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What to know about co-parenting

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Sunday, November 06, 2022

What to know about co-parenting

Medically reviewed by Karen Gill, M.D. - By Zia Sherrell, MPH on March 29, 2022 in Medical News Today

When parents’ divorce or separate, it can be difficult for them to maintain a civil relationship for the sake of their children. However, healthy co-parenting, or shared parenting, provides children with a sense of stability. This stability is critical to their well-being.

Co-parenting requires communication and cooperation to be successful. Although it can be challenging, there are ways to make co-parenting work for everyone involved. With a little effort, divorced and separated parents can work toward setting aside their differences and providing their children with the environment they need to thrive.

Keep reading to learn more about healthy co-parenting, and how parents can work together to make it a positive experience for each other and their children.

What is co-parenting?


Share on PinterestVladimir Tsarkov/Stocksy

Co-parenting usually refers to both parents sharing responsibilities for their children following separation. Children may experience emotional turmoil when their parents divorce or separate. Co-parenting can help minimize the effects of separation. It involves maintaining positive communication with all parties involved.

There are different co-parenting arrangements, but most should involve both parents working together to decide the child’s welfare, living arrangements, education, and activities.

Co-parenting can be a challenge, but it can also be rewarding. By working together, parents can provide their children with a sense of stability during difficult times.

Benefits for the child

Effective co-parenting helps lower children’s stress and anxiety levels. It can also help reduce the conflicts between parents that negatively impact their children, and provide stability to the child.

StudiesTrusted Source show that children can develop a range of psychological, physical, and behavioral symptoms when exposed to parental conflicts.

For example, when parents clash, children may blame themselvesTrusted Source and experience changes in their emotions, general conduct, or conduct at school. Additionally, parents who clash may conflict more with their childrenTrusted Source, affecting parent-child relationships. Cooperative co-parenting helps avoid these issues.

Children may benefit from knowing that both parents put them first and want to spend time with them. Additionally, children gain a critical sense of security and safety when they have a consistent routine or set of rules to abide by.

How to co-parent effectively

An essential factor to effective co-parenting is ensuring that the children’s emotional and physical needs always come first. This should remain a priority, no matter how the parents feel about one another.

Parents must recognize that co-parenting might be challenging at times, especially while living separate lives in different homes. Other factors, such as distance between homes, can make co-parenting more difficult.

Communication is key to the co-parenting process. The parents must make every effort to listen to one another and talk about their child only. Even if the situation is stressful, co-parents must ensure that they talk in a manner that is without blame, complaints, and sarcasm.

It may be difficult to make shared decisions, but parents must develop a set of rules and routines together for children to adhere to, no matter which home they are in. When the parents agree to these rules, they must abide by them and not attempt to undermine the other parent.

Parents should remember that effective co-parenting has considerable benefits and helps provide a consistent, stable environment for their children to thrive.

Tips and best practice for families

Co-parenting may be hard work initially, but the rewards for the children are invaluable. The following tips can help people effectively co-parent:

  • Communicate: Parents should be able to discuss matters about their children openly, without concern of either one raising personal or past issues. When parents communicate effectively, resolving any conflicts becomes easier for all parties.
  • Compromise: Parents should try to be open to each other’s concerns or ideas regarding matters about the children. Flexibility is also invaluable on both sides. Although routine is healthy for the children, it is easier for both parents if they are accommodating toward one another.
  • Agree on strategies: Although parents are unlikely to agree on every decision, they need a basic level of agreement. This would be for essential factors, such as health, education, discipline, curfews, etc.

Common mistakes

Co-parenting can be challenging, particularly if the parents have a strained relationship. Often, separated parents feel that the trust between them is lost, they must rebuild this in relation to parenting their children.

It is important for people to avoid some of the common mistakes when co-parenting. They should consider:

  • Never talking badly about one another in front of the children. Although parents may find it challenging, setting aside any hurt and resentment is important.
  • Not using the child as a weapon to punish the other parent, for example, withholding visits.
  • Not using the child as a messenger, as this can put them at the center of any conflicts. Instead, parents should communicate directly with one another.
  • Avoid buying excessive gifts or offering unusual freedoms to the child in an attempt to win favor.

Remember that children can feel responsible for their parents’ negative emotions toward the other. It is also important for parents and caregivers to understand that co-parenting is not about their feelings. It is about ensuring the child is happy and stable.

Co-parenting with a mental health condition

Coping with a mental health condition is extremely difficult both for the individual and their family members. Co-parenting with an individual living with mental health difficulties can be even more challenging. However, there are some steps that can help both parents and children cope. These include:

  • Educating the children about their parent’s mental health: Parents should educate their children in an age-appropriate way about the symptoms of the condition and strategies for coping. Parents can seek advice from a qualified mental health professional to find the best approach for talking with their children and helping them understand that sometimes a parent or caregiver’s confusing behavior is not their fault.
  • Modeling behavior: A parent or caregiver can explain to their children the importance of empathy and how to avoid escalating conflict. They can also explain how mental health issues can change a person’s behavior, which children may find difficult to understand. Parents can help model behaviors for children by talking kindly and calmly to one another. This approach may empower children to replicate the behavior.
  • Separating the person from their diagnosis: Children need to understand that their parent has an illness and that this problem does not define them. Parents should avoid using terms such as “depressed” or “bipolar” to describe the individual living with the mental health issue. This language can stigmatize and negatively affect the children’s relationship with that parent.
  • Establishing strong boundaries: If children report behaviors that concern them, the parent should discuss this directly with the co-parent. However, if the co-parent is suicidal, people should call 911 and request a welfare check rather than getting involved personally. This helps maintain healthy boundaries with no potential for manipulation.

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The Big Realization That Helped Me Become a Better Dad, According to 10 Men

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The Big Realization That Helped Me Become a Better Dad, According to 10 Men

 

These "ah-ha moments" helped this group of dads become better parents.

by Matt Christensen in Fatherly.com

Updated: Jan. 4, 2022

Originally Published: July 9, 2021

 


Chances are every parent has had an “ah-ha” moment, a time when suddenly and often inexplicably, clarity takes over and a realization sets in that helps you reframe who you are as a parent and person in general. Maybe you realize that you were being too serious and not silly enough in your parenting. Maybe you realized that it’s much better — and simpler — to be honest with children about the long hours you work. For fathers, those moments can be as refreshing as they are eye-opening, reframing duties and elevating the concepts of compassion, understanding, presence, and making the most of every moment.

These moments of clarity are important. As important is sharing them so that fellow dads can learn the hard-won lessons sooner. That’s why we asked a group of dads to share the realization that made them a better father. They shared stories of ah-ha moments both small and large that happened at charity book fairs and in classrooms. Each contains a bit of wisdom that fathers young and old might learn a thing or two from.

I realized that I could be the silly dad and not just the serious dad

“When I had my first son, I stopped ‘playing’ in order to be ‘serious’ about being an adult and a father. I gave up a lot of the things I loved to do, like water sports and traveling. I quickly became disgruntled and resentful. My son didn’t deserve that. He never asked me to give up my passions. But my whole family was suffering under my contempt, and I’m ashamed to say just how downtrodden and lost I became. The happy ending came when I realized that I could be myself

and my son’s father at the same time. It sounds silly, but I thought I needed to choose one or the other. Really, my silliness and spirit were the levity my family needed most. Once I allowed myself these guilt-free rights, I held the responsibility of parenting closer to my heart. I returned to being the man I wanted to exemplify to my kids.” – Alex, 38, Utah

I realized I didn’t need to keep work and family separate

“I’ve always been a busy working professional, and I tried my best to make it work with my family. At one point, my son came to visit me at work, and I had a revelation that made me realize what kind of a dad I wanted to be. I always tried to keep work and family separate, but this was the time I realized that it didn’t have to be that way. When my son visited, he was very curious about my work and would constantly ask questions. At one point, I realized how happy I was that he was there and was so curious about what I did. From that point on, I always used work discussions as a way to bond with my children and build a better relationship. They also respect my work more because of that, so they understand to keep away when things get too serious. It’s a relationship I wish for every working dad!” –Akram Assaf, United Arab Emirates

I realized that I needed to be more involved as a dad

“My wake-up call to become a better father came through the passing of my own dad. I was constantly thinking I wish I’d been different, and spent more time appreciating him when he was alive. So I saw it as my chance to step up and become more involved in the lives of my children. We take the opportunity to get outdoors as often as possible. Fishing is my passion, and there have been trips when I feel the hairs on my arms stand up with the realization that I am pursuing the path of better parenthood. Sometimes it’s the little things that mean the most, like just expressing myself more often and being honest with my feelings. Hopefully, I’m teaching my children that life isn’t always smooth sailing and we all deal with failure in some aspect or another. In short, I want to use the passing of my father to benefit the life of my children, and I hope that my dad looks down on us with pride.” – Liam, 38, California

I realized I needed to be more present

“I’m the father of two kids, one boy, and one girl. I’ll never forget this certain moment of epiphany that has prompted me not only to become a better father but a better individual as well. My youngest daughter was having her fifth birthday party. After we blew out the candles, she asked me if she would have a birthday every year. I said she would, and she asked, ‘Does that mean I’ll grow up like you?’ I said yes, she would, and she replied with, ‘Then that means you’ll grow up some more and get old like grandpa and grandma? But, Daddy, I want to be with you longer!’ From that moment, I realized how much longer I want to be with my children too. That single instance has prompted me to be more present every time we’re together. It has prompted me to try and maintain an active and healthy lifestyle, and to become a kinder and better parent and individual every chance I get.” –Johnny, 46, California

I realized I needed to become an advocate for my child

“An individualized educational plan (IEP) meeting for my disabled daughter was how it was billed on paper. To this day, that meeting remains one of the most pivotal moments in my life as a parent. I had felt comfortable and competent as the parent of two children, the youngest autistic, the eldest not. Navigating the world with our daughter taught us to think differently about disability, acceptance, and community. ‘She does not qualify for special education,’ was all the administrator would say that day. Despite the years of assessments and psychological batteries, the letter from her pediatrician and mountains of medical records, and most painfully, despite uncovering that the school had altered my daughter’s test scores to purposefully keep her from the access she required, her predetermined position would not change. On that day I was forced to become an advocate. Because on that day, I was painted as a difficult parent. Both labels put me on a path that challenged everything I knew about myself, and forced me to re-examine parenting.” – Aaron Wright, 46, California

I realized I had to be a better example for my daughters

“I was at a charity book sale and saw an old copy of Dr. Spock on Parenting by Dr. Benjamin Spock on sale for one dollar. I thought for a dollar, I couldn’t go wrong. It was the best parenting dollar I ever spent. As I read it, I could see why Dr. Spock’s book Baby and Child Care was one of the bestselling books of the 20th century. Ask any baby-boomer if their parents read Dr. Spock. They all did. In one of his chapters on being a father, he wrote that if you want to be a good father you have to be a role model to and a leader of your children. The wisdom in that sentence hit me. I realized that I had to step forward and take the lead on dealing with situations involving my daughters. I had to be an example of the values I wanted my daughters to have. I had to be the kind of man I wanted my daughters to choose. It transformed me from being someone who was more of their mother’s helper to being their father.” – Elliot, 56, Toronto

I realized I needed to start re-considering my children’s viewpoints

“I have two teenagers, 15 and 17. For all of us, 2020 was a rough year all around. Not just because of COVID, but because of the general state of everything. We had a conversation about all the things affecting the world and, in turn, their lives. I learned that my kids have a

much different perspective about the world than I do. I have always led with a ‘my way or the highway’ philosophy, and being made aware of their perspectives made me realize I needed to take a step back and reassess. They were scared about how rapidly the world was changing. And, honestly, I was too. After that initial discussion, we had many others. We really learned to communicate and be open with each other. This was such an extraordinary time for me as a dad. I was able to put my viewpoints on the back burner and listen to what they had to say about the world. The issues that are important to them are much clearer now, and important to me as well.” – Steve, 48, Arizona

I realized I didn’t need to hide information about my work

“Sometimes bringing home extra work or putting in longer hours is unavoidable, especially when you’re the boss. One day I stopped to talk to my kids and tell them exactly why I had to work so often and for so long this particular week, and I realized that was the key to both lessening my guilt and helping them understand why I’d be gone more than usual. I started explaining to my kids why I’d have to bring work home or stay at the office longer, in simple terms they’d understand. I also made sure to always tell them it was just for a few days. Rather than try to hide it or ignore the fact that I was seeing them less, I gave them a reason why. They understand that when I have to work late it’s just temporary, and that’s made us all happier.” – Gabriel, North Carolina

I realized how fast the years were passing by

“I think I realized how fast time was going by the day my youngest son graduated elementary school. I began to see that time spent with my kids wasn’t something I could ever get back. I stopped worrying about work so much, and tried to be more present and focused on my family. I used to always hear, ‘The days are long but the years fly by.’ When I watched my son graduating, it hit me that in eight years he would be gone from home forever. It really changed my perspective, and I devoted that last decade to being present. Not just physically, but invested in every minute with my kids and my family.” – Hugh, 48, Oregon


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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

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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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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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What Parents Need To Know About Permissive Parenting

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


 
Aug 27 2021, 9:35 AM

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. 

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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.”

The Biggest Financial Mistakes Parents Make — And How to Avoid Them

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. 

By Adam Bulger for Fatherly.com

 

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.” 


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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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