Parenting Advice and Tips for 21st Century Dads
Television shows set in different time periods — think Mad Men, Downton Abbey and Boardwalk Empire — serve as a very real reminder of just how far we’ve come in terms of women’s rights and generic, time-old gender roles.
Today, those traditional gender stereotypes have become muddled and blurred. Women proudly have two feet firmly rooted in the workforce, men aren’t expected to be the sole bread winners and at-home chores and kid-related duties are evenly divided between both parents.
For that reason, the whole “stay at home dad” (SAHD) trend shouldn’t come as a very big surprise to you. It’s uncommon still, yes, but it’s certainly not unheard of.
I spoke with Lance Somerfeld and Matt Schneider, founders of the NYC Dads Group, about the upswing of fathers taking paternity leave — or completely leaving their jobs — to raise their children. The NYC Dads Group is a diverse and growing community of nearly 900 fathers in the New York City area. Lance and Matt also run a blog for the group, which features podcasts and “new dad boot camps” centered on what it means to be a dad in the 21st century.
Pregnancy Corner: What are your thoughts on the SAHD trend that seems to be picking up steam?
Matt and Lance: We think it’s positive that more dads are choosing to be primary caregivers for their families and that being an at-home dad is becoming more socially acceptable. It’s nice to see families making pragmatic decisions that discount traditional gender stereotypes. The media is also attempting to reflect the change with TV shows like Up All Night, Guys With Kids, and Modern Dads on A&E and marketers creating advertising campaigns that portray dads as competent parents.
In your experience and based on your research, how are employers reacting to dads choosing to take paternity leave?
Both of us were teachers in the New York City Department of Education and took advantage of the unpaid childcare leave policy traditionally used by women. Administrators praised us for taking the leap to become modern dads.
Though many companies are not offering any paid paternity leave, some have embraced the concept. Technology companies that are battling for talent are offering new dads seven weeks (Google), eight weeks (Yahoo!), and even four months (Facebook).
It’s great that companies are finally starting to make progress on this. So why are men who have this option not taking advantage?
The big problem is that company culture is not keeping up with corporate policy. Unfortunately, new dads are not supported by their supervisors and peers and there is still a stigma about taking that time off.
One organization that is supporting new dads is Major League Baseball. MLB offers players up to 72 hours to support their partners and bond with their new babies. Seventy-two hours doesn’t seem like a lot, but these guys are showing their teammates and the wider world that it is okay to prioritize being a dad, even over baseball. MLB (along with Dove Men+Care) is even celebrating dads with their new Big League Dads campaign that highlights players and the importance they place on fatherhood.
Do you think the responsibilities of a SAHD are any different compared to a SAHM’s responsibilities?
Parenting is challenging work whether it’s mom or dad in charge. We believe in the idea that dads can be just as nurturing (or distant), capable (or inept) and confident (or scared) as mothers.
Bottom line: children need to be fed, cared for, brought to school, shuttled over to practice or music class and helped with homework. And domestic chores like laundry, dishes and finances need to be tackled, so we don’t think it matters whether you’re an at-home mom or dad.
Expectant and new dads come to the table with many fears and concerns, not limited to work, money, sleep deprivation and finding “me time.” What advice do you offer these men?
We have a few tips based on our experience as the co-organizers for the NYC Dads Group and facilitators for our New Dad Boot Camp workshops:
1.) Beware The Gatekeeper
Tradition, popular culture and unwitting parents have conspired for decades to make moms feel and act as if they are the only ones who can properly take care of the baby — pushing everyone else away — a phenomenon often called “gatekeeping.” In the earliest weeks especially, parenting is about practice more than instinct, and both parents need opportunities to change diapers, to comfort the baby when she’s upset and to enjoy the quiet moments when she’s sleeping on your chest. This is the time for dad to assert his role, express his willingness to learn and to demonstrate some competence. When both parents develop a skill set, mom doesn’t feel like the weight of parenting is all on her shoulders, and dad doesn’t feel left out.
2.) Parent As A High Performance Tag-Team
When both parents are competent, they have a better opportunity to parent as a team rather than as master and apprentice. For example, nursing is a struggle, and often a time when moms feel like they are in it alone. Dads can be very supportive of the nursing process. Bringing the baby over at feeding time, changing the baby’s diaper and getting the baby back to sleep are all ways in which dads can be intimately involved. If there is a sink full of dishes, a pile of laundry and a baby to put to bed, you’ve got to divide and conquer. Developing a plan to share the to-do list at the end of the day gets you a lot closer to the moment when both of you can sink into the couch together with a glass of wine and the TV remote control.
3.) Enjoy Your New Family
Parenting isn’t all about dirty diapers, feeding schedules and nap time. Expecting parents should spend the weeks leading up to birth doing things you enjoy together. Go to the movies, eat dinner out or see friends. After your baby is born, try to fit your new baby into your routines rather than imprison yourselves in a cocoon of worry and to-do lists. It may take several weeks or even a few months, but try to take back some of those moments that are just about the two of you, rather than the baby. For example, use the time your baby is napping in the stroller to take a walk, grab a cup of coffee or get a bite to eat together. Better yet, set baby up in a rocker next to the kitchen table and sit down with a cup of coffee and the newspaper. Babies don’t require our attention constantly and they’re often happy just sitting and watching you interact. Most new dads spend so much time focusing on the baby’s needs that they lose sight of how important it is to continue your role as husband. Try to take back some of those moments that are just about the two of you, rather than the baby.
4.) Communicating Clear Guidelines for Visitors
Expectant parents should be communicating with each other before they have a baby about which family and friends will be able to visit in the hospital and at home the first few weeks. These are your close family and friends. It’s a good idea to have them visit around mealtimes and have them bring over your favorite meal so you don’t have to spend time preparing meals. Give your loved ones an end time so they don’t overstay their welcome. Also, for friends that ask if “you need anything,” feel free to ask them for a pack of diapers. You’re going to use lots of diapers the first year so you might as well start stockpiling now.
5.) Strategies for When You’ve had it!
Lack of sleep, stress, new responsibilities and a constantly crying baby is challenging for new dads. The scene: dad is taking care of the newborn and gets frustrated because he can’t seem to find a solution to stop the crying. Dads need to have strategies to calm themselves down when they get frustrated while handling a new baby. Babies can sense your anger and frustration so in those hot moments “when you’ve had it,” put baby down in a safe place or pass off to your partner, walk away and give yourself a time out. Pop on the headphones with some sweet tunes, get outside for fresh air, hit the gym, or do some internal counting.
Finally, as two dads who have found tremendous value in being part of a dads group and the camaraderie that goes along with it – reach out and connect with other dads – and join a group.
For non-SAHDs, how do you recommend balancing work and family?
We know that men today attribute success to being equally about work and fatherhood. According to a recent Dove Men+Care survey, 97% of men believe it’s equally important to be successful at work and as a father. We wish we had the magic solution to crack the challenging work-life puzzle.
Here are a few helpful tips:
– Use Your Benefits: Many companies are starting to offer new fathers benefits like paid paternity leave, flexible scheduling and telecommuting, but dads generally haven’t been taking advantage. As companies slowly institute family-friendly policies, we need more pioneering new fathers who can demonstrate that a two-or four-week leave has a huge impact at home and a minimal impact in the grand scheme of a 40-year career. Dads, figure out what benefits you have and use them! If you don’t have any, start asking for them.
– Be Transparent: Be transparent at work with your supervisors so they know that being a parent is important to you. Then, you won’t have to sneak around to be present at pediatric appointments, school meetings and dance recitals.
– Be Involved: Choose one day each week that you might go in a drop later to attend a morning music or swim class with your baby or one day that you leave early to be in charge of preparing family dinner.
– Be Yourself: Remember to plan ahead and carve out necessary personal time to continue enjoying some hobbies, meeting friends out for dinner, and taking your wife or partner on a child-free date.
Clearly, these two are well-versed in the topic of being a dad in the 21st century. For more insightful information, or just to reach out to other dads, check out Matt and Lance at NYCDadsGroup.com.
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