A Father's
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A nationally recognized parenting expert, Armin Brott is the author of The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to-Be; The New Father: A Dad's Guide to the First Year, A Dad's Guide to the Toddler Years, Throwaway Dads, The Single Father: A Dad's Guide to Parenting without a Partner and Father for Life. He has written on parenting and fatherhood for the New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, Newsweek and dozens of other periodicals. He also hosts “Positive Parenting”, a nationally distributed, weekly talk show, and lives with his family in Oakland, California. Visit Armin at www.mrdad.com

Au Pairs
Breastfeeding
Childproofing
Dads Have Physical Symptoms Too
Defining "Daddy"
Finding Day Care
Grandfatherhood
Midnight Wakeups
Morning Sickness
The Myth of the Biologically Unfit Father
The Myths of the Bumbling Father and Useless Father
On Not Being a Disneyland Dad
Postpartum Blues and Depression
Reconstructing Dad
Sex Drive
Single Parent Discipline
Sleeping Arrangements
Socializing Adults: From Husband to Father
Taking the High Road
When Adult Children Come Back Home

Defining "Daddy"


To fully integrate the idea of being a father into your self-identity, it’ll help to understand exactly what being a father actually involves. One of the most consistent findings by researchers is that new fathers almost always feel unprepared for their new role. Personally, I would have been surprised if it were otherwise. As writer David L. Giveans says, “It is both unfair and realistic to expect a man . . . to automatically ‘father’ when his life experiences have skillfully isolated him from learning how.”

When most of our fathers were raising us, a “good father” was synonymous with “good provider.” He supported his family financially, mowed the lawn, washed the car, and maintained discipline in the home. No one seemed to care whether he ever spent much time with his children; in fact, he was discouraged from doing so, and told to leave the kids to his wife, the “good mother.”

Today, yesterday’s “good father” has retroactively become an emotionally distant, uncaring villain. And today’s “good father,” besides still being the breadwinner, is expected to be a real presence—physically and emotionally—in his kids’ lives. That, in a nutshell, is exactly what most new fathers want. Most of us have no intention of being wait-till-your-father-comes-home daddies and want to be more involved with our children than our own fathers were. The problem is, we just haven’t had the training. The solution? Jump right in. The “maternal instinct” that women are supposedly born with is actually acquired on the job. And that’s exactly where you’re going to develop your “paternal instinct.”

Another question you’re going to have to ask yourself here is how being a father fits with your definition of being a man. There are two major reasons why so many of us would prefer to drive ten miles down the wrong road than to stop and ask for directions. First, from the time we were little boys, we’ve been socialized to associate knowledge with masculinity—in other words, real men know everything, and admitting to being lost is a sign of weakness (and, of course, a lack of masculinity). Second—and even worse—we’ve also been socialized to be strong, independent, and goal oriented, and to consider asking for help as a sign of weakness (and, again, a lack of masculinity).

Nothing in the world can bring these two factors into play faster that the birth of a baby. Because of the near-total absence of active, involved, nurturing male role models, most new fathers can’t seriously claim that they know what to do with a new baby (although never having cooked before didn’t prevent my father from insisting he could make the best blueberry pancakes we’d ever taste; and boy, was he wrong).

Getting help seems like the obvious solution to the ignorance problem, but most men don’t want to seem helpless or expose their lack of knowledge by asking anyone. In addition, too many dads are aware of the prevailing attitude that a man who is actively involved with his children—especially if he’s the primary caretaker—is not as masculine that his less-involved brothers.

It’s easy to see how the whole experience of becoming a father can lead so many new fathers to wonder secretly (no one ever openly admits to having these thoughts) whether or not they’ve retained their masculinity. All too often, the result of this kind of thinking is that fathers leave the entire child rearing to their partners and leave their kids essentially without a father. ”Children are at a particular disadvantage when they are deprived of constructive experiences with their fathers,” writes psychologist Henry Biller. “Infants and young children are unlikely to be provided with other opportunities to form a relationship with a caring and readily available adult male if their father is not emotionally committed to them.”

Reconstructing Dad


There’s an old saying in the Talmud that a man has three names: the one his parents gave him at birth, the one that others call him, and the one he calls himself. A person’s identity, according to the rabbis, is a rather amorphous thing. What the rabbis don’t talk about is that all three of those names are subject to change over time—especially the one you give yourself. So who are you these days? The same person you were a few years ago? Probably not. And one of the biggest reasons you’re not is that being a father has changed you.

Over a period of nearly two years, University of California–Berkeley researchers Phil and Carolyn Cowan asked a large number of men to draw a circle and divide it up into sections that reflected how important each aspect of their life felt—not the amount of time in the role. Over the study period, childless men showed a significant increase in the “partner/lover” aspect. But young fathers were squeezing “partner/lover” into a smaller space to accommodate the significant increase in the “parent” piece of the pie.

As the parenting pie grows, other things happen too. Here are a number of ways that the men in my survey (and several other studies as well) said fatherhood changed them:

• Confidence and pride

Having a close relationship with your child helps build his confidence and self-esteem. It also helps build yours. Being able to stop your child’s tears, making him laugh, or knowing how much he idolizes you can make you feel incredibly competent, and the pride you feel when you see all the great things he can do becomes confirmation that you’re doing pretty well at this whole fathering thing. For a while, at least, your child is going to share all your tastes—in music, literature, movies, art, career, politics, and food (as long is it’s not too spicy). A lot of these things will change as your child grows up. But I can hardly describe the feeling of pride I get when my kids start discussing Hitchcock movies with my adult friends, belt out a few Janis Joplin lyrics, or pop in a CD of Elgar’s cello concerto while they’re doing their homework. But beware. Confidence and pride are often made of pretty thin veneer: any misbehavior—especially public—can suddenly make you feel you feel as though you’ve failed as a father.

• Patience—and a better sense of humor. Things are going to go wrong, whether you like it or not, and you have two choices: take everything seriously and try to change the world, or roll with it and laugh. Learning to laugh at yourself can rub off in other areas and might make you more understanding of the mistakes other people make.

• Flexible thinking. At this point it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between your child’s needs, your needs, and your partner’s needs. In a perfect world they’d mutually reinforce one another. But on this planet, these needs “are to varying degrees in opposition, imposing frustrations and sorrows and forcing mutual adaptation,” says the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry (GAP). As you get more experienced as a parent, your ability to prepare for the future and come up with contingency plans will grow. You’ll also learn the incredibly valuable skill of being able to see a variety of different points of view at the same time. For example, most new couples say that having children brought them closer together. At the same time, though, they say that labor around the house has been divided along traditional lines.

• Return to childhood. Having kids gives you a great opportunity to reread all those great books from when you were a kid and disappear back into the world of King Arthur and the Hobbit. It also gives you a rare chance to say words like “poop” and “pee” in public again.

• Creativity. A lot of parents suddenly get inspired to create. A. A. Milne (who wrote the Winnie the Pooh books) and J. K. Rowling (of Harry Potter fame) are just two who wrote for their kids. If you’re giving your kids music or art lessons, you might develop a talent you never thought you had or rediscover the urge to perform at school talent shows.

• Reordering priorities. Having kids contributes to a heightened awareness of other’s perspectives, says researcher Rob Palkovitz. A lot of guys admit that they were somewhat selfish and self-centered before having kids. This isn’t necessarily a negative thing; it’s simply an acknowledgment that having people depend on you and putting their needs before your own isn’t something that comes naturally to most people before they become parents. What’s especially interesting is that, according to Palkovitz, getting married didn’t trigger this same realization.

• Changing values. Becoming a father will make you take a long, hard look at your fundamental beliefs and values. Things you may have thought were harmless when you were younger, such as not caring about money or material possessions, promiscuous sex, and even smoking a little dope, look completely different now that you’ve got a family to support. You’ll start seeing the world in different terms. You may have thought about issues like pollution, terrorism, energy policy, Latin American debt, homelessness, AIDS, poverty, and even cloth vs. disposable diapers before, but now, instead of being abstract things that happen to other people, they’re possible threats to your child and your family.

Having children will also help you clarify a lot of your beliefs. Teaching your child to say that the guy you didn’t vote for in the last election is a jerk is one thing. But try explaining to your child—in terms he can understand—what war is, what the death penalty is, why some people are rich while others live on the street. You might find yourself changing your mind about a few things now that they might affect your family.

Interestingly, older fathers report doing less soul-searching than younger fathers. The older guys come into fatherhood feeling more mature and having had more of a chance to hone their philosophy of life.

When Adult Children Come Back Home


One of the biggest risks to adjusting to a child’s leaving is that she might come back. All of us have certain preconceived notions about when major life events are supposed to take place, and we have a social clock that rings at the appropriate time. If the clock doesn’t go off at the right time, we’re likely to feel some stress. Moving out of the house is one of those events, and for most of us, the clock is set for eighteen, which is when the majority of American kids move out.

If a child is going to college at eighteen, we’re perfectly content to hit the snooze button and let her hang out at home for a few more years. You may even be secretly—or not-so-secretly—thrilled to have someone around again who’s dependent on you. Or you may be thrilled to have someone around you can be dependent on. But if she’s still home at thirty-five, you’re not going to be as happy. If you had plans to retire or to sell your house and spend two years on the road living out of an RV, you may resent her for interfering with your new, more independent lifestyle and for making you be an active parent longer than you wanted to. And you might see her moving back (or never leaving) as a sign of some failure on your—or her—part. In contrast, if the clock goes off too early, say fourteen or fifteen, you might feel that you’ve done something wrong, that you weren’t a caring enough father.

In the United States, almost 60 percent of twenty-two-to-twenty-four-year olds are living at home. For the twenty-five to twenty-nine set, it’s about 30 percent, and it’s down to one in four thirty-to-thirty-four-year olds. Ninety percent of adult children living at home are single, but that still leaves plenty of married kids coming home to roost with Ma and Pa for a while. The most common reasons are housing costs, debt, unemployment, and divorce. Unfortunately, we’re a downwardly mobile society. It used to be that children almost always had a better life than their parents. But with housing costs rising a lot faster than salaries, many young adults feel that there’s no way they’ll ever get ahead. In addition, young adults are waiting longer before getting married. Between 1970 and 2000 the average age at first marriage for women increased from 20.8 to 25.1; for men, it went from 23.2 to 26.8 years.

About twice as many young men as women live at home. Why? Well, first of all, because women get married younger, they tend to leave home sooner. They’re also more likely to have a husband or boyfriend to support them (which is much more uncommon for young men), say researchers Paul Glick and Sung-ling Lin. Second, there’s an attitude issue. Young men tend to have the idea that parents have an obligation to house their children. They’re also less likely to think that children should pay for the privilege, say Constance Shehan and Jeffrey Dwyer. Third, men living at home are more likely to be unemployed than women, although it’s not clear whether they’re home because they aren’t working or they aren’t working because they’re home and they don’t have to.

Interestingly, researchers William Aquilino and Khalil Supple found that most parents whose adult children, ages nineteen -thirty-four, live at home are happy with things the way they are. There were, however, two important factors that caused problems. First, the child’s being unemployed or financially dependent on the parent increased the chances of parent-child conflict. Second, having a divorced or separated child—especially one with a baby in tow—move back home reduced the parents’ satisfaction with the entire living arrangement.

If your child does move back home (or doesn’t leave in the first place), resist the urge to shout, “This is not a hotel!” and set up a lot of ground rules—doing so is the fastest way to create conflict. Adult kids don’t want a hotel either. They want a home, independence, and self-respect. If your young adult child had responsibilities as a teen, and she had a respectful relationship with you and your wife, it’s pretty safe to assume that nothing will change. She knows that coming home is a temporary solution—something to help her over the hump—and she’s looking forward to getting out there on her own.

In general, adult children don’t feel very good about living at home and being dependent on their parents again. They worry that they’ll be stuck there forever, and some respond to their own fears by behaving irresponsibly. Laying down the law and treating your child like a, well, child, will be counterproductive. If she’s not being responsible, sit her down and start a conversation with, “It must be hard for you to be living at home. How can we make things easier for all of us?” That’s the time to gently raise issues such as how long she’ll be staying, whether she’ll be paying rent or contributing financially, whether she’ll have any responsibilities or chores to do, and if it’s okay to borrow the car. It may also be a time to go over your domestic policies, which will probably be pretty similar to the ones you had when your child was living at home the first time around. Do you have a curfew? What’s your philosophy on bringing lovers home (of course she’s not a virgin, but, hey, it’s your house, so you make the rules)? Do you want her to call home if she’s going to be late (if only to keep you from worrying)? How about smoking or doing drugs (is it okay at home? okay out of the home? neither?)? If necessary, establish some milestones. If she’s unemployed, you might expect her to have a certain number of interviews or send out a certain number of résumés per week. If she’s at home because of a drug or alcohol problem, you might set a timetable for finishing a rehab program.

Whatever you do, make sure that you establish some boundaries and agree to respect each other’s privacy. That means that you don’t pry into her personal life, and she stays off your favorite chair. Don’t expect her to be interested in participating in all your activities, and don’t expect to be invited to participate in hers. And if your child moves home with her family, get clear up front how often you’ll be available for baby-sitting duty. Don’t let yourself get treated as a live-in nanny in your own home.

The purpose of all this is to help your child become more independent. It’s also to keep you from building up a huge amount of resentment at being taken advantage of. You need to strike a good balance between allowing your adult child the freedom she needs, asking her to take on a reasonable amount of adult responsibility, and your own sanity. Remember, though, that the more rules you have, the greater the potential for conflict. So try to keep them to a minimum and bring them up only if you really need to.

Postpartum Blues and Depression


About seventy percent of new mothers experience periods of mild sadness, weepiness, mood swings, sleep deprivation, loss of appetite, inability to make decisions, anger, or anxiety after the baby is born. These postpartum blues, which many believe are caused by hormonal shifts in a new mother's body, can last for hours or days, but in most cases they disappear within a few weeks. Researcher Edward Hagen, however, believes that postpartum blues has little, if anything, to do with hormones. Instead, he says, it's connected to low levels of social support—especially from the father. And it could be the new mother's way of "negotiating" for more involvement.

If you notice that your partner is experiencing any of these symptoms, there's not much you can do except be as supportive and involved as possible. Take on more of the childcare responsibilities, encourage her to get out of the house for a while, and see to it that she's eating healthily. Most of what your partner will go through after the birth is completely normal and is nothing to worry about. So be patient, and don't expect her to bounce back immediately.

For about ten percent to twenty percent of new moms, however, the baby blues develop into “postpartum depression,” which is more serious. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, postpartum depression, if not recognized and treated, may become worse or last longer than it needs to. Here are some symptoms to watch out for:

  • Postpartum blues that don't go away after two weeks, or feelings of depression, shame, or anger that surface a month or two after the birth.
  • Feelings of sadness, doubt, guilt, helplessness, or hopelessness that begin to disrupt your partner's normal functioning.
  • Unexplained episodes of crying
  • Major appetite changes or a significant decrease in sex drive
  • Inability to sleep when tired, or sleeping most of the time, even when the baby is awake, or to take pleasure
  • Marked changes in appetite.
  • Extreme concern and worry about the baby, or lack of interest in the baby and/or other members of the family.
  • Worries that she'll harm the baby or herself, or threats that she'll do either one.

You can also play a major role in helping your wife get through her postpartum depression. Here are a few ways to help:

  • Remind your partner that the depression is not her fault, you love her, the baby loves her, she's doing a great job, and that the two of you will get through this together. Also, do as much of the housework and childcare as you can so she won’t have to worry about not being able to get everything done herself.
  • Encourage her to take breaks—regularly and frequently.
  • Encourage her to talk with you about what she's feeling and to see her doctor or a therapist.
  • Take over enough of the nighttime baby duties so your partner can get at least 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep. This means that you'll probably do a feeding or two, which is a great way to get in some extra dad-baby bonding.
  • Get regular breaks to relieve your own stress. Yes, she’s relying on you to help her but if you’re falling apart yourself you can’t be an effective caregiver.

Postpartum blues and depression can be confusing, frustrating, and even frightening for your partner and you. But there is help. Your partner’s doctor or the hospital where your baby was born will have lists of local organizations that offer resources, support, and guidance for both of you.

Sleeping Arrangements


Your pediatrician will probably tell you that your baby should get used to sleeping by him or herself as soon after birth as possible. The reasoning is that in American culture we emphasize early independence, so babies should adapt quickly to being away from their parents. This is especially true if both parents work and the children are in day care.

But there is another school of thought that maintains that babies should sleep in the same bed as their parents (an idea shared by about eighty percent of the world's population). The rationale is that human evolution simply can't keep pace with the new demands our culture is placing on its children. "Proximity to parental sounds, smells, heat, and movement during the night is precisely what the human infant's immature system expects—and needs," says James McKenna, an anthropologist and sleep researcher.

So which approach is right? Well, given the wide divergence of expert opinions out there, it's a tough call—one you'll ultimately have to make on your own. Our older daughter slept in a bassinet in our room for a month or so until we moved her into her own room. Our younger daughter, however, slept in bed with us for six months before moving to her own room. Neither of them had any trouble making the transition, or any unusual sleep problems thereafter.

Here are a few of the most common questions you're likely to have if you haven't already decided where your child will be sleeping:

How will it affect the baby's independence? There's absolutely no agreement on this. Richard Ferber, author of Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems, maintains that "sleeping alone is an important part of a child's learning to be able to separate from his parents without anxiety and to see himself as an independent individual." In contrast, Thomas F. Anders, M.D., a professor of psychiatry, contends that "every child is born with a strong need for lots of close physical contact with a caregiver, and children in whom this need isn't met early in their lives may end up trying to fill it as adults."

What about safety? Most adults, even while asleep, have a highly developed sense of where they are. After all, when was the last time you fell out of bed? So the risk of accidentally suffocating your baby is pretty slim.

How will the baby sleep? Despite what you might think, co-sleeping children tend to sleep more lightly than children who sleep alone (blankets rustling and parents turning over in bed wake them up). But light sleeping isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, there seems to be a correlation between lighter sleep and a lower incidence of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).

Sharing a bed with your infant not only affects your child, but it can also have a serious impact on you. You'll lose a lot of sexual spontaneity, and you may also lose some sleep. Even the soundest-sleeping kids generally wake up every three or four hours; 70 percent of them just look around for a few minutes and soothe themselves back to sleep. But if your baby is in the other 30 percent, he or she may wake up, see you, and want to play.

If you decide to share your bed with your child, do it because you and your partner want to, not because you feel you have to. You're not negligent or overindulgent parents for doing it, so don't be embarrassed by your choice. But remember: no waterbeds—a baby could roll between you and the mattress. Also, overly soft mattresses and pillows may pose a risk of suffocation.

If you decide that family sleeping isn't for you, don't feel guilty. You're not a bad or selfish parent for not wanting to do it. Teaching your children to be independent does not mean that you don't have a close bond with them. But don't feel like a failure if you allow an occasional exception, such as when a child is ill or has had a frightening experience.

Finding Day Care


Dear MrDad: My wife and I are shopping around for day care. How can we tell if the facility will offer the proper care?

A: Finding a quality daycare center or provider can be incredibly stressful. Here are just a few things to look for in a day-care center:

  • The level of training of the staff. Some have degrees in early childhood education; some aren’t much more than warm bodies.
  • Safety: windows, fences around yards, access to kitchen appliances and utensils (knives, ovens, etc.)
  • Is it licensed by the National Association of Education and Child Care?
  • Overall cleanliness.
  • Caregiver/child ratio. (In California, one licensed caregiver can take care of as many as four infants, in some other states it's a lot more.)
  • Staff training. Do the people working there have training in early childhood education?
  • Staff consistency. How long have the staff been working there. Is there a lot of turnover?
  • Quality, condition, and number of toys.
  • Security: what precautions are taken to ensure that kids can be picked up only by the person you select? Do strangers have access to the center?

Before you make your final choice, be sure to take a tour. Spend half an hour or so—when all the kids are there—observing. Are the children happy? Are they doing the kinds of activities you expected?

Finally, in the weeks after you pick the perfect day-care center, make a few unannounced visits—just to see what goes on when there aren’t any parents around.


Midnight Wakeups


Dear MrDad: We have a newborn and my wife and I are both exhausted. Who do you think should take care of the baby when he wakes up at 3 a.m.? Do both of us have to suffer?

A: If your baby wakes up in the middle of the night hungry, and your partner is breastfeeding, you might as well stay in bed and let her take care of things. Sounds pretty boorish, but really and truly, there’s not much you can do to help. In fact, your sleeping through the feeding may actually benefit your partner. That way you get a full night’s sleep and you’ll be fresh for the 7 a.m. child-care shift, and she'll get to spend a few more precious hours in bed.

If, however, your baby is being bottle-fed, do your fair share of the feedings. You might want to work out a system in which the one who does the 3 a.m. feeding gets to sleep in (or gets breakfast in bed.)

Sometimes, though, your baby wakes up for no other reason than to stay awake for a few hours and check things out. In this situation, you and your wife can split the child-entertainment duty or stay up together and see what’s on late-night TV. It's a great way to catch up on those shows you missed when you were a teenager.

Au Pairs


Dear MrDad:

What’s an au pair? Should I hire one to take care of my kid?

A: Au pairs are usually young women who come to the States on yearlong cultural exchange programs administered by the United States Information Agency (USIA). Legally, au pairs are nonresident aliens and are exempt from social security, Medicare, and unemployment taxes.

What an au pair provides is up to forty-five hours per week of live-in child care. In exchange, you pay a weekly stipend (currently around $155) as well as airfare, insurance, an educational stipend, program support, and full room and board. On average, having an au pair will set you back about $13,000 for the full year.

You can hire an au pair though one of only eight USIA-approved placement agencies. It can be a wonderful opportunity for you and your baby to learn about another culture. One drawback, however, is that they can stay only a year, then it’s au revoir to one, bonjour to another. It’s also important to remember that from the young woman’s perspective, being an au pair is a cultural thing. She may be far more interested in going to the mall with her new American friends or hanging out with your neighbor’s teen-age son than in taking care of your kid.

You can find out more about au pairs at exchanges.state.gov/education/jexchanges/private/aupair_brochure.htm#once

Childproofing


Dear MrDad: What should we do to childproof our house?

A: Once your baby realizes that he's able to move around by himself, his mission in life will be to locate--and race you to--the most dangerous, life-threatening things in your home. So if you haven't already begun the never-ending process of child-proofing your house, better start now.

The first thing to do is get down on your hands and knees and check things out from your baby's perspective.

Taking care of those pesky wires and covering up your outlets is only the beginning, so start with the basics:

Anywhere and Everywhere:

Move anything valuable out of the baby's reach.

Bolt to the wall bookshelves and other free-standing cabinets (this goes double if you live in earthquake country); pulling things down on top of themselves is a favorite baby suicide attempt.

Don't hang heavy things on the stroller--it can tip over.

Get special guards for your radiators and move your space heaters and electric fans off the floor.

Install a safety gate at the bottom and top of every stairway.

Adjust your water heater temperature to 120 degrees. This will reduce the likelihood that your baby will scald himself.

Get a fire extinguisher and put smoke alarms in every bedroom.

Especially in the Kitchen:

  • Install safety locks on all but one of your low cabinets and drawers. Most of these locks allow the door to be opened slightly--just enough to accommodate a baby's fingers--so make sure the kind you get also keep the door from closing completely as well.
  • Stock the one unlocked cabinet with unbreakable pots and pans and encourage your baby to jump right in.
  • Keep baby's high chairs away from the walls. His strong little legs can push off and knock the chair over.
  • Watch out for irons and ironing boards. The cords are a hazard and the boards themselves are easy to knock over.
  • Get an oven lock and covers for your oven and stove knobs.
  • Use the back burners on the stove whenever possible and keep the handles turned toward the back of the stove.
  • Never hold your baby while you're cooking. Teaching him what steam is or how water boils may seem like a good idea, but bubbling spaghetti sauce or hot oil hurts when it splashes.
  • Put mouse- and insect traps in places where your baby can't get to them.
  • Use plastic dishes and serving bowls whenever you can--glass breaks and, at least in my house, the shards seem to show up for weeks, no matter how well I sweep.
  • Post the phone numbers of the nearest poison control agency and your pediatrician near your phone.

Especially in the Living Room:

  • Put decals--at baby height--on any sliding glass doors.
  • Get your plants off the floor: over 700 species can cause illness or death if eaten, including such common ones as lily of the valley, iris, and poinsettia.
  • Pad the corners of low tables, chairs, fireplace hearths.
  • Make sure your fireplace screen and tools can't be pulled over.
  • Keep furniture away from windows. Babies will climb up whatever they can and may fall through the glass.

Especially in the Bedroom/Nursery:

  • No homemade or antique cribs. They probably don't conform to today's safety standards.
  • Remove from the crib all mobiles and hanging toys. By 5 months, most kids can push themselves up on their hands and knees and can get tangled up (and even choke on) strings.
  • Keep the crib at least two feet away from blinds, drapes, hanging cords, or wall decorations with ribbons
  • Check toys for missing parts.
  • Toy chest lids should stay up when opened (so they doesn't slam down on tiny fingers).
  • Don't leave dresser drawers open. From the baby's perspective, they look an awful lot like stairs.
  • Keep crib items to a minimum: a sheet, a blanket, bumpers, and a few soft toys. Babies don't need pillows at this age and large toys or stuffed animals can be climbed on and used to escape the crib.
  • Don't leave your baby unattended on the changing table even for a second.

Especially in the Bathroom:

  • If possible, use a gate to keep access restricted to the adults in the house.
  • Install a toilet guard.
  • Keep bath and shower doors close
  • Never leave water standing in the bath, a sink, or even a bucket. Drowning is the third most common cause of accidental deaths of young children, and babies can drown in practically no water at all.
  • Keep medication and cosmetics high up.
  • Make sure there's nothing your baby can climb up on to raid the medicine cabinet.
  • Keep shavers and hair dryers unplugged and out of reach.
  • No electrical appliances near bathtub.

Use a bath mat or stick-on safety strips to reduce the risk of slipping in the bathtub.

Breastfeeding


Dear MrDad: Everyone says that new mothers should breastfeed their babies but I've never really know why. And, I know this sounds nuts, but is there anything I can to do to stay involved while my wife is nursing? I feel so left out.

A: Before their babies are born, just about any expectant father you'd ask would say that breastfeeding is the best way to feed a baby and that his partner should nurse their child for as long as possible. And why not, just consider some of these advantages:

  • There's no preparation, no heating, no bottles or dishes to wash
  • It's free--formula ain't cheap these days
  • It never runs out and there's no waste either
  • It's good for your partner, giving her a chance to bond with the baby
  • It's good for your baby--it's the perfect blend of nutrients. Breastfed kids have a much lower chance than formula-fed kids of developing food allergies, respiratory- and gastrointestinal illnesses, or of becoming obese as adults. It is also thought to transmit the mother's immunity to certain diseases
  • Diapers don't stink--breastfed babies produce stool that smells almost sweet--especially when you compare it to the formula-fed kind.

After the baby comes, though, a lot of new fathers have a change of heart. It's not that they don't support breastfeeding--they still think it's the best thing for everyone concerned. It's just that the whole thing makes them feel left out.

Breastfeeding "perpetuates the exclusive relationship the mother and infant experienced during pregnancy," writes Dr. Pamela Jordan, one of the few researchers ever to explore the effects of breastfeeding on men. As a result, it's pretty common for new breastfeeding-spectator fathers to feel some or all of the following:

  • a fear that it's going harder to bond and develop a relationship with his child
  • a sense of inadequacy, that nothing he could ever do could ever compete with his partner's breasts
  • a slight feeling of resentment toward the baby who has "come between" him and his partner
  • a sense of relief when the baby is weaned because he'll finally have a chance to catch up
  • a sense that because women can breastfeed they somehow possess the knowledge and skills that make them naturally better parents (which means, of course, that men just aren't suited for the job).

Studies of new and expectant parents show that they consider feeding to be the most important aspect of caring for an infant. And there's no question that if your partner is breastfeeding you're at a bit of a disadvantage in that regard. But just because she's got control of the breasts and the food that's in them doesn't mean that you have to back off. There are a number of ways you can get involved in the process and help make breastfeeding as pleasant an experience as possible for everyone:

Bottle feed the baby with breast-milk. But don't push too hard on this one; many women find expressing milk (manually or with a pump) uncomfortable or even painful. If you decide to go this route, wait a few weeks before introducing the bottle so your baby will have a chance to get completely comfortable with nursing on a real breast.

Try not to take it personally if your baby seems less than interested in taking a bottle from you. Once they've gotten used to their mothers nipples, some babies get a little surprised when presented with a plastic one. Others may simply refuse to take a bottle at all, probably just on principle. But don't give up. Plastic nipples, like real ones, come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. So you may have to do a little experimenting before you and your baby discover the kind she likes best (which may not have anything in common with the kind you like best.)

Get plenty of private time with the baby for activities that provide regular skin-to-skin contact. Things like changing diapers, cuddling, putting to sleep, bathing, and even just sitting in a chair reading while the baby naps on your shirt-less chest are great. They give you and the baby a chance to be alone together and create your own relationship. The more this happens, the more you'll feel confident in your own abilities as a parent.

If you can't do the skin-to-skin thing, spend plenty of time with your baby just hanging out. Take him for walks in the stroller, put him in a front-pack and go grocery shopping, whatever you can think of to be together.

- Support your partner any way you can. The current thinking among pediatricians is that women should try to breastfeed for at least a year. Interestingly, studies have shown that the more supportive their partners, the longer women breastfeed and the more confident they feel in their ability to do so.

Be patient if your partner seems less interested in sex. Imagine, for example, that someone has been crawling all over you and sucking on your breasts five or six times a day for fifteen or twenty minutes a crack. You just might be somewhat less than completely enthusiastic about having yet another person grope you at the end of the day. Your partner's nursing may also affect intercourse as well. Nursing women produce lower levels of the ovarian hormones that are responsible for producing vaginal lubrication. Without that lubrication, intercourse can be uncomfortable or even painful. So instead of thinking that your partner isn't aroused by you any more, just stock up on a good water-based lubricant.

Single Parent Discipline


Dear Mr. Dad: I'm a single parent and I'm finding it harder and harder to keep my kids in line. When I was married the two of us could back each other up. But now that I'm alone I don't seem to have the energy to take a stand. What can I do to regain control?

At one time or another, all parents struggle with discipline--establishing and enforcing limits, and getting their kids to speak to them respectfully and do what they're supposed to do. For single parents, though, who are already probably pretty exhausted, anything other than putting food on the table and clothes in the closet may seem like too much trouble to worry about. But this is important. So if you feel yourself becoming more lenient, stricter, or just plain inconsistent, here’s how to stop.

  • Be consistent. Not only on a day-to-day basis right now, but consistent with the way you and your spouse used to do things before you became a single parent. In addition, try to work with your ex to come up with a discipline plan that's consistent between homes and agree to back each other up on how you'll enforce limits. If you can't, you'll have to be firm in telling your kids that, "in your mom's house you follow her rules, but in this house, you'll have to follow mine."
  • Establish and enforce reasonable limits. No child will ever admit it, but the truth is that he needs to know who's boss and he needs that person to be you. Setting your expectations too high, though, can also be a problem, frustrating your kids and making them feel bad or inadequate when they can't comply.
  • Link consequences directly to the behavior. "I'm taking away your hammer because you hit me with it," or "Since you didn't get home by your curfew, you can't go out with your friends tonight."
  • Don't worry. Unless the limits you set are completely insane, your child will not stop loving you for enforcing them.
  • Chose your battles. Some issues--those that involve health and safety, for example--are non-negotiable. Others don't really matter. Does it really make a difference if your child wants to wear a red sock and an argyle one instead of a matched pair?
  • Give limited choices. "Either you stop talking to me that way right now or go to your room."
  • Encourage your kids to be independent. "When parents do too much for children, to 'make up' for the fact that they have only one parent, the children don't have a chance to develop responsibility, initiative, and new skills," writes Jane Nelsen, co-author of Positive Discipline for Single Parents. But don't go too far here. Your kids still need structure.
  • Understand your child's behavior. According to Nelsen, kids misbehave for one or more of the following reasons:
    - they want attention
    - they want to be in control
    - they want to get back at you for something you did
    - they're frustrated and they just want to give up and be left alone

Trying to punish a child without understanding why she's doing what she's doing is a little like taking cough syrup for emphysema: the thing that's bugging you goes away for a while, but the underlying problem remains--and keeps getting worse with time. The most direct way to solve this is to simply ask your child--in many case she'll tell you. If she won't tell you or doesn't have the vocabulary to do so, make an educated guess ("Are you writing on the walls because you want me to spend more time with you?").

On Not Being a Disneyland Dad


Non-custodial fathers—especially those with fairly infrequent visitation—often feel obligated to make every second of every visit with their children "count." Sometimes they’re motivated by guilt, the fear of losing their children's love, trying to make up for lost time, a desire to compete with the ex, or something else. But whatever it is, the result is the same: they buy their kids extravagant gifts, eat out every meal, take them on expensive trips, give into their every whim, forget about discipline, and generally treat them like visiting royalty instead of children. It's no wonder that a lot of people refer to this kind of father as the "Disneyland Dad."

Falling in to this trap is easy, but you won't be able to keep it up for very long: sooner or later you'll run out of money or ideas. And when that happens, your kids will have gotten so spoiled that they'll do one of two things (maybe even both): Resent you for not giving them "their due," or think you don't love them any more. Here are some simple steps you can take to keep yourself from turning into a Disneyland Dad:

  • Plan ahead. Don't schedule every minute of every day, but over the course of the visit, try to allow some time in each of these areas: fun, food, private time for you with each child, and time for the kids to be by themselves.
  • Don't go overboard. You do not have to amuse your children every second. Don't even try. There's no way you'll be able to keep up the pace. And if you get them used to non-stop entertainment, treats, and gifts, they'll resent the hell out of you if you break the pattern.
  • Don't try to make up for lost time--you can't.
  • Vary your activities. Yes, as we know, kids love routines. But if you go the movies and the zoo every weekend, they'll be bored out of their minds. The weekend newspapers and those free, local parenting publications are full of great things to do in your area. Groups such as Parents without Partners often have activities planned that can help add some variety to your times with your children.
  • Treat your kids like they live there (they do), not like visiting VIPs. This means giving them some chores and making sure they practice the violin and do their homework. It also means having—and enforcing—rules in your house.
  • Give them some choice in what to do. Ask them to put together a list of possibilities or give them some options to choose from. You certainly don't have to do everything on their list. But the fact that you've asked for their input will reinforce the idea that you genuinely care about what's important to them.
  • Allow plenty of down time. Some of your weekends are going to be packed to the gills with great activities. But don't make them all that way. Cramming too much fun into your times together can actually cause a lot of stress. Kids of all ages need to spend some time entertaining themselves—even if it means being bored for a few hours. This can include writing in a journal, doing a crossword puzzle, drawing, or just hanging out in the living room listening to a CD.
  • Don't put too much pressure on yourself. There are times when you'll have tons of energy to run around doing things all day and other times when you'll feel like a slug—just like everyone else in the world. Your kids will understand. You and the kids will occasionally have fights, too. If you do fight, don't spend a lot of time worrying about it: they won't stop loving you. Fights are perfectly normal in intact families, and just as normal in broken ones.
  • Be normal. Of course you'll try not to spend your times with your kids working on some project from the office. But sometimes something comes up that you just have to do. Say, for example, this is the only weekend you can take care of those household repairs. Having the kids help out—even if it's only holding one end of the tape measure or handing you nails—is a wonderful way to spend time together and make them feel a part of your life. It'll also help them tone down any unrealistic expectations they might have about you by showing them that you're human and that you have obligations and responsibilities.

Your goal as a non-custodial father—even if your time with your children is limited—is to have as normal a relationship with them as possible. There's no need to compete with your ex and you don't need to buy their love. If you genuinely love your children and are interested in being with them, they'll know it. And they'll love you and want to be with you too.

Socializing Adults: From Husband to Father


Largely because of the lessons boys and girls learn when they're young, by the time they begin to marry or form adult relationships of their own, their attitudes about gender and parenting are already firmly in place. After years of training, for example, women have bought into the dominant view that mothers are biologically predisposed to nurture children. As a result they have no trouble seeing themselves as mothers whether they're married or not. Men, too, have internalized the myth of the superior mother. But for them, fatherhood and fathering are inextricably linked with marriage, or at least with being in a committed relationship.

Not surprisingly, family researchers have discovered in recent years that men's satisfaction with their relationships is a major factor in determining how involved they will be with their children. The more satisfying men's marriages are, the more involved and happy they are in their fathering roles. But the more unhappy and volatile their marriages are, the less involved they become and the lower the quality of that involvement.

This marital satisfaction/father involvement connection may actually start even before men become fathers. Researcher Shirley Feldman and her colleagues found that expectant fathers whose marriages were rated as "satisfying" during the third trimester of their wives' pregnancy were subsequently more involved in care giving and play with their six-month-old infants.

In addition, psychologist Martha Cox and her colleagues have found that the quality of a father's parenting is better when his marriage is better and that a supportive marriage can go a long way toward overcoming his lack of preparation for parenthood.

Even babies know when their fathers aren’t happy in their marriages. Eleven-month-olds, for example, are less likely to look to their fathers for help in novel situations (such as seeing an unfamiliar person) when their fathers are in distressed marriages. As John Gottman found, men in unsatisfying marriages tend to withdraw from their wives and, perhaps from their children. Children whose fathers are unhappy or overstressed "act out" more and suffer more from depression than children whose parents are in less stressful marriages. And kids who watch their parents fight are frequently more aggressive, feel more guilty, and tend to be more withdrawing.

Does the quality of a marriage have as much impact on mothers as it does on fathers? Not according to psychologist Jay Belsky and his colleagues, who conducted a series of home observations of mothers and fathers when their infants were one, three, and nine months old. Other studies confirm Belsky's results. Adolescent fathers, for example, have more positive interactions with their infants in families where there are high levels of mother-father engagement. Mother-child interactions, however, were completely independent of the mother's relationship with the father. Overall, said one group of researchers, the quality of the marriage, whether reported by the husband or wife, is "the most consistently powerful predictor of paternal involvement and satisfaction."

Given the connection between marital satisfaction and paternal involvement, it shouldn't really come as a surprise that fathers who are in supportive and satisfying marriages bond more securely with their infants and toddlers. What is a little surprising, though, is the way mothers benefit from the additional support their happy husbands provide them. Studies in both the United States and Japan have found that the more emotionally supportive a father is, the more competent a caregiver his wife is and the better her relationship with their children.

Morning Sickness


About half of all pregnant women experience morning sickness. Despite the name, the nausea, heartburn, and vomiting traditionally associated with morning sickness can strike your partner at any hour of the day. No one’s quite sure what causes morning sickness. Some suggest that it’s a reaction to the pregnant woman’s changing hormone levels. Others, such as researcher Margie Profet, suggest that morning sickness is the body’s natural way of protecting the growing fetus from teratogins (toxins that cause birth defects) and abortifacients (toxins that induce miscarriage). Either way, fortunately for most women morning sickness disappears after about the third month. Until then, here are a few things you can do to help your partner cope:

  • Help her maintain a high-protein, high-carbohydrate diet. Encourage her to drink a lot of fluids--especially milk. You might also want to keep a large water bottle next to the bed. She should avoid caffeine, which tends to be dehydrating. She might want to start the day with a small amount of juice or flat soda. The sweet flavor will probably encourage her to drink a little more than she might otherwise.
  • Be sensitive to the sights and smells that make her queasy--and keep them away from her. Fatty or spicy foods are frequent offenders. Encourage her to eat a lot of small meals throughout the day; every two or three hours, if possible and to eat before she starts feeling nauseated. She should try to eat basic foods like rice and yogurt. These are particularly good because they are less likely to cause nausea than greasy foods.
  • Make sure she takes her prenatal vitamins. Put some pretzels, crackers, or rice cakes by the bed—she'll need something to start and end the day with, and these are low in fat and calories.
  • Be aware that she needs plenty of rest and encourage her to get it. Keep in mind that despite the name, morning sickness can happen any time of the day. And don’t be surprised if it disappears and then returns a few weeks later. For some women it actually lasts the entire pregnancy.

For the vast majority of women, morning sickness isn’t a serious condition, and it poses no risk to your baby. It’s unpleasant, but it’s not life-threatening. Some women, though, experience a combination of complete lack of appetite and excessive vomiting. If this sounds like your partner, make sure her doctor knows about it right away. If she doesn’t get treatment she could end up malnourished or dehydrated, neither of which is good for her or the baby.

The Myths of the Bumbling Father and Useless Father


One can reasonably argue that the images of men and women in children's literature are simply reflections of reality. It's still true that for a variety of reasons women in this country do the bulk of the childcare. But if children's literature only reflected reality, why aren't fifty percent of the families divorced? Why aren't fifteen to twenty percent of the single parents in these books fathers? Why, for that matter, aren't smokers, alcoholics, and drug abusers adequately represented?

The answer is that literature doesn't always reflect reality. In fact, it could be said that it sometimes does quite the opposite, reflecting some kind of reality that doesn't exist; the world the way we imagine it rather than the way it is.

Remember all those gender-neutral firefighters from Richard Scary and other authors? The truth is that in the real world, only two percent of the 1.2 million people who risk their lives to fight fires in this country are women. But that hasn't prevented us from all but banishing the word "fireman" from the English language. Far more than two percent of all the nurturing parents are men, and, in raw numbers, there are far more actively involved, nurturing, loving fathers than there are female firefighters. Still, images of nurturing fathers are practically nowhere to be found.

There's little question that reading about female firefighters (and police officers and construction workers and just about any other profession where women are a small minority) boosts girls' self-esteem and reinforces in their minds—and everyone else's, for that matter—the idea that women have lives beyond the home and that there's nothing girls and women can't do. Little boys, on the other hand, are given a far more restricted list of life options: they can do anything they want, as long as they financially support their families and leave the nurturing to the nearest female.

Grandfatherhood


More than 90 percent of parents over sixty-five have grandchildren, and about half of those have at least one adult grandchild. What this means is that with life expectancies getting longer all the time, you’re going to be a grandfather for a long—maybe a very long—time. Most grandfathers love being able to add the title of “grandpa” to their list of identities. Here are some of the reasons why:

It’s a second chance. You may not have had the chance, or the opportunity, or the desire to be as good a father as you would have liked, but grandfatherhood gives you a chance to look back and to try to “do it right” this time. It may also be more fun. “Since they do not have the responsibility for raising the child toward that unconscious goal, their love is not as burdened by doubts and anxieties as it was when their own children were young,” writes Therese Benedek. “Relieved of the immediate stresses . . . and the responsibilities of fatherhood, grandparents appear to enjoy their grandchildren more than they enjoyed their own children.”

It links you to the past and the future. Your grandchildren are your assurance that your biological line will continue for at least one more generation. At the same time, becoming a grandfather may help you repair, deepen, or reestablish relationships with your children. “When your kids have kids of their own, you suddenly have an area of shared experience,” my dad told me recently. “And that leads to tolerance and forgiveness on both sides.”

It makes you feel important. Your children are grown, everything seems to be taking care of itself okay, and it’s been a long time since anyone really needed you. But having a grandchild gives you the chance to teach, give advice, tell stories, be a financial and emotional resource, and contribute to their lives. As a result, you’ll feel valuable again. It’s that “second lease on life” you always hear people talk about.

It may make you lighten up a little. Time is short at this stage of life, and it’s just not worth the energy to demand perfection from everyone—especially young children. It also gives you the chance to shamelessly spoil someone without being accused of being a bad father.

It can be payback. Remember all those time when your kid told you how much he hated you and how he would never, never, ever be as horrible a parent as you were? Well, chances are that now that he’s a parent, your child has become a lot more sympathetic to the errors you made when you were the dad and he was the kid. As my own father often tells me, “It’s a great comfort to me that you’re not a perfect parent.”

It brings back the past. “Grandparents get to relive the memories of the early phase of their own parenthood in observing the growth and development of their grandchildren,” writes Benedek. Grandparenthood may also bring back some memories of your relationship with your own grandparents.

Taking the High Road


Communication and cooperation are supposed to be two-way streets, but things don't always turn out the way they should. No matter how much of a jerk your ex is and no matter how horribly she treats you it's critical that you learn to be a mensch (that's a Yiddish word that means "a decent human being" or "someone who does the right thing"). Here are some things that can help make you the mensch you and your kids need you to be:

  • Remember that everything you do has to be done with the best interests of your kids in mind.
  • Unless your ex is doing something truly dangerous, let her parent the way she wants to. She may have been a rotten partner, but that doesn't mean she's a rotten mother.
  • Don't use the kids to relay messages to your ex.
  • Honor your commitments. This means not being late, keeping your promises, following the terms of your parenting agreement to the letter, and making your child support payments in full and on time.
  • Share information. Send your ex a copy of any information you get about your kids that you think she doesn't have or would be interested in. This includes report cards, notices of parent teacher meetings, school photographs, and even copies of the kids' art projects.
  • Remember that you can't control her but you can control yourself.
  • Keep your comparisons to a minimum. Yes, she may be living in a mansion while you're sleeping in your old bunk bed in your parents' garage. But that's just the way things are.
  • Be flexible. Kids get sick, and plans change. But don't be so flexible that you let your ex take advantage of you. Stand up for your rights when it's appropriate to do so.
  • Don't deliberately do things that you know will annoy her.
  • Listen to what she says to you. Try to find the truth in it. Who knows, she may actually come up with something that can help you.
  • Give her the benefit of the doubt—at least for a while. Don't assume that she's doing things to deliberately hurt you.
  • Get some help. If your anger for your ex is so consuming that it gets in the way of your parenting, you really need some help dealing with it.
  • Apologize to her if you've done something wrong. It might hurt you do to this, especially if she never apologizes to you, but it's the right thing to do.
  • Don't assume you know what she'll say or how she'll react in a given situation. Yes, you may have been together for years, and yes, she may have reacted that was every other time this situation has come up, but people can and do change. Give her a chance. And if she does react the way you thought she would, at least you won't be surprised.
  • Force yourself to make reasonable compromises. Granted, now that you're a single fathers, you've lost one of the biggest natural incentives to cooperate with your ex: the desire to keep your relationship together. But learning when to compromise may be more important now than it was then.
  • Try to keep from getting defensive. One of the most painful things your ex can do to you is to question whether you have what it takes to care for your children. If she ever makes this kind of accusation, before blowing up, take a second and honestly ask yourself whether there's even a glimmer of truth to what she's saying. If there are areas you really need help in, you might want to sign yourself up for a parenting class at your local community college.
  • Stop relying on her for approval. You're a big boy now and it's up to you to do what you think is right.
  • Learn to work around her anger. Do not get dragged into a shouting match, no matter how tempting. There's absolutely nothing good that can come from it. Instead of responding to her unreasonable demands, ignore them. And remember, you can always take a walk. You do not have to stick around and be abused—verbally or otherwise.

Ultimately, no matter what you do, your ex is still her own person and there’s nothing you can do to force her to behave the way your want her to. But hopefully, if she sees ou taking the high road for long enough, she'll eventually decide to join you there.

Dads Have Physical Symptoms Too


Dear MrDad. My wife is pregnant and I've started putting on weight too! I've also been having nose bleeds and headaches. What's wrong with me?

A: In a word, there's nothing wrong with you. Given that you're not actually pregnant, most of what you're going to go through while your wife is expecting will be psychological. But as you've found out, there are some occasional physical symptoms too. In fact, somewhere between 25 and 90 percent of dads-to-be in this country experience couvade syndrome (from the French, "to hatch"), or "sympathetic pregnancy." The symptoms are pretty much the same as those your wife has probably been complaining about for a few months: mood swings, food cravings, weight gains. But some are a little stranger—especially for a guy—such as toothaches, headaches, itching, nosebleeds, and sometimes even cysts.

Couvade symptoms usually start cropping up sometime around the third month of the pregnancy, taper off for a bit, then pick up again in the month or two before the baby is born. They almost always "mysteriously" disappear as soon as the baby's born.

No one really knows why men get these symptoms but there are lots of theories. The first is that as men, we're programmed (socially or biologically, take your pick) to try to protect our families and shield them from harm. Since we can't really do much to minimize the discomfort and pain our wives experience during pregnancy, our brains come up with the unique idea of trying to ease their pain by taking some of it on ourselves. This is particularly true for expectant dads who feel somehow responsible for having "gotten her into this in the first place."

Another theory is that some expectant dads who develop couvade are feeling jealous and left out and are subconsciously trying to get people to pay a little attention to them. It's also possible that expectant dads' physical symptoms are a kind of way announcing to the world that they're the father.

Some recent research has shown that there may actually be some hormonal reasons for men's pregnancy symptoms. You know all about how expectant mothers' hormones change over the course of the pregnancy, right? Well, one fascinating study found that pregnant women's husbands' levels of the same hormones (which men have too, but in smaller amounts) move rise and fall parallel with their wives' levels. This may explain why most expectant dads find themselves paying more attention to children in the months before their own are born.

Some psychologists have also speculated that couvade symptoms may be the expectant dad's subconscious way of showing his wife that he's serious about being with her. After all, it's easy to lie about loving her and wanting to be a good dad, but it's a lot harder to fake a cyst or a nosebleed.

The Myth of the Biologically Unfit Father


Margaret Mead once said that fathers are a biological necessity, but a social accident. And throughout much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries our culture has been trying very hard to make this view a reality. Socialized into being the family breadwinner, "traditional" fathers provided a strong moral and material support for their families, meted out discipline for their children, but did little else. They paced the waiting room during childbirth, rarely, if ever, changed a diaper or warmed a bottle, and generally steered clear of the nursery, leaving the responsibility for child rearing almost entirely to their wives.

The view of fathers as "accidental" was shared by those who studied parenthood and child development. Sigmund Freud, for example, who had a major influence in shaping the 20th century's cultural views of parenting, believed that since mothers usually fed and cared for babies, they were biologically better suited to be parents and they would exert more influence over their children than fathers would.

But there were some challenges. One of the fiercest critics of Freud's focus on feeding as the centerpiece of early development was John Bowlby, a British psychiatrist. "The conventional wisdom was that infants were only interested in mothers because mothers fed them," reflected Bowlby in a 1977 interview. "I was profoundly unimpressed by that."

Rather than consider the importance of fathers, Bowlby continued to promote the idea that mothers were superior—but for slightly different reasons. For Bowlby, any emotional and social problems suffered by children resulted from the lack of an "attachment bond, the process by which the infant comes to prefer specific adults—specifically his mother—over others. Bowlby suggested that attachment is a result of instinctive responses important for the protection and survival of the species. Crying, smiling, sucking, clinging, and following all elicit necessary maternal care and protection for the infant and promote contact between mother and infant. He stressed that the mother is the first and most important object of infant attachment, relegating fathers to the role of mother's little helper.

The notion of mothers' biological superiority and, correspondingly, fathers' inferiority got a big boost in the 1950's from primate researcher Harry Harlow. In his now famous experiments, Harlow showed that rhesus monkeys would develop an attachment to a surrogate caregiver. Or, to use Harlow's non-neutral term, surrogate "mother." To prove this he constructed two stand-ins; one, a wire mesh mother and a cloth-covered mother. Although the wire-mesh mother provided the food, Harlow found that the monkeys spent most of their time—sixteen to eighteen hours a day clinging to the cloth mother.

What this experiment proved was that attachment (in monkeys, at least) was based more on the "contact comfort" provided by the terry cloth covering than on the chance to feed. Fathers could have easily provided this kind of warmth and comfort, even if the couldn't nurse their offspring. Nevertheless, Harlow persisted in labeling these experimental caregivers as mothers, a label that promoted the myth of the biologically primacy of mothers.

There's no question that throughout history, fathers have taken on less of the care and feeding of infants and young children than mothers. It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that this is true because mothers have some sort of biologically based nurturing or care taking superiority. If so, one might expect fathers to play a relatively minor role in childcare in all cultures. But this is not the case.

Fathers in a number of other cultures share infant and childcare more or less equally with their wives. And in our own culture, many, many men are actively involved in nurturing their children and there are thousands more who, as stay-at-home fathers, do nearly all of the childcare. And, as Kyle Pruett, a Yale psychiatrist and author of The Nurturing Father has documented, these primary caretaker fathers do an excellent job. Clearly, the family roles played by mothers and fathers are not biologically fixed. Instead, they vary with a variety of social, ideological, and other conditions.

Sex Drive


Dear MrDad: Help! I'm an expectant father and something's happening to my libido.

A: For some men, sex during pregnancy is an incredible turn-on. But for others, it borders on the revolting. Where you stand on the issue depends on a lot of factors, but one thing is pretty much guaranteed: When your partner is pregnant your sex life will change.

In the first trimester your partner's pregnancy might make you hornier than ever. For many men, getting a woman pregnant is a kind of confirmation of their masculinity (before becoming expectant fathers, a lot of us secretly fear that we're sterile, and there's nothing like getting a woman pregnant to make you feel like, well, a fully functional man). In addition, a lot of expectant fathers feel closer to their wives than ever before, and that closeness is often expressed erotically.

For others, the first trimester (and, possibly, the entire pregnancy) is a time of decreased sexual desire. Before your partner got pregnant, for example, she was your wife, the beautiful, sexy woman you loved, and her breasts and vagina were fun. But now that she's pregnant, her body is less fun and more functional. Even worse, when the pregnancy's over, you know she's going to be a mother. And mothers are not always seen as sexy. And if you believe that sex is purely for procreation, now that she's pregnant there's no sense in doing it anymore.

As the pregnancy progresses, the differences between the wanna-have-sex's and the don't-wanna-have-sex's continues. Most men, for example, find their partner's growing body to be the essence of femininity and, therefore, quite attractive. Others don't. Their partner's growing abdomen and leaking breasts may seem more messy than enticing.

But perhaps the most common reason men (and women) cut back on their sex life during pregnancy is a fear that they'll hurt the baby. If you're concerned about this, you can stop worrying right now. The baby is safely cushioned in an amniotic fluid-filled sac and unless you're having very rough sex you have almost no chance of injuring anyone.

Your partner's ideas about sex during pregnancy can also run the gamut. She may feel more connected to you than ever, and may be much less inhibited now that you don't have to use birth control anymore. She may find the idea of having created a life with you to be wildly erotic and she may be delighted with her swelling, more feminine body.

On the other hand, she may be spending a lot of the first trimester vomiting from morning sickness--hardly an aphrodisiac. She may be thinking that mothers aren't supposed to have sex, she may be worried about hurting the baby, or she may just be feeling fat.

When it comes to sex, for many couples the expectant mother's changing body is the source of a lot of conflict, misunderstanding, and confusion. You may find the pregnant female form arousing but not want to do anything sexual because you're worried that she's feeling unattractive. On the other hand, your partner may be feeling sexier than ever but may not want to initiate anything sexual because she's afraid that you don't like her body anymore.

The solution here, not surprisingly, is to talk to each other openly about how you feel and about your desires and needs. Chances are you'll be pleasantly surprised at how similarly you feel. You'll also need to think about expanding your sexual horizons--especially during the last few months of the pregnancy, when your partner may find the missionary position rather uncomfortable or even impossible.

If you haven't thought of them already, you have plenty of other ways to both get sexual satisfaction. Rear entry, side-by-side, or with her on top are always good. If those don't do the job, there's always mutual masturbation, oral sex, or vibrators.

Morning Sickness


About half of all pregnant women experience morning sickness. Despite the name, the nausea, heartburn, and vomiting traditionally associated with morning sickness can strike your partner at any hour of the day. No one’s quite sure what causes morning sickness. Some suggest that it’s a reaction to the pregnant woman’s changing hormone levels. Others, such as researcher Margie Profet, suggest that morning sickness is the body’s natural way of protecting the growing fetus from teratogins (toxins that cause birth defects) and abortifacients (toxins that induce miscarriage). Either way, fortunately for most women morning sickness disappears after about the third month. Until then, here are a few things you can do to help your partner cope:

Help her maintain a high-protein, high-carbohydrate diet.

Encourage her to drink a lot of fluids--especially milk. You might also want to keep a large water bottle next to the bed. She should avoid caffeine, which tends to be dehydrating. She might want to start the day with a small amount of juice or flat soda. The sweet flavor will probably encourage her to drink a little more than she might otherwise.

Be sensitive to the sights and smells that make her queasy--and keep them away from her. Fatty or spicy foods are frequent offenders.

Encourage her to eat a lot of small meals throughout the day; every two or three hours, if possible and to eat before she starts feeling nauseated. She should try to eat basic foods like rice and yogurt. These are particularly good because they are less likely to cause nausea than greasy foods.

Make sure she takes her prenatal vitamins.

Put some pretzels, crackers, or rice cakes by the bed—she'll need something to start and end the day with, and these are low in fat and calories.

Be aware that she needs plenty of rest and encourage her to get it.

Keep in mind that despite the name, morning sickness can happen any time of the day. And don’t be surprised if it disappears and then returns a few weeks later. For some women it actually lasts the entire pregnancy.

For the vast majority of women, morning sickness isn’t a serious condition, and it poses no risk to your baby. It’s unpleasant, but it’s not life-threatening. Some women, though, experience a combination of complete lack of appetite and excessive vomiting. If this sounds like your partner, make sure her doctor knows about it right away. If she doesn’t get treatment she could end up malnourished or dehydrated, neither of which is good for her or the baby.

Smoking and Drinking


I generally don’t like to scare people but sometimes it’s necessary. When a mother-to-be inhales cigarette smoke, her womb fills with carbon monoxide, nicotine, tar, and other gunk that keep the baby from getting the oxygen and nutrients he needs. Sounds healthy, doesn't it? Your wife’s smoking increases the risk of low-birth-weight babies, miscarriage, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

A note to expectant dads who smoke: If you think your baby is somehow protected by being inside your partner, you're seriously mistaken. Recent research indicates that second-hand smoke may be just as dangerous to your pregnant wife and unborn baby as first-hand smoke.

As far as alcohol goes, complete abstinence is the safest choice. Your wife’s doctor may sanction a glass of wine every once in a while to help her relax. But one binge, or even just a few drinks at the wrong time (such as when the baby's brain is developing) can cause fetal alcohol syndrome, a set of irreversible mental and physical impairments. Even moderate social drinking has been linked to low-birth-weight babies, learning disabilities, and miscarriages in the early stages of pregnancy.

Bottom line: if you’re a smoker, quite now. And do everything you can to encourage your wife to immediately stop smoking or drinking. (Stay away from any and all over-the-counter drug options, though, without her doctor’s okay.) It’s tempting to avoid the whole issue out of fear that nicotine or alcohol withdrawal might lead to some marital tension. Bad choice. The potential danger to your baby far outweighs the danger to your relationship. If your wife doesn’t respond positively to your efforts, call her doctor. Chances are he’ll have some pretty strong words for her. He may also be able to offer some prescription assistance.

©2012, Armin Brott

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It's clear that most American children suffer too much mother and too little father. - Gloria Steinem

A nationally recognized parenting expert, Armin Brott is the author of Blueprint for Men's Health: A guide to a health lifestyle, The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to-Be; The New Father: A Dad's Guide to the First Year, A Dad's Guide to the Toddler Years, Throwaway Dads, The Single Father: A Dad's Guide to Parenting without a Partner and Father for Life. He has written on parenting and fatherhood for the New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, Newsweek and dozens of other periodicals. He also hosts “Positive Parenting”, a nationally distributed, weekly talk show, and lives with his family in Oakland, California. Visit Armin at www.mrdad.com



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