I Was an Army Brat, and I’m Okay!

May 17, 2011

This past week I have been told (yes, told!) that my childhood was very stressful because my father was an Army officer. Seriously, I did not start out a conversation stating I was an Army brat, one was just a chat about a plant at a garden sale and I was asked if I had grown up where it grew wild, and I had to explain that I grew up in lots of places. Then it was a chat about high schools with the woman cutting my daughter’s hair when I was asked where I went to high school (I went to two). That is when I was told that I have been damaged by moving around every couple of years, attending several schools and having my father leave for a year at a time. Twice. Sigh.

I was a bit confused why this “revelation” was being relayed to me until I discovered that a bit a week ago there was a Military Spouse Day, and it was on NPR. It seems the lady at the plant sale only heard the bad parts of the story, and missed the bits about the support systems. Read the rest of this entry »

open and closed

April 13, 2010

Saturday night at about 10PM, I was trying to get the family into the car for a very long road trip. I wasn’t tired yet, but I was definitely cranky, and the Highlander did not want to leave. He wanted to stay, because we were visiting his cousins, and he was having a lot of fun.

So I trotted out the empathy. “I know you don’t want to leave,” I said. “But we all have to go to work next week, and you need to go back to school. Don’t you want to see your friends?”

He did not want to see his friends. But after a minute or so of this, he started to get into the car, on his own. He was at least standing next to the car.

Now, I know that there are parents out there reading this who are thinking, “The kids three years old. Pick him up, put him in the car, and get on the road.”

And I sympathize with that point of view, because I really wanted to just pick him up and put him in the car. And it was that urge that led to my mistake. “Highlander,” I said, “If you don’t get in the car, I’m about to get angry.”

Immediately, his face closed. He stopped looking into the car. He took his hands off the seat. And he basically ran into the front seat to hide from me. So I picked him up and put him in his car seat, because at that point I just didn’t have the patience to coax him into it. I had lost the battle with my own urge to just control the situation and use physical force to accomplish a parenting goal.

What was interesting, to me, about that incident was the change. In a split moment, my son went from being open, engaged, and making a decision on his own to being closed, disengaged, and abdicating responsibility for the decision. This week on our podcast, I discussed a study of adolescents who develop depression. And the big factor for developing depression (besides a family history of depression, which we’ve got) was feeling efficacious. Children who believed that they were able to effect their environment were, to some extent, immunized against depression.

I obsess about this, because I’m a depressive myself. It’s a fairly debilitating disorder, and I truly want to do whatever I can to protect my children against it. And that split moment represented a sort of weird parenting fail in that regard, because I took a decision away from him… even though, if I had been just a little more patient, I would have gotten what I wanted anyway.

Recession Dads Stay Home

March 1, 2009

As the nation falls further into a recession and unemployment rises, more fathers will begin new careers as full time parents to save money on childcare.  For some, the novelty of staying home will quickly fade into feelings of emasculation and depression, but other fathers will embrace the change and learn to love staying home and raising their children.

Whether recession dads are comfortable with their new roles or not, they owe it to their families to swallow their pride, to accept the responsibilities of being “first dude“, and to be the best at-home parents possible.

It’s easy for fathers to feel like a minority being a Mr. Mom in a world where housewives have always ruled, but new at-home-dads should learn to get over themselves and accept the complexities of the sudden role reversal. There aren’t many folks who will have patience for a man’s newly discovered insecurities. Certainly, working wives will feel more attracted to a husband who takes his new role seriously and steps up domestically rather than wallowing in self pity.

It can be shocking to lose the comfort of the social structures of cubicle life, but staying home doesn’t have to be an isolating experience.  There are plenty of at-home-dads who regularly meet up for weekly playgroups and for monthly pints at the pub.  If you can’t find a regional playgroup at athomedad.org, you can go there to start one yourself.  You might also have luck finding a playgroup at yahoo groups or meetup.com.  It’s nice to just hang out and chat with other dads, and the kids benefit by going to fun places and meeting new friends.

Many fathers have tried and failed at infiltrating the mom dominated playgroups. Moms justify rejecting dads from playgroup for any number of reasons, but the two most common are breastfeeding privacy and jealous husbands.  It doesn’t hurt for Dads to try joining a mom’s group, but they should be aware that there is a possibility of rejection and/or alienation.  It’s not a big deal.

Recession fathers should think twice about giving up a gym membership.  The local YMCA has free child care, which allows home-based parents to recharge with a sprint on the treadmill, a set on the bench press, some laps in the pool, or a game of racquetball.  If money is too tight for a membership, grab a jump rope or a jogging stroller and find a space in your neighborhood to exercise.  Taking care of yourself physically will also restore you mentally, and exercise will force you to get away from the house where you can become lost to the siren call of video games, morning talk shows, and internet discussion forums, not to mention reruns of The Wiggles.

Many alpha moms will have issues of their own during this time of role reversal.  Feelings of envy may creep into their relationships and manifest in unexpected ways, especially when fathers fail in their domestic responsibilities.  Our grandparents had little trouble deciding how to divide the household chores because tradition dictated their roles, but modern families may find that the division of labor can be a marital minefield.  It’s imperative that couples be very clear how the work will be apportioned, and it’s extremely important that the house-husband take the brunt of the daily chores.

This recession may last a while.  It makes no sense for laid-off fathers to stubbornly keep the kids in daycare when the well of potential jobs are almost bone dry.  They should use this time to focus on the family, to watch their kids grow up, and to raise the bar as a husband.  The cubicle will always be there when the jobs come back.  Who knows?  Maybe they’ll decide to never go back.  That’s OK too.

Studying Dad’s Involvement + Interview

January 4, 2009

Scientists at the University of Maryland just did a study to determine whether fathers who are involved during pregnancy are more likely to be close to the kids after birth.  The study unsurprisingly revealed that fathers who are involved in prenatal care were much more likely to be present when the baby is three than those fathers who were not involved before birth.  The study’s outcome did not seem to be affected by whether the father and mother were married.

Natasha Cabrera, who was the lead researcher on this study, was nice enough to take the time to answer a few questions.  Her answers have not been edited in any way.  Thanks to Ms. Cabrera for her responses.

What kind of study was this?

This was a panel study. I and my colleagues analyzed existing data collected on low-income families

How did you define whether a father was “involved” in prenatal care? The term seems ambiguous considering the complexity of different families.

Yes, I agree with you. We acknowledge in our paper that the way prenatal involvement was measured in the study is very crude. We’re currently planning a study which will include an extensive qualitative component of how fathers think and act during the pregnancy. Yet, despite this measurement problem, we still got interesting results.

Prenatal involvement was measured by asking fathers: Were you present at the birth?” “During the baby’s mother’s pregnancy, did you give her money or buy things for the baby?” and “Did you help in others ways, like providing transportation/doing chores?”

How significant were the differences between the groups of Dads?

We found that fathers who were more prenatally involved were two times more likely to transition into a residential relationship than those who were not which, in turn, was significantly related to increased levels of paternal engagement.

Did you control for things like income, race, age, occupation, etc? How did those affect the data?

Yes, we controlled for child gender, child temperament, child health status race and ethnicity, father’s baseline education, fathers’ and mothers’ ages at baseline, establishment of legal paternity, and mother’s employment. At year 1, we controlled for the number of children fathers have from unions other than the target child’s birth mother. At year 3, we controlled for whether fathers were expecting a new biological child with someone other than the mother of the child. These variables were controlled for because they have been linked to our outcome – father involvement. so our results say that prenatal involvement matters for later involvement over and above these other variables.

Do you feel that there were any unavoidable weaknesses in the study?

Yes, our measurement was poor of key variables…relationship status, prenatal involvement. But the data we had are the best available and have very good longitudinal data on low-income families.

Did this research surprise you with anything you weren’t expecting?

Yes and no. Given our theory, we were expecting to find these associations. But I was a bit surprised to find that despite some of our limiations, the results are pretty strong – getting fathers involved early – at the transition to fatherhood – pay dividends for both couples and children. the next questioon is to explore the quality of the father involvement with his child.

Are you planning any studies that follow up on this information?

Yes, as I said above, we’re planning a study that explores in depth “prenatal involvment” – what do fathers do during this period? how are they thinking about the pregnancy and their unborn child? what are their fears/hopes for their children and themsleves? what are the barriers to involvement? how are they thinking about the role of fathers during this time? what are they expectations, beliefs about being involved early? is this related to their desire to “be there” for their child no matter what? in preparation for their new role of fathers, do they “clean up” their act? etc.

Dad Science: Praise the Father

June 3, 2008


Scientists from Ohio State University have closely examined the parenting habits of 97 new parents living in the midwest.  Their research indicates that mothers who are overly critical might be discouraging their husbands from being more involved in raising the baby.  On the flipside, mothers who praise and encourage their partners seem to inspire fathers to have a more active role in parenting.

The results did not change even when factoring both parents opinions on whether fathers should be more involved.  Even if Dad didn’t think raising children was his job, his wife’s praise boosted his fathering time.  Other factors, such as Mom’s work outside the home and the parents’ relationship, did not seem to change the outcome either.  The study was done using a combination of surveys, videos, and personal observations.  This is the first time that scientists have been so involved and interactive on this issue, but it confirms information provided by previous studies

The co-author of the study Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, a professor of human development and family science at Ohio State University, has put her foot in her mouth on this topic a few times.  She has called mothers “the gatekeepers” who are in the “driver’s seat” of their husband’s participation.  I know she has good intentions of inspiring better parents, but her statements can come across as a tad condescending to men.  It seems like she is saying that Moms should baby their husbands with heaps of praise or suffer the consequences of an unrewarded uninvolved father.  As if men can’t be good parents without being mollycoddled.  The interpretations seem to be one-sided too – why not question whether mother needs praise and encouragement?

My opinion based on what I know from other reports on this research is that this is a classic case of the tail wagging the dog.  Mothers give praise to more involved fathers and criticize fathers who are passive parents.  A father can believe that parents should be involved, but that won’t necessarily translate once the baby is born.  He might be overwhelmed or grossed out by diapers, which inspires bitterness from Mom.   I guess I’m saying the issue may be more complex than the analysis that mother is the gatekeeper.  Schoppe-Sullivan admits as much by saying that she can’t be sure which behaviors are the cause and which are the effect.

Whatever the case may be, I shouldn’t complain about scientists who want mothers to encourage and praise their husbands.  It can’t be a bad thing to praise Daddy.  I’m sure that they’re right (despite their poor choice of words) – mothers who encourage the father are more likely to get better fathers.

New Dad Depression 3 – NEW INTERVIEW!

May 15, 2008


I’m having deja vu here.  First, I wrote about the study connecting a father’s post partum depression to behavioral problems in their children, then I interviewed Dr. Ramchandani about that study, and now I’m back again to give you more depression news and a new interview…

James Paulson of the Eastern Virginia Medical School did a study on 5,000 families that revealed some startling information about children of depressed fathers.  The results of their study showed that children with sad Dads were able to speak on average 1.5 words less than the standard average, and that those same Dads were less likely to read to their children for the average length of time. 

My first reaction to the research was that the results did not show a wide enough statistical gap to be alarming.  There was only a 1.5 word difference.  The image of a child only knowing half a word is amusing me now, even though I know it’s an average.

My second reaction was that any vocabulary gap (especially one that small) is essentially insignificant because toddler word knowledge does not indicate present or future intelligence - my Mom, an early intervention specialist, agreed with me.  I realize this argument is a sort of straw man, but it’s a valid point if for only to remind parents who might misinterpret the emphasis on word knowledge in the study. 

My final reaction was that the connection between word knowledge and depression was not noticed in the mothers in this study and other studies, and that the explanation for this difference (mothers push through their depression better) seemed apologetic and sexist.

Here to answer my questions and to explain this study is Dr. James F. Paulson, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Eastern Virginia Medical School.  The following are his unedited responses to my interview:

Can you tell me more about the New Father Program you are developing?  What are your goals with the project?  Is this in the early stages or can the public expect something soon?

My group is currently in the process of developing a program for expecting and new fathers that is tentatively designated “Dads Matter.”  This program is aimed at fathers who might otherwise be referred directly into a standard childbirth/early parenting preparation course, the sort that is widely available and often coordinated via hospital birthing centers. It is not ready for the public yet, as we’re making our best effort at building it carefully to be engaging and attractive to fathers (both in the way it’s presented and its content) and this process requires pilot work with fathers going through the parenthood transition. Ideally, it will stand as a complement to traditionally mother-center parenting preparation and education programming.

Are you familiar with the recent Children of the 90s study that showed a correlation between behavior problems in children and post-partum depression in their fathers?  Will you be looking at this possible connection in the future to replicate Dr. Ramchandani’s research?  Have you had a chance to compare your data with that project?

Dr. Ramchandani’s research is well-known to our group and it is excellent work that’s moved us quickly forward in understanding that paternal depression (the father’s involvement more generally) can clearly impact child health and development. Our current ongoing research should lead to a partial replication of Dr. Ramchandani’s work and may provide new information.

Do you feel that vocabulary knowledge at age 2 matters in the eventual intelligence of the children?

This is an excellent question that can’t be answered simply. we study phenomena like expressive vocabulary at the group level (averaging across many children) the knowledge gained speaks more powerfully to how a given phenomenon operates at a broader level.  It doesn’t necessarily speak to any particular individual.  This, perhaps, is the biggest source of confusion that people experience in digesting the findings of social, behavioral, and population-based research. That said, it’s fair to say that children’s vocabulary at age two matters, but it may be no more than a modest factor in school readiness and long-term academic achievement.  It may be an indicator of intelligence that is measured later, but age two is a bit early to place much confidence in that link.  What is particularly interesting about expressive vocabulary to us is that its disruption may serve as an signal of other developmental or family problems.

Did your study factor in any data regarding single fathers or at-home fathers?

Unfortunately, no.  Little research has been done with either of these groups, although it is clearly needed.

How were the 50 words tested?  Did the parents volunteer the information or were the children specifically quizzed with flashcards?

Inventory was used to assess expressive vocabulary.  This instrument relied on the child’s primary caregiver to endorse which words the child was using at age two.

Did participation in daycare or pre-school programs make a difference in word knowledge?  Did you find or look for a link in social skills in the children and depression in their parents?

We haven’t looked at this yet, but it is on the agenda for future research.

It seems like there is a link between reading less and word knowledge.  Did your study find this to be true as a general rule?

This study does support the notion that there is a link between parent-to-child reading and the child’s word knowledge.  It is important to note, however, that parents support their children’s development (language and otherwise) through a wide range of interactions.  Speaking with the child, narrating activities to the child, play, storytelling, singing, and other activities certainly go a long way to help the child learn language, social skills, and self-regulation. By looking narrowly at reading to the child, we are able to capture a measurable parenting interaction that parents can easily follow up with.

How many of the children with lower use of vocabulary had both parents depressed?  This seems like it might be significant because I would think that the non-depressed parent would pick up the slack with reading.

While there were a number of families where both parents experienced significant depression, we didn’t find a multiplicative effect for this on child vocabulary.  In fact, we found that while depression in the father did have a negative impact on his reading to the child and the child’s expressive vocabulary, mother’s did not.  This is certainly not to say that mother’s depression and behavior is unimportant, but rather that the mothers in this study did not substantially alter their reading behavior when depressed.  We didn’t find a “picking up the slack” effect, but this sort of compensatory change in the family is something that is of interest where parental depression is concerned.

Why did you specifically look at depression at 9 months?

We looked at depression at 9 months both because it mirrors much of the research that has been done on postnatal depression (generally regarded as depression occurring up to a year after childbirth) and because we were interested if early parental depression had a substantial impact on parenting and child functioning later on.

A 1.5 word deficit doesn’t seem like a lot.  Is there really reason to be concerned based on what seems to be a small variation?

You’re right.  Even if we express this as a ratio (1.5 words of the 50 words tested), we’re only talking about a 3% reduction in vocabulary associated with depression. As I mentioned above, we’re interested in this reduction because it captures one component of child development and may signal other problems. At the very least, this small effect should raise eyebrows regarding potential child outcomes as a consequence of paternal depression and spark more research on this topic.

Thanks to Dr. James Paulson, and best of luck to him on his future work with his project “Dads Matter”. We here at Skeptic Dad obviously agree with the notion that Dads matter. It’s nice to see that science is being applied to the world of fathering.


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