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    How to Be a Happier Person

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    Why New Dads Should Take Parental Leave

    When groups of women who work together become pregnant at the same time, workplace conversations usually surround the fact that the department will have a hard time when these women all take maternity leave.

    Contrast that response to a story that hit the airwaves about seven firefighters at the same fire station in Oklahoma. Their wives became pregnant around the same time, but no one really commented about how the station would operate while these dads took time off to be with their newborn babies.

    While moms are essential to infant care, many people often overlook or don’t discuss the benefits to mom and child when the father is more involved in the caregiving process.

    Articles from the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) highlight the fact that father-infant bonding is just as important as mother-infant bonding. In fact, delayed bonding can alter the long-term course of paternal involvement as the infant progresses throughout childhood and adolescence. It can also increase the risk of paternal postpartum depression.

    According to the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing:

    • Fathers reported that they didn’t start to experience fatherhood until birth.
    • Mothers reported that they started to experience motherhood as soon they discovered they were pregnant. 
    • Although most fathers expect to bond emotionally and immediately with their newborns, some fathers still did not feel bonded to their infants as long as six weeks to two months after birth.  

    Successful father-infant bonding during the immediate postpartum period offers several benefits for the infant: 

    • It reduces cognitive delay,
    • Promotes weight gain in preterm infants, and
    • Improves breastfeeding rates.
    • Research shows that when the father frequently visits their prematurely-born child in the hospital, babies are more likely to get out of the hospital sooner, develop their brains better and have more psychomotor functioning. The more the father can be there, the better the child tends to improve.

    A study by Kyle Pruett at Yale University showed that even for children born full-term, the importance of father involvement is enormous. 

    • A father breathing on the child when it is first born helps the bonding process to occur and changes the dad’s brain, too. 
    • The sooner the father gets involved with the child, neurons in the male brain begin to develop and connect with each other - mimicking the mother instinct. 
    • When fathers are involved, their oxytocin levels go up and testosterone levels go down, and Dad is satisfied from the emotional intimacy with his child. Mother and child benefit from that, too.

    “Father-infant bonding is an issue that is not discussed enough and is just as important as mother-infant bonding during the immediate postpartum period,” said AWHONN's Chief Executive Officer, Lynn Erdman, MN, RN, FAAN. “It is vitally important for a father to interact and bond with his newborn to help the infant’s development and to reduce the risk of paternal postpartum depression.”

    Dads can bond with their unborn children by talking, singing or reading to them in the womb. AWHONN offers these tips to help dads continue the bonding process after the baby arrives: 

    • Jump right in. Don’t be afraid to begin immediately caring for and loving your baby. The more you hold your baby, the more comfortable and natural it will feel.
    • Take a night shift. Once mom is breastfeeding well, she may want to let you give the baby a nighttime meal. This way she can get more sleep and you will have the opportunity to bond with your newborn.
    • Read your newborn a book. Your newborn will enjoy the rhythm and pace of your voice while you read a book. In these early months, it’s not about what you’re reading; it’s about reading itself.
    • Initiate the bath. Bathing your newborn will enhance bonding and provide a multi-sensory learning experience.
    • Create a bedtime ritual. Infants will learn to depend on the consistency and predictability of a nighttime routine.

    The research is solid that fathers profoundly impact the lives of their children, even as infants. While you may be hesitant to take time off from work to be with your newborn because you think bonding with Mom is more important for the baby, you might want to think again. This is actually a one-time opportunity to give your child a gift money can’t buy - time with you, and more benefits for your family than you realize. 

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on June 21, 2019.

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    6 Ways to be Happy, Healthy and Content in the New Year

    “If only I had a better job.” 

    “If I could just find Mr./Mrs. Right.” 

    “If I just had a higher-paying job.” 

    While happiness and contentment may seem to be elusive sometimes, many people believe it will come to them through some external means like finding the right job, the right spouse or making a certain amount of money, research indicates this is not true.  

    Sonja Lyubomirsky and her team at the University of California-Riverside reviewed 225 studies involving 275,000 people, and they found that people aren’t happy because they are successful. Instead:

    • They are successful because they are happy.
    • Happy people are easier to work with, more highly motivated and more willing to tackle a difficult project. As a result, they are more likely to be successful.
    • Happy people appear to be more successful than their less-happy peers in three primary areas of life – work, relationships, and health.

    While many people seek happiness through people, things, work, etc., the research suggests that happiness does not come from someplace or someone else. Those things or people might contribute to a person’s happiness, but true happiness comes from within.

    “Happiness is a choice,” said Dr. Patrick Williams, clinical psychologist and master certified life coach. “In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl said that what kept him alive in the prison camp was knowing there was one freedom no one could take from him – his thoughts. He chose to make the best of a terrible circumstance. 

    As you think about the year ahead, perhaps you are considering some changes in order to be a happier person. Here are a few things to think about:

    • Love and accept yourself for who you are. This does not mean change isn’t necessary. Recognize that we all have our strengths and opportunities for growth. Beating yourself up over your weaknesses does not contribute to being happy. All of us are gifted at something. Treat yourself kindly and acknowledge that you are a work in progress.
    • Be accountable for your actions. Instead of blaming others for all that happens to you, accept responsibility for your choices. It has been said that you cannot change the past, but you can impact the future. Make an intentional decision to do things differently.
    • Stop trying to change others. The only person you can change is yourself.
    • Determine your priorities and live by them. Living out someone else’s dream for your life can be a major source of unhappiness. For example, a young man who had been swimming since he was small started having headaches every time he prepared to swim in a meet. He was an exceptionally good swimmer and there seemed to be no good explanation as to why he kept getting the horrible headaches. One day, his mom commented that she just didn’t understand these headaches because he loved to swim. He responded, “No mom. I don’t love swimming. I am good at it, but I don’t enjoy it at all.” Ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing.
    • Start with abundance in your life. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, look at what you do have - a roof over your head, clothing, food, etc. Someone once said, instead of looking at whether your glass is half-empty or half-full, just be thankful you have a glass.
    • Define happiness. In his article, Why Happiness Isn’t a Feeling, J.P. Moreland says a classical understanding of happiness is virtue and character, a settled tone, depends on internal state, springs from within, is fixed and stable, empowering and liberating, integrated with one’s identity, colors the rest of life and creates true/fulfilled self. What is your definition of happiness?

    “The reality is this, if you have food in your refrigerator, clothes on your back and a roof over your head you are richer than 75 percent of the world and if you have money in the bank, in your wallet and some spare change, you are in the top 8 percent of the world’s wealthy,”  Williams said. “Happiness is a matter of perspective, it has nothing to do with the trappings.”

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on January 18, 2020.

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    Why Do Couples Fight?

    When asked, “What do couples fight about?” most people usually say money, sex, kids and in-laws straight out of the gates. 

    In romantic relationships, couples can have all kinds of major and minor disagreements that impact the quality of their relationship. If you’re wondering what the research says about what couples are most likely to fight about, you’ll be interested in the results of a 2019 study by psychologists Guilherme Lopes, Todd Shakelford, David Buss and Mohaned Abed. 

    They conducted a three-stage study with recently-married heterosexual couples looking at all of their areas of discord, and what they found was pretty interesting. Out of 83 reasons for couple conflict, they found 30 core areas of conflict which they placed into six component groups.

    The component groups were:

    1. Inadequate Attention or Affection: This would include things like not showing enough love and affection, lack of communication, one not paying enough attention to the other, not being appreciated and feelings.
    2. Jealousy and Infidelity: This would affected by real or perceived risk to the relationship from things like talking to an ex, possessiveness, past relationships and differing opinions on whose friends couples hang around more.
    3. Chores and Responsibilities: Think about everyday tasks that couples may share. The housekeeping, chores, who does more work, not showing up when expected and sharing responsibilities would fit here.
    4. Sex: One may want sex and the other doesn’t, frequency of sex, sexual acts and telling private information about the relationship to others - and the list goes on.
    5. Control and Dominance: This would refer to events in which one partner tries to manipulate or control the other in some way.
    6. Future Plans and MoneyThings like goals for the future, children and the ability and willingness to invest resources in the relationship would fall into this category.

    Utilizing these areas of discord, the psychologists created the Reasons for Disagreements in Romantic Relationships Scale (RDRRS).

    Key Findings

    • Jealousy and infidelity seemed to decrease after several years of marriage
    • A husband’s higher income contributed to control and dominance issues.
    • Men who were more religious mentioned less disagreement over jealousy and infidelity elements.
    • Relationship satisfaction improved over time even though the frequency of differences did not change significantly during the three years of marriage.
    • Females were less satisfied when there was more disagreement about control and dominance, and as women grew older there was more disagreement about infidelity and jealousy.
    • Women reported that sexual satisfaction was lower when there was greater disagreement about chores and responsibilities. 
    • Women were more likely to guess they would have an affair in five years when there was greater disagreement around inadequate attention and affection.

    Whether you're considering marriage, engaged or already married, this information can provide a great foundation for conversation when it comes to potential disagreements in marriage. While there is some relief in knowing that lots of people struggle with the same types of issues, it might be a bit disconcerting to find that the one you love and thought you would be on the same page with about most things doesn’t exactly see things the same way you do. In reality, it is pretty much impossible for two people from two different upbringings to come together and not have any differences of opinion about certain things.  

    Either way, if you know you have these differences or areas of conflict, it is possible to have constructive conversation to determine how you will navigate dealing with them so your relationship can thrive in the process. How do you do that? Thanks for asking.

    Find a time when you both can talk for 30 minutes or so without distraction. Choose one of the topics you differ on and begin sharing. Keep in mind, your best bet is for each of you to seek information and to remain curious. There is no rule that says at the end of 30 minutes you are done with this topic. This is also not a time to try and convince your partner about why they are wrong and should for sure see things your way. 

    Couples often find that when they seek to understand their partner it begins to make sense why they think the way they think. It doesn’t mean you have to agree. You can still disagree on certain things and have a healthy marriage, but it will require some effort on each person’s part. If you are dating or engaged, you may realize that your differences are significant enough that you need to evaluate whether marrying each other is the best next step. It really boils down to respecting your partner and doing what is in the best interest of your relationship.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on January 11, 2020.

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    How to Find Hope When Things Seem Hopeless

    Perhaps you’ve seen the story on social media about a couple who fled their war-torn village in Sudan in 2012 trying to get to refugee camps in Africa. While fleeing, Dyan and Alik became separated, and evidence of their marriage was destroyed.  

    Alik was processed into the camp as a single mom. Dyan was processed as a single man, making him a very unlikely candidate for resettlement in the United States.

    Alik arrived in Fort Worth, Texas with her two children and their third child on the way, not knowing if she would ever see her husband again.

    Enter Molly and Mary Claire, two moms who were looking for a way for their families to serve others. These two families were paired with Alik and her children. As they developed a relationship with Alik, she shared with them about her husband being stuck in a refugee camp in Egypt.

    When Alik spoke with her caseworker about what she could do to get her husband to the States, the caseworker gave her very little hope. Molly and Mary Claire spoke with immigration attorneys, members of Congress, and anybody else they thought might be able to help them in their relentless pursuit to reunite this family. They also were told time and again it would be a real miracle for Dyan to join them.

    After four long years, and reams of paperwork, Dyan was reunited with his family. If you haven’t seen the video, it’s worth searching for and watching.

    As you enter into this new year and new decade, perhaps you are dealing with a situation that seems hopeless - unemployment with no possibilities on the horizon, a persistent illness, marital strife or a family member dealing with addiction. Sometimes it’s hard not to give up hope. If you find yourself in this space, here are some suggestions to help you keep going.

    • Find a community to engage with. It is likely that while both Dyan and Alik kept hope in their heart, there were probably plenty of days when they thought their efforts were futile. Their friends helped them keep going.
    • Be aware of your own self-talk. Negative thoughts will almost certainly lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. As Carol Dweck in her book “Mindset” points out, self-talk is very powerful. Statements such as, “It hasn’t happened yet, I will eventually find a way,” “This is temporary,” and “Even in the midst of the storm, I am learning,” are very different than giving up hope.
    • Do something. Maybe you aren’t able to do what you planned, but you can do something else while you wait. Alik did not stop living her life while she was pursuing getting Dyan to the States. While she may have begun to doubt she would ever see her husband again, she made friends with Molly and Mary Claire, cared for her children and participated in activities. 
    • Keep putting one foot in front of the other. As Dory says in Finding Nemo, "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming." So often people decide to throw in the towel just before things start to turn around. 
    • Phone a friend. Sometimes it helps to talk with someone.
    • Volunteer. Using your skills to help others while you are in the midst of waiting will help you feel better about yourself and your situation. You never know who you might meet while volunteering, and you might be able to encourage someone else. Or, you might work alongside someone who can help you with your current circumstance. Either way, it’s a win.

    Desmund Tutu once said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.” It’s a new year and a new decade. If you are still on this earth, you can still have hope.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on January 4, 2020.