the world beats us up enough. You go outside, and you get it out there. Sometimes you come in, and you get it from your spouse. So, you don’t need to come in here and get beat up. We really pushed that and created a whole culture where people truly buy in. 

Today, we had a situation where some guy was just totally out of hand, and I said something to him. And you know, he just said, “Yeah, that’s my bad. I didn’t mean for it to go like that when I said it.” Even though he was really being a prick, just the fact that he owned his stuff and apologized and worked to make amends was significant. 

What do you think the value of the space has been every time the killing of an unarmed black man breaks into the broader public discussion? 

We aren’t like a complete monolith. But being all black men, we really understand what it is. It’s sad, and it sounds sickening when I say it, but it’s our daily reality. We understand it. So, for the most part, it’s a place for us to come together and confirm or reconfirm what we already know. But it’s also interesting to get different perspectives as well. There are times where some people see the future as hopeless, and other people hold onto hope. People just look at things differently. 

What are some of the other specific challenges the group has been effective at addressing?

The family court system can be a challenge for many guys in the group. Navigating custody, visitation, and child support are struggles a lot of guys have. And mental health is a huge one that I focus on. There are so many stressors. Just navigating this society as a Black man, dealing with unemployment and all the anxiety around COVID. We have our kids who are not in school for these long periods. And then when they go to school, we’re worried they’re going to get COVID. So all those stressors play a huge part in our mental well-being. 

Mental health is especially a challenge for Black men. We don’t talk about our struggles. We don’t do therapy. It’s scary because suicide attempts by black men are on the rise. There are so many people in the group who are dealing with depression, some even to the point of suicidal ideations. Changing that trend is very important to us as black men and our children. 

Have you seen more acceptance therapy and other mental health interventions because of the conversations in the group?

Oh, absolutely. You can see things are changing in terms of what we promote to one another. So when you see someone share their struggles, you have people in their group who put their phone numbers up so they can talk. And guys are always encouraging therapy. So it’s been a change. We’re getting to the point where people can be fully open. So if anybody asks if someone is struggling with a specific issue, people will willingly open up and say, “Yeah, I deal with that, too. And this is what helps me.” 

So it’s been extremely helpful. I deal with depression and anxiety, and I have absolutely no problem saying that to anybody in the group and letting them know because I know that I can feel comfortable doing it. I’m not going to get backlash or negative judgment or anything like that when I open up.

Now that you’ve developed a healthy culture in the group, do you have plans to leverage that energy?

We have the Black Fathers & Co. group, which I started after I made Black Fathers private. I still wanted that opportunity for women to be connected to what we were doing and I still wanted to show the world examples of involved Black dads. So that’s a public group that anybody can join, with the idea that it’s still a celebration of the Black fathers. 

We also started the Black Fathers Foundation to help resource dads. We’re going to be starting a scholarship in Baltimore City for a young man who’s already a father but still in high school, with the aim of supporting someone who is going to attend an HBCU.

What inspired you to structure the scholarship that way?

I wanted to have a keen focus on younger fathers. We want to take a holistic approach and not just drop money into somebody’s student account or whatever. I’ve seen a lot of very young and first-time fathers joining the group because they know that this is a place where they can come to get advice.


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7 Small Tactics to Help Improve Your Self-Discipline

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Saturday, January 15, 2022

7 Small Tactics to Help Improve Your Self-Discipline

Trying to stick to a new goal? Adopt a new habit? This is the advice worth remembering.

By Steve Calechman from Fatherly

 

Jan 05 2022, 4:10 PM

 

 

The thought of achieving more self-discipline is always appealing. Who among us doesn’t want to be less bound to their temptations, to learn that new instrument or bang out that dream project? Putting things into in motion, however, gets a little thornier because that requires change and change often puts you on the path of most resistance, which is an easy deterrent. 

“Doing things the old way is easy, comfortable, and familiar,” says Jill A. Stoddard, licensed psychologist in San Diego, California and author of Be Mighty


That’s the first problem along the path of self-discipline. The second is the feeling of not measuring up since everyone else always seems like they have it together. But that’s the destructive myth, one that makes us believe that “the most disciplined people are always disciplined 24/7,” says Trevor Cote, a licensed clinical sports psychologist in Boston. “The truth falls in between.”

Self-discipline is hard and it does mean grinding some days out. It doesn’t, however, mean grinding out every day. While there are things that can help with sticking to whatever routine or habit you’re chasing, nothing will be effective if your initial target is off. So, before you buy or plan anything to help, you must decide what goal really matters to you. Then, it’s about making small changes to focus on that goal.

So what to do? Here, with help from Stoddard, Cote, and acclaimed author Harlan Coben, is how to improve your self-discipline.

1. Figure Out What Really Matters

Writing a book or cooking more might sound good, but if you’re doing anything for someone else or because it’s what you think you should do, you’ll start out strong and “hit a wall” in about a month,” Cote says. “The sustainability is not there.”

Whatever goal you set needs to tie into your values. It doesn’t mean it will be all-the-time fun, but it has to deeply resonate and be more than another item on a must-do list. 

“When you reframe it as a choice that matters to you, it can be easier to choose to be disciplined,” Stoddard says.

2. Study Your Environment

If you want to be in Tom Brady-like shape, you can certainly take inspiration from him and see the things you share. But people get tripped up when they don’t see the differences. Brady, for instance,  has coaches, chefs, equipment, and a life that supports all-out focus, something that you probably don’t, Cote notes.

You also have to weigh the consequences of devotion, because, “There’s always a cost,” Cotes adds. It could be money, physical or emotional pain, or time away from your family. Maybe you decide it’s not worth it, but it might mean reshaping what you do in order to be doable. That focus is key.

3. Give Yourself Reminders 

There’s always a YouTube clip that you find yourself drawn to. But, “Most distractions are self-created,” says Harlan Coben, acclaimed author of Win and 34 other books. What helps Coben is to remember that his life works best when there’s balance in all realms: relationships, exercise, sports, and work. “If I’m not writing at all,” says Coben. “I’m not in balance.” 

But it’s also like the gym, he says, where he knows that once he starts, it feels good and once it’s done, he always feels better. For him, there’s no fixed solution of: Do this and discipline will follow. “Most of it is reminders to myself of why I do what I do,” Coben says.

4. Chop It Down

You don’t always have the same energy, so you wait for it to come, and you end up waiting. “In reality, it’s often action that triggers motivation,” Stoddard says. When starting is hard, break up your routine into small steps. Write one paragraph or bike one hill. “There’s this feedback loop of seeing yourself do something,” Cote says. The result is, “That felt pretty good,” and you most likely have jumpstarted yourself to keep going. 

But there’s also a redefining element of what staying disciplined means. Maybe you realize you only have 40 percent energy. Rather than taking it easy or taking the day off, you shift your mindset and do the most you can. 

Says Cote, “Empty the tank for whatever you have.”

5. Create Visual Markers

Your eyes prime you for a challenge. Put a picture, an inspiring quote, a word, where it will be seen regularly. This isn’t about guilt, but as a reminder that, “This is what I want to do.” It alone won’t be the motivation, but it works in concert with all the other elements. “It’s a form of self-talk, but it’s external,” Cote says.

6. Bring Someone Else On Board

This is the literal or figurative workout buddy. But bringing someone on board is more than upping your accountability. It’s having another person there to share bits of your life with and building a connection. Time also moves quicker and is more enjoyable when you’re talking with another person rather than being alone with your runaway thoughts. “You’re outside yourself,” Cote says.

 

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The Fatherly Guide To: Teaching Kids Healthy Financial Habits

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Saturday, January 15, 2022

The Fatherly  Guide To: Teaching Kids Healthy Financial Habits

 

WHY FINANCIAL LITERACY MATTERS

 

Every parent’s dream is for their child to grow into a healthy, happy adult. As it turns out, an essential part of achieving outcomes is teaching them how to have a positive relationship with money—living within their means, saving a portion of what they make, and investing prudently.

 

Talking to Your Kids About Money

Money management is one of the most basic life skills that a child can learn, but kids are too often left feeling their way in the dark. In part, that’s because financial education is a subject that many schools gloss over or skip altogether.

Only nine states require at least one semester of financial education coursework at the high school level, according to the nonprofit Next Gen Personal Finance. So it’s not surprising that 76 percent of Gen Z respondents to a 2019 study said they wished their school would have offered a fin-ed class.

That puts an even bigger onus on parents to help kids learn the basics like the importance of creating a budget and borrowing responsibly. “I ask parents to think about all the money lessons they wish someone would have taught them when they were younger,” says financial education instructor Monica Eaton. “Chances are, their kids will not get those lessons in school.”

That leaves kids to be taught at home, but unfortunately, lots of parents don’t know how to start the conversation. A recent survey found that 41 percent of parents expressed a reluctance to discuss financial matters with their children. That curtain of silence only makes it harder for kids to develop the financial skills they’ll need once they go off to college or join the workforce.

Rather than skirting the issue, experts say parents can use ordinary experiences—a trip to the mall or the bank, for example—as opportunities to talk about concepts like saving and spending. As with other aspects of life, kids will pick up on what they see their parents doing, too. Explaining the decisions you’re making to secure your financial future, whether it’s budgeting or building an emergency fund, can have a lasting impact.

“When they see mom and dad having more success in their finances, they’ll learn through osmosis,” says Samir Ahmed, a lead planner with the virtual advisory Facet Wealth.

“If you don’t teach kids at a young age, you can’t expect them to grow up to be financially responsible.”

Neale Godfrey, founder of Children’s Financial Network

Separating Needs and Wants

As parents learn early on, kids have a tendency to think they need every item that catches their eye, whether it’s a giant playset or a lunch box advertising their favorite cartoon. But if you want your kids to avoid dangerous spending habits later in life, you have to teach them that they can’t have it all. As the 47 percent of Americans with credit card debt can attest, learning that lesson is easier said than done.

Eaton says that performing simple, hands-on activities when your kids are still young can help them learn the critical distinction between needs and wants.

“Explain that money pays for both needs and wants,” Eaton, the author of the children’s financial literacy book Money Plan says. “Because money is a limited resource, needs come first.”

Teaching Needs and Wants


Start with the Basics

Collect a variety of different items from around your home, from articles of clothing and toys to personal items. Have your child call out whether each item is a must-have or a wanna-have.

 

Have a Deeper Conversation

Ask your child whether food is a need or a want. Then ask them which category a particular fast food restaurant would fit into. Soon, you’re having a conversation about what’s an actual necessity and what’s a luxury, a distinction that’s key to healthy spending habits.

 

Put It into Practice

Make it clear that you will pay for things your child needs (e.g. clothing) but not everything they want (e.g. designer jeans). If your kids want to spend their money on wants, Godfrey says, “It’s perfectly okay for them to earn the money to buy that themselves.”

 

Learning the Value of a Dollar

When kids still cling to the fantasy that mom and dad have a limitless supply of cash, the concept of saying no to a purchase is utterly foreign. If your last name is Bezos, that’s probably not a big deal. For everybody else, teaching children the finite nature of money can help prepare them for adulthood—and potentially save you from a lot of nagging in the short run.

One of the best financial lessons you can give your child is a sense of how much things cost, both in terms of the price tag and how much work goes into acquiring those dollars. Again, Eaton recommends turning it into a game to get kids interested. Take them along with you to a grocery store and give them a list of different items to purchase, but make sure they stick to a budget of around $10. Pretty soon they’ll be paying more attention to the cost of various items and prioritizing what ends up in your cart.

As your kids get a little older, you can expand that exercise into other purchasing decisions, nudging them to become informed consumers. Whether you compensate them for chores or hand out a weekly allowance, the key is to make your son or daughter pay for “want” items using their own supply of funds.

By having to work within those guardrails, kids are learning what it means to have a budget and determine how much they truly value different items or experiences. When kids know that a new video game will drain their account, for example, they may end up deciding to stick with what they have or buy a less expensive, used version. “They have to figure out if it’s worth it or not,” says Godfrey.

Illuminating the Importance of Saving

The sudden Covid-induced recession last year was a reminder of how precarious the financial health of many adults truly is. According to a Federal Reserve study conducted last November, 45 percent of laid-off workers were unable to pay their monthly bills or wouldn’t have been able to if faced with an unexpected $400 expense. In other words, the crisis exposed just how serious America’s savings problem really is.

So how do you get kids to understand the concept of delayed gratification—to put aside some of what they make now so they’re able to handle future needs? Eaton’s preferred method is to create a savings goal with your child and keep them focused on it. Have them select a product or experience they’d really like and help them research how much it costs. You can even create a “goal poster” with a picture of the item, its price, and an indication of how much progress your kid has made toward purchasing it.

“Talk about ways your child can earn money by completing chores around the house,” suggests Eaton. “Each ‘payday’ lets your child choose the amount of money they would like to put towards the purchase of their goal item.”

Godfrey recommends a slightly different approach: automating their savings so a portion of everything they earn is untouchable in the short-term. It could be as simple as creating different jars for spending and savings, although separating funds is considerably easier if you’re paying your kids through a family-friendly app like Greenlight, a debit card for kids and teens that can also be a valuable teaching tool for parents.

For instance, Greenlight users can transfer a fixed percentage of the child’s allowance to their “Spend Anywhere” balance and another portion to their “General Savings.” Parents can even divert part of their payment to the “Give” category, teaching them to set aside a portion of their income for their favorite charity.

 

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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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