Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Monday, July 11, 2022
Fatherhood, Co-Parenting and Child Support information. Get a better of understanding of your rights as a parent before you go to court. We will also give you information on how to be a better father and co-parent with the mother. Our goal is to increase father's involvement in the family structure.
Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Monday, July 11, 2022
Fathers’ influence on the development and well-being of children
June 12, 2019
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
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.
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!
- Tuesday, March 15, 2022
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.
Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Tuesday, November 16, 2021
What Parents Need to Know About Permissive Parenting
Permissive habits are grounded in virtuous characteristics, but they need some structure
Most people would feel like they’d know a permissive parent if they saw one. According to the definition from American Psychological Association these are the moms and dads that are warm but lax. Their failure to set firm limits, monitor children’s activities closely, or require appropriately mature behavior, cultivates kids who tend to be impulsive, rebellious, aimless, domineering, and aggressive. In other words, kids that don’t respond to punishment or praise and who lack respect.
But is permissive parenting so terrible? It turns out the answer is nuanced, and there are good ways to turn permissive parenting into something far more healthy for everyone.
The Origins of Permissive Parenting
Unlike pop-culture parenting “styles” (see: helicopter, tiger, lawn mower), permissive parenting is grounded in the research of University of California at Berkeley psychologist Diana Baumrind. In her work in the 1960s, she categorized parenting into three different types: authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative based on the amount of demand and care a parent shows their child.
Authoritative parenting hits all the right notes: High expectations accompany their consideration of each child’s individual needs. Authoritarian parents demand a great deal from their kids, but don’t consider their child’s needs and often pair expectations with the threat of punishment. And permissive parents? They cater to their child’s needs (they’re highly responsive) but demand very little.
Dr. Leela R. Magavi, a child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist, and Regional Medical Director for Community Psychiatry + MindPath Care Centers, explains that permissive parenting can reorient the parent/child relationship to look more like peer interaction. “ Children may perceive permissive parents as friends and may be more likely to confide in them,” she explains. “I have witnessed parents becoming much more permissive during the pandemic as they are afraid that their children are devoid of normalcy and will become depressed.”
It should be noted that while Baumrind’s work was grounded in academic research, her insights came almost exclusively from observations of white parents connected to Berkley. Later in her career, she would expand her studies into more diverse communities, and researchers who built on her work could continue and expand on that practice. Nevertheless, academics generally agree that her psychological styles do remain reasonably consistent in terms of outcomes.
Positive Traits of the Permissive Parent
While permissive parenting is unlikely to cultivate the most desirable traits in kids, it doesn’t mean that a permissive parent’s heart is in the wrong place. On the contrary, Magavi points out that permissive parents have some positive underlying traits.
“Permissive parents tend to be empathetic and compassionate,” she says. “They identify their child’s emotional state and attempt to address their needs. Permissive parents tend to validate their child’s feelings and are more likely to listen to their children and address their needs actively.”
Those are traits that any parent should strive to embody, and they provide a solid foundation for permissive parents who want to add structure to their relationship with their children. Focusing on what parents do well and how those things can benefit their child can help them stay positive as they navigate the ups and downs of adapting to a new parenting style.
“I advise parents to practice daily self-compassion and remind themselves that perfectionistic parenting could cause their children to perceive every shortcoming as a failure, which may lead to longstanding self-esteem concerns,” Magavi says.
She also notes that parents may find it helpful to limit their time on social media to strengthen their self-compassion. “On social media, everyone looks like a perfect parent. Reframing thinking and identifying the good and bad in each individual and behavior helps decrease catastrophizing and rumination.”
How Can a Permissive Parent Add Structure to Their Parenting?
Adding the structure is a big adjustment for everyone. It can take time for a child to realize that these changes are intended to keep them safe and healthy. They may perceive more rules and structure as a raw assertion of power and respond negatively.
This is where the permissive parent’s strengths of empathy, compassion, and active listening come in to play. Magavi suggests utilizing opportunities for verbal support. “Providing love and support and encouraging open conversation while simultaneously maintaining house rules and safety protocols is of utmost importance,” she says. “I advise parents to create family rules and expectations and incorporate frequent validation and positive reinforcement.”
And, of course, getting on the same page with a partner or co-parent helps. Considering changes and making a coordinated effort gives a better chance for success and makes things easier on kids. “I recommend both parents share changes to rules and regulations to align their parenting, so children have some consistency and do not begin to perceive one parent as the ‘good cop’ or ‘bad cop,’” Magavi says.
Helping Kids Adjust to Changes
A move away from permissive parenting is good in the long run, but it can be a tough adjustment for kids. They’re used to having things pretty good. So they will feel annoyed and maybe even abandoned when parents start expecting them to do something for themselves.
Magavi encourages parents to explain the benefits of following some rules and regulations. “This allows children to reframe their thinking and identify the benefits of rules. Subsequently, it is helpful to discuss family rules and the reason behind each one,” she says. “Similarly, it is important to explain the consequences of breaking the rules. Parents who were formerly permissive may find that their children are not taking them seriously, and it may take time for their children to conceptualize and follow through on rules and routines.”
Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Friday, April 09, 2021
The Biggest Financial Mistakes Parents Make — And How to Avoid Them
Financial planners told us the most common financial regrets parents have — and how to change course before it's too late.
Apr 07 2021, 5:52 PM
With its high levels of stress and few hours of sleep, becoming a parent is a surefire recipe for sloppy financial planning. Everyone, from neighbors to relatives to predictive algorithms for Facebook ads, wants to scare you into spending money. Meanwhile, the bare necessities — diapers, clothes, cribs — are expensive enough on their own.
While the stress of parenting mellows, the ad hoc approach to spending often remains. Parents spend years spraying a dollar hose at camps, sports leagues, after school activities and whatever else crops up. After decades of indiscriminate spending, they’re unprepared for major life events ranging from college tuition and retirement to disability and death. Financial regrets? Like the great economist Frank Sinatra, they have a few.
But that regret isn’t inevitable. We asked financial planners about the biggest financial regrets they heard from clients who are parents. Many said their clients with kids wished they’d started financial planning sooner, which is unsurprising (honestly, only rich people start saving when they should). But they also shared counterintuitive advice about how to prioritize money over the long term. Here’s what you should know about the biggest financial mistakes, and how to change course before it’s too late.
The Financial Mistake: Pre-Baby Spending Sprees
Louisiana-based financial planner and father of four Alajahwon Ridgeway notes that eager parents-to-be overspend before their baby arrives. After covering the basics — crib, car seat, diapers, bibs and clothes — they don’t know where to stop.
“You never know exactly what you need and what is a luxury to have,” Ridgeway says. After a couple of months as a parent, though, it’s easy to see what’s collecting dust. “All the bottle warmers, newborn shoes, and baby bags were rarely, if ever used.”
How to Correct it: Ridgeway advises first consulting experts who have your best financial interests at heart. “Make a list of things you need by asking a trusted family member or friend,” he says. It’s better to react to needs as they arise than to try to predict them. “When the baby arrives, then buy any additional things as needed. I know a changing table sounds nice, but when you are in another room and you only got three hours of sleep, a towel on the couch will do just fine.”
As the head of a large household, Ridgeway’s bonus advice is to keep baby gear in good condition to avoid unneeded repurchases. “Babies grow out of things quickly, and you may just have four like me,” he says. “Which makes it easy to pass down old clothes that the baby wore for one Easter picture.”
The Financial Mistake: Not Starting to Save Sooner
With the money drain of diapers, daycare, and more, the early years of parenthood leave little wiggle room for savings. But as Michigan financial planner and father of four Paul Fenner says, parents who don’t find a way to start saving money early inevitably regret it. “The number one regret I hear from parents is that they did not begin saving earlier in their lives,” he says. “Whether that is saving for retirement or college, they regret or second guess the decision not to get started planning sooner.”
How to Correct it: The best time to start making your money grow is 10 years ago. The second best time is today. So, start socking away cash. Now. Ask someone you trust about how to make your money grow over time and follow their advice as quickly as possible. As Fenner says, the first step is the hardest. “[Parents can be] afraid of taking the first step or that their ambitions were unclear to where they did not know where to start or who to turn to support their family,” he says.
The Financial Mistake: Going Big on Your Kid’s Wedding
Weddings set the tone for a marriage in more ways than one. Couples want to launch their new lives together with joy and celebration and parents want to help. “Weddings bring in the whole family, and are discussed for decades afterward,” Ohio financial planner Curtis Bailey says. “Parents want the best for their children and offer to help foot the bills.” But joy and celebration don’t come cheap. “When the budget begins to go overboard, it is often the parents who continue to write the checks.”
How to Correct it: Don’t give your kids carte blanche for their big day. Be generous, but be generous with a single lump sum payment. “I have seen a few parents simply write a one-time check,” Bailey says. “That’s it. It sets the budget and gives the couple their first opportunity on how to spend it. Tradeoffs become more real for children when they write the check from their own bank account for wedding expenses.”
The Financial Mistake: Not Maxing Out a Roth IRA
Anthony Watson, founder of Michigan wealth management firm Thrive Retirement Specialists, finds that his clients often wish they would have funded a Roth IRA earlier in their career while both their income and taxation rates were lower. While contributions to traditional IRAs are tax-deductible and your earnings grow tax-free until you pay taxes when you start withdrawing from the account, Roth IRAs are subject to taxes while you contribute to them. “Plus, the ability to contribute to a Roth IRA gets phased out at an Adjusted Gross Income of $125,000 if single and $198,000 for couples,” Watson says.
How to Correct it: After maxing out their employers matching provisions to their 401(K), prioritize funding a ROTH IRA. “High growth assets like stocks in a Roth IRA early in life can put people in a great position later in life by giving them a sizable tax-free income source to fund retirement,” Watson says. “Combined with qualified retirement vehicles like a 401(k) or IRA that get taxed at personal income rates when withdrawn in retirement, an individual can craft a superior tax-efficient withdrawal strategy later in life adding tremendous value to their retirement situation.”
The Financial Mistake: Investing too Heavily into Bonds Over Stocks
Watson finds that his older clients wish they earned better returns by holding more stock and fewer bonds in their portfolio.
“Young people often naively hold bonds in the portfolio because they think it provides them with needed diversification,” he says, adding that the ability to work for steady pay and make steady contributions to an investment portfolio over time serves the role bonds would play in the portfolio.
But, please note: This doesn’t mean betting on individual stocks in hopes of beating the market. “While it is possible to have success occasionally timing markets or picking stocks, the probability of slowly and steadily growing your portfolio and allowing compounding to do its work is low,” he says.
How to Correct it: Watson advises following a simple index-based approach to investing, saying parents will have better luck using low-cost, diversified ETFs rather than following the crowd and trying to time markets or hit home-runs through stock picking. And yes, Reddit dads, that includes Gamestop stonks.
The Financial Mistake: Not Teaching Kids Financial Literacy
When kids enter young adulthood, they often struggle with financial concepts. Student loans, credit, and investing are elusive for them. “Many parents regret not teaching their children more about finance,” South Carolina financial advisor and father of three Charles H Thomas III says. “The hesitancy often comes from parents who aren’t sure themselves.”
How to Correct it: It isn’t easy to tell your kids that you don’t know something. But Thomas says sussing out how money, debt and credit works can bring your family close together. “Take it as an opportunity to learn together,” he says. “For example, if a bill comes in the mail, offer to look at it with your child and talk through what makes sense and what doesn’t. It will benefit everyone to talk it through.”
The Financial Mistake: Under-Spending on Life and Disability Insurance
Nobody likes paying for insurance. It’s a drain on your wallet that has no benefit the vast majority of the time. But when emergencies happen, which happens more frequently as you age, the cushion of insurance can make a vital difference for families. Megan Kopka, a North Carolina financial advisor specializing in advising families of children with disabilities, says that not having any or enough disability or life insurance can lead to major regrets. Often with disability comes large medical payments,” she says. “These two insurances are often overlooked or downplayed. In worst case scenarios, that can be the biggest regret.”
How to Correct it: Sign up for life and disability insurance. Pay the policy every month. Complain as much as you want when everything’s fine and pat yourself on the back when everything goes wrong and you were prepared. “If you are not on track for retirement and the kids are older and college isn’t covered then get life insurance in case your household income is decreased by disability or death,” she says.
The Financial Mistake: Prioritizing Kids’ College Over Own Retirement
Believe it or not, putting your kids first can be a huge mistake. Ohio financial planner John Bovard and father of four says his older parent clients frequently realize they erred in supporting their kids too much.
“Often, they were concerned about their kids going to a good school,” Bovard says. They worried about paying their tuition and making sure there wasn’t any student loan debt. And then they come to realize that they probably should have used that money for their own retirement.”
Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Tuesday, March 09, 2021
How to Teach Kids to Listen, Change Their Minds
Listening is more than paying attention. It is about understanding the story being told.
By Matthew Utley Jun 05 2020, 1:41 PM
It can be hard to truly listen to other’s perspectives, particularly if they are far removed from one’s own experience or document pain that has been ignored for generations. But much of the pain and anguish displayed in cities across America today are the result of pleas falling on deaf ears, and ostensible allies dismissing the daily experiences of millions of fellow citizens because it seems so far outside their norm. It is a failure to listen and empathize with other perspectives. This is an oversimplification, but when people listen — really listen — and empathize, things can improve.
nd that makes it all the more important to teach children how to listen and empathize. Today’s children will still be sorting through these issues of justice when they enter adulthood, and the way a child is raised helps determine the kind of adult they become. So what can parents do to help raise kids who listen with empathy and emotional intelligence and can change their minds? It requires an ongoing conversation at every age. Here are some things to know.
Infancy: Be There For Your Baby
The seeds of empathy are planted during infancy, when neurological development is very sensitive to parental behavior. In fact, so many systems are developing in babies that even something as simple as changing a diaper reinforces socialization.
“A basic concept here is ‘neurons that fire together wire together’ – so when there is a diaper change, for example, all sorts of things happen: eye gazing, soothing speech, and relief of displeasure of a mushy diaper,” explain Dr. Brit Creelman, a licensed clinical psychologist at Allendale Association’s outpatient therapy clinic in Chicago.
Dr. Creelman adds that these social interactions happen in the context of needs being met, and regulation being supported, “with all this coming together in such a way that neurologically the brain starts to develop and become hard wired for well-regulated social interaction – the foundation building blocks for empathy.”
Early Childhood: Lead By Example, Focus on Empathy
Children in early childhood tend toward an egocentric moral position; they only understand the world from their own perspective, and form their moral positions based on what their family rewards as good behavior. This isn’t an indication of a bad kid — it’s simply how kids figure out the world. But it also presents parents with an excellent opportunity to nurture empathetic behaviors by modeling them. “The best way to raise empathetic kids is to do so by example,” says Dr. Lea Lis, a double board-certified adult and child psychiatrist and author of No Shame: Real Talk With Your Kids About Sex, Self-Confidence, and Healthy Relationships. Express emotions, talk about feeling sad, discuss making mistakes, listen intently to your kids and others, and your children will learn from watching you. Modeling is paramount. “Children often understand their emotional reality only in the context of others,” notes Dr. Lis. “They also understand if they will get into trouble, but have not really internalized why they must behave.” Parents, therefore, must model and explain why it is important to do the right thing, even if they won’t get into trouble.
Certain tools can help young children better understand empathy and the world in general. Reading fiction and discussing the feelings characters might have experienced during a particular moment. Feelings charts can help increase emotional vocabulary. Dr. Lis recommends social stories, which are narrative templates that allow children to run through various social situations and understand how to navigate them. Social stories often offer perspectives, discuss the feelings and opinions of multiple characters. “They help children grasp social norms, routines, and expectations, like walking down the hall, using restroom facilities, following lunch procedures, using manners, using greetings, asking for help properly,” she says.
Grade Schoolers: Model Behavior, Validate Feelings
As children grow older and enter grade school, the social circle that influences their ideas of morality can expand. And while that can create problems, parents still wield an incredible amount of influence. Even older kids who are internalizing their ideas of right and wrong still watch parental cues. Moms and dads must therefore reinforce those cues by asking questions and genuinely listening to their children. Parents should make sure that listening includes allowing their children to feel their feelings, even if it is unpleasant.
Validating feelings is crucial, as brushing them off teaches kids to ignore and internalize them. “When a child is afraid, for example, it is probably more helpful to say things like ‘I see you are scared, tell me about it’ rather than glossing it over with comments like ‘Don’t worry you don’t have anything to be afraid of,’” says Creelman. “When a parent acknowledges and names feelings, this helps a child feel understood. Feeling this from others helps build the ability to do this when interacting with others later on, which is a foundational component of empathy.”
Adolescence: Get Your Kids Involved
Adolescence is often when kids start to address more complicated moral ideas, such as the concept of the ‘white lie.’ Once they are able to consider another person’s perspective, lying to preserve their feelings becomes a legitimate moral question. This is not the time to shelter kids. It is a time for them to read more, to get involved, to learn from experience.
Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Tuesday, March 09, 2021
Great Communication Starts With Understanding Your Kid
The first five years are an explosive time in terms of development. Your little one understands more than you think. Here's how to talk to them.
You probably think your kid is a genius. Most parents do, but in this case they’re right. In the first five years of life, kids make leaps in development that dwarf any other period. In this time, parents witness kids evolve from entirely helpless creatures to little Einstein’s, fluent in 10,000 words and a great stream of independent thought.
But throughout this period, they must be guided. Your little Einstein can, like the great genius himself, be simultaneously brilliant, needy, and aloof. This is especially true when it comes to their connection to people. In five years, kids can figure out how to walk, talk, and do somersaults, but how they treat and understand other kids and adults doesn’t just come to them. Sure, they can build a masterful skyscraper out of blocks and have memorized the lyrics to Frere Jacques, however they can just as easily call another kid “stupid” and shove them.
Kids aren’t naturally cruel. Instead, becoming a kind, empathetic human is hard. This is why it’s one of the most important lessons to come from a parent. It all starts with communication. Of course, the way you pass on lessons will need to evolve with your child. A 1-year-old is going to understand a very different lesson than a 4-year-old. There’s no way around it. And while all children develop differently and developmental milestones never follow like clockwork, there are predictable elements. Here’s your communication cheat sheet from birth to 5.
0-1: Connect and Show
By age 1, kids generally know about 50 words. These words are mostly nouns. So in this case verbal communication would not be the best way to pass on complicated notions like race. The best approach is to communicate with the goal of helping kids to build their vocabulary, so that later dialogue about concepts will be easier and more effective.
Infants are brilliant readers of emotion. They can both see and convey desires, opinions, and preferences via body language, tone, and facial expressions. As such, they can see how you treat them and others. Before they’re even 1, you are already being watched — and thus leading by example. Be aware of what behaviors you may be inadvertently modeling.
Mimicry is everything to an infant. Movements, expressions, even tone are all in play at this time. Watch what you do and how you act everywhere — they will be.
That eye for mimicry is a wandering one. Your kids are probably more observant of other people than you think. Studies show that children begin observing racial differences as early as 6 months. So what they observe in the way you treat others — especially along race or gender lines — can serve as the foundation for biases that studies show can be held by preschool age.
1-2: Perform and Mirror
From 1 to 2, kids start to develop their own opinions and can start saying “no.” Where do they form those opinions? Almost entirely from first-person observations. They pick up on your opinions and test them. As such, parents must watch themselves.
Two-word sentences are the most common form of communication at this age, as verbs enter the fray. Kids can follow directions, point to familiar objects when named, and mimic words but language is still mostly a game for them and its meaning is limited to simple, timely needs.
Kids this age can and copy others, especially adults and older kids. This is the source of some defiant behavior and the place where prejudices may creep in. It isn’t the child’s prejudice you’re seeing — it’s a mirror of yours or someone close to them in their life.
2-3: Talk and Cuddle
By age 3, kids have roughly 1,000 words and are fast becoming wordsmiths. They are starting to understand meaning and, with the aid of pictures and a storybook, they can understand basic morality, albeit simplified notions of “good” and “bad.” This is a time to test their verbal limits. They may be less limited than you think.
Kids continue to copy adults and friends and can now show affection and concern for friends without prompting. Empathy is developing now, as is fear and concern for themselves and others, especially family. Show them what true affection is — with cuddling and hugs and physical signs of affection for everyone in your inner circle. Couple that with showing physical signs of respect and kindness for those outside of your circle.
Their growing vocabulary and developing sense of empathy, is your cue to begin to have more expansive concept based conversations even if it may appear that they are not quite ready. Not to worry. Even if they don’t follow, they will pick up bits and pieces and curiosity will help their understanding to grow. Avoiding discussions about race can create a breeding ground for prejudice, bad behavior, and racist attitudes.
3-4: Emote and Empathize
From 3 to 4, toddlers are able to express themselves emotionally and read others’ emotions. While they may have fast-growing vocabularies, speech mixed with emotions is most readily understood. Experts recommend mixing simple emotional words like “sad,” “happy,” “excited,” and “scared” into your conversations.
Playtime for your kid suddenly becomes a bit more imaginative at this stage, and is an excellent conduit for introducing more sophisticated concepts around life lessons. Doll play is one of the most effective ways to talk to kids about difficult, complex subjects like discrimination and unfairness. This is one of the reasons play therapy is so effective for young children — it’s truly speaking their language.
For three and four year olds, empathy now begins to take on a more cooperative edge. They can understand what others are feeling and thinking, and can also help them to shift their mood or complete a task. This is a useful way to communicate how one can help and to socialize.
Toddlers aren’t just looking to parents for signals to understand the world, they’re taking lessons from anywhere they can get them. Their positive or negative associations with kids who look different than them come from what they observe — and if parents aren’t there to clarify or lead the way, biases that don’t belong to the parent, but are pervasive to society, may start to creep in.
4-5: Talk and Let Them Learn
By age 5, kids have a whopping 10,000 words or so at their disposal. They are fluent communicators, and with repetition and careful delivery, they can understand big life lessons. So talk to them frankly and without oversimplifying too much.
Kids are growing fast at this age, and developing a sense of independence. This means that they aren’t absorbing everything you say as much as they were. You `Z still need to lead by example (always), but giving them thematic projects and activities to do on their own is a great way for them to figure some things out themselves.
Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Tuesday, March 09, 2021
How to Save Money for Kids:
5 Accounts All Parents Should Know About
Creating a financial foundation for your kids is essential. These are the accounts that will help you build it
By Daniel Kurt Mar 05 2021, 2:19 PM
The question of how to save money for kids has led to its fair share of sleepless nights and sour stomachs. There is just so much to figure out: How do I save for college? What accounts are best for creating a small nest egg for my kid? All the questions are good to ask because failing to give kids a cushion as they enter the real world can create a big emotional strain.
Consider this: More than six in ten college students graduated with student loan debt in 2019 and their average bill was $28,950, according to The Institute for College Access & Success. Couple that with chronically higher unemployment among recent graduates, and money issues can be a heavy burden for any young adult.
Building up savings now can help ensure that, when your children get a little older, they will not have to worry as much about crippling student loans or where their next rent payment is going to come from. So, to the question of how to save money for kids: Put a little bit a way as often as you can in the right account. Here are the five accounts to consider.
1. Custodial Accounts
Federally insured child savings accounts and debit cards can be a great way to encourage your son or daughter to build healthy financial habits. But you can also open a custodial account in their name, which may be an even more effective way to save long-term. Unlike child-managed bank products, kids do not control custodial accounts — more formally known as UGMA/UTMA accounts — until they reach legal adulthood. While they legally own the account, you serve as its “custodian.” Any money you put in is an irrevocable gift to the minor, so there is no takebacks.
Any funds deposited, from summer work money to Bat Mitzvah gifts, will stay put unless you make a withdrawal on their behalf. Once they turn 18 or 21, depending on your state, they will have a nice little reserve to fall back on.
2. Brokerage Accounts
Parents (and grandparents) looking for another smart way to save, with the potential for juicier returns, might want to think about a custodial brokerage account. Instead of their money sitting in a savings account generating tiny amounts of interest, you can invest in a range of stocks and bonds. There’s always a risk that those stocks can fluctuate in value, so you might want to steer toward less volatile securities unless you have younger children with a longer time horizon. And unlike 529 college accounts, earnings are taxable (although at the child’s tax rate). But if you’re looking for a vehicle with a lot of investment flexibility that puts you in the driver’s seat until they’re grown, custodial accounts are a pretty solid choice.
You can open a UGMA/UTMA account at pretty much any of the main brokerage houses, including TD Ameritrade and Schwab. There is also a new mobile app called Early Bird, which lets friends and extended family contribute to your child’s investment account for a small fee. It will not provide the same instant gratification as getting cash for their birthday, but in the long run letting the account grow will often provide a much bigger impact.
Whereas UGMAs and UTMAs are built around ease, setting up a trust for your kids can be a more complex (and costly) undertaking. That does not mean they don’t have important upsides, however. Custodial accounts give kids 100% control over the funds when they reach the age of adulthood. But handing an 18-year-old unfettered access to larger balances, especially, can be a recipe for disaster.
Trusts mitigate some of that concern by enabling parents to spell out exactly how they want the funds dispersed. Perhaps you want to give your children funds in a series of installments or would like for the assets to be used only on tuition. You can spell all that out in the trust.
Again, you do not get the same tax benefits as a 529, but the degree of flexibility that trusts offer is hard to match. Do not let the cliché about “trust fund kids” fool you— they can be a useful tool for middle-class families, too. 4. 529 Accounts
When it comes to heading off the massive tuition bills that likely awaits your kid in a few years, 529 savings accounts are still the go-to savings vehicle for most parents. The fact that students can withdraw money tax-free for qualified expenses—including room and board as well as required textbooks—is a big draw.
4. 529 Accounts
When it comes to heading off the massive tuition bills that likely awaits your kid in a few years, 529 savings accounts are still the go-to savings vehicle for most parents. The fact that students can withdraw money tax-free for qualified expenses—including room and board as well as required textbooks—is a big draw. But, depending on where you live, parents get a nice perk, too. More than 30 states let you deduct at least a portion of your 529 contributions, according to SavingForCollege.com, so you can often reduce your own state tax bill while helping your kids save. Do 529s give you all the investment flexibility you would have with a brokerage account? No. But the target date funds that most plans offer will keep a lot of parents happy. Keep in mind that 529 plans are not just for college, either. Families can withdraw up to $10,000 a year, tax-free, to help pay the cost of private elementary, middle or high school tuition.
5. Roth IRAs
If you have a teenager at home, you are probably more a lot more concerned about your retirement than theirs–and rightly so. But if you are already on track with your own investments, starting a Roth IRA for child who works part-time is not such a crazy idea. Part of it is simple math: because of the time value of money, even small amounts that they kick in now have the potential to experience decades of growth by the time they leave the workforce. And for younger investors, the tax benefits are especially potent.
Like any Roth account, kids cannot deduct contributions on their tax return. But unless your high schooler has a particularly lucrative job, they probably do not have a tax liability at this point anyway. Money grows tax-deferred and, long as they do not make any withdrawals until age 59½, they will not have to pay a penny to Uncle Sam on the back end.