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Armin A. Brott on New Fatherhood
Armin A. Brott, father of three daughters and a nationally recognized parenting expert, has written numerous books on fatherhood, including Father for Life: The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to-Be; The New Father: A Dad's Guide to the First Year; Fathering Your Toddler and The Single Father: A Dad's Guide to Parenting Without a Partner. He's also co-author, with Ross D. Parke, of Throwaway Dads: The Myths and Barriers That Keep Men From Being the Fathers They Want to Be. Brott has also written about parenting and fatherhood for The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, Newsweek and many other publications, and he hosts “Positive Parenting,” a nationally syndicated weekly radio talk show. Brott took some time to explain what to expect during the first 30 days of being a new dad.
What are the most important things for a man to do during the first 30 days of being a new dad?
First of all, it’s OK to jump in. Close your eyes and start doing stuff. It’s easy to just sit back and watch others do things. No one really wants to change a diaper, no one really wants to deal with a crying baby, so it’s easy to let others do it. The way to get good at these things is to practice. The mom can soothe a crying baby because she’s done it and knows when it doesn’t work. Dad needs to start making his own mistakes and that’s where the confidence will come from. The second thing is to not sit by and let other people do it, but to actively take charge and not allow someone to push you aside. Otherwise you end up with a guy who is turned into mommy’s little helper instead of a stand-on-your-feet father.
What type of fears and questions do new dads have during the first 30 days?
Fear number one interestingly is “Am I going to drop this kid?” which is part of a larger fear that “I have no idea what to do. I’ve never held a baby, will I be good at this?” Beyond that, it’s figuring out what it means to be a father. I think a lot of guys haven’t thought about this before becoming a father.
How important is one’s own experience with his father? How does that affect one’s parenting style?
It almost always comes into play but not in the way that some people think about. You’re absolutely not sentenced to repeat whatever it is your father did. I think a lot of guys worry they are going to be just like the dad they had, but you don’t have to do that. Quite often men consciously make a choice.
Why are the first 30 days such a vital time for new fathers to connect with the baby?
That’s really when it all starts. The baby isn’t really doing much and is non-responsive, but there are windows where you can start building the relationship. But if you wait too long, you’re going to feel like you need to play catch-up. The mom-baby relationship, especially if she’s nursing, is going to develop quite quickly and that will be a tight bond. By getting in early, you begin to build your own relationship. Also, by stepping up to the plate early, you begin to develop confidence sooner—a very critical contribution to fatherhood. If a baby cries and you are around during those first days and week, you will be able to figure out what that cry means. Does it mean “hungry” or [she wants to take a] “nap” or “get away from me, I’m overly stimulated?” What happens is a really neat feedback thing. The baby understands, “I can count on this guy. The Dad is getting good at this and wants to come back and do more.” If you wait too long, you don’t have the opportunities.
Is there a difference with how new fathers act with sons and daughters?
Yeah. Men tend to be a little rougher, not in a bad way, but more rough and tumble with boys. They see them being sturdy and already are trying to play catch with them when they are a minute old. With girls they tend to see them as being cute and sweet and petite. There’s a lot that goes on.
You mentioned earlier that men learn by making some mistakes. What are the mistakes that new dads are making during these first weeks?
Just the simple, basic type of things sometimes. Going over to comfort the baby and realizing whatever it is you did—that rocking thing—didn’t work. There’s going to be so many of them. A common one is a dad puts the baby up on the changing table and gets the diaper off and realizes the clean diaper and wipes are on the other side of the room. Your arms aren’t long enough—you learn from that and plan ahead. Another is jiggling the baby right after a meal and the baby vomits. It’s the simple hands-on things that people learn quickly.
There are a lot of emotions going on during this time. What can a new dad do if things get too overwhelming?
I think it’s important to have some good communication going with the wife to talk about the Dad getting some time off. Her likely response may be that compared to me, you have a lot of time off already—and that may be true—but mom is contributing different things and doing different things. He’s dealing with financial demands on top of everything. The new dad needs to work out something so he can find some down time. He needs some time to go out and smack some softballs at the batting cage or something.
What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?
Usually something like paying close attention to this and seeing what develops.
The best thing about change is…
…is that you’re always learning.
What is the best change you have ever made?
That would be leaving my full-time business job and kind of becoming a full-time, stay-at-home dad—kind of, not 100%. Making fatherhood a priority.
For more information on Armin A. Brott , visit www.mrdad.com.