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Men's Health

New Dad Jitters

Today's fathers are more involved than ever with their newborns -- and sometimes more stressed than ever. Here's how to cope with the everyday demands of 'dadhood.'
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Getting Over the New Dad Jitters

Two generations ago, fathers rarely set foot in the delivery room. Today's fathers not only help with the birth, but they want -- and are expected -- to play a greater role in the lives of their children than ever before in our history. But these heightened expectations bring with them a lot of pressure and leave many dads feeling unprepared. Boot camp helps them get ready -- and get over some of their jitters.

Greg Bishop, a management consultant and father of four children, started the camps 10 years ago as a way to give fathers-to-be a little basic training. It has since become the largest workshop for expectant fathers in the country, with 100 programs in cities from coast to coast, and some 26,000 graduates to date. The camps are clearly filling a need.

"Men are way behind the curve when the baby comes," Bishop says. "Moms get into parenting with a long tradition and lots of role models. And they've already had a nine-month relationship with the baby. We try to help men catch up a little, to give them the reassurance and skills they need to start on the right foot."

That's important, because if men's initial experiences as fathers are bad, they're more likely to go AWOL -- one reason, says Bishop, that 42% of American kids are growing up without fathers in their homes, according to data gathered in 1998 by the National Fatherhood Initiative.

A Magic Moment

Such statistics helped motivate Bishop to start the camps. "I thought if you could start dads off on the right foot, they'd have a much better chance of hanging in there and following through," he says.

His intuition is supported by the work of Princeton sociology professor Sara McLannahan, PhD. In unpublished research posted on her web site (http://www.ppic.org/publications/occasional/waller.op.html), McLannahan found that the birth of a baby is a "magic moment," when fathers are highly motivated and can either be turned on to fatherhood or turned away from it. If the early experience is good and the father feels empowered, the connection is likely to grow. If the new dad feels left out, a negative pattern may be set that the family follows for years to come.

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