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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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A Magic Moment continued...

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.

Fitzgerald asks the men to say a few words about their experiences with their own dads. Many report that their fathers were "quiet," "absent," or "preoccupied with other things." To a man, these future fathers say they want to have more intimate and communicative relationships with their kids than they had with their own dads.

Bruce Linton, a Berkeley, Calif., psychologist who also leads support groups for expectant dads, says the heightened aspirations and anxiety of today's fathers "represent the emergence of something great in men who are about to have kids. It's a period of amazing developmental growth, of wanting the world to be a safer place, and of intense love toward the newborn, the partner, and the community."

The sentiment may sound a bit grand, but the theory seems to hold water here at boot camp: While the rookies fidget, the vets are focused, self-assured, and calm. Though only six months or so farther down the fatherhood road, they have crossed the Rubicon and have earned the power to console. By the end of the fourth hour, the babies have started fussing. But four or five diapers have already been changed, the babies have been passed around like precious footballs, and the mood is high. When the meeting ends, some of the men hug and others shake hands and trade numbers. But the focus has shifted from the men to the babies, who are now being tossed, burped, and tickled.

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