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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.'

Getting Over the New Dad Jitters continued...

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 In unpublished research posted on her web site (http://www.ppic.org/publications/occasional/waller.op.html), McLannahan found that the birth of a baby is a "magic moment,"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.

Other research suggests that the benefits of a strong father-child bond are significant and enduring. A study by Harvard researchers published in the September 1995 issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine found that fathers who spend a lot of quality time with their 3-month-olds are likely to be strongly bonded to their kids nine months later. And researchers at the University of Maryland, writing in the July-August 1999 issue of Child Development, found that when fathers enjoy parenting and play with their kids in a nurturing way, the children seem to develop stronger cognitive and language skills.

Such down-the-road benefits may seem a bit abstract to the dad who's down on the floor working on his diapering technique. But he completes the job (to a round of applause) and the mood in the room shifts from awkward and silent to relaxed and talkative.

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