Reflections on Father’s Day

Samantha Gray shared her thoughts for this special Father’s Day post…

I hope the dads in your life have a very Happy Father’s Day! Fatherhood continues to grow in its standards and demands as it is more and more recognized for its important role in the development of children. Being a father is not easy, yet there is still very little that is actually accessible to men to support them in their role as fathers. In general, men are not the ones taking parenting classes, reading parenting books, chatting with friends and forming support groups.

It would seem easy enough to engage in these activities, even with bookstore shelves filled with books on fatherhood, but really the barriers to participating are high between work schedules, busy home lives, and the awkwardness of what is just not traditional. For many fathers the strategy seems to be to rely upon their spouse and perhaps, muddle through. But then that random connection occurs…

“You’ll never guess what happened at my meeting today. One of the ministers there told me their family co-sleeps! You would love to meet his wife, they practice attachment parenting too,” my own husband, Dan, continues excitedly, never giving me a chance to guess. He’s thrilled to find a kindred spirit, and so was the dad he met. Too bad the AP dad friend lives so far away—they both would like to compare notes from the dad’s perspective on attachment parenting.

I once wondered how Dan would learn anything about being a father when I knew I had a lot to learn about being a mother, even with the advantage of caring for three younger siblings and years of sitting experience. Especially, how would he learn a way of parenting that was different from how we were both lovingly raised? Here I was reading the books, comparing notes with friends at play dates and on long telephone calls, going to LLL and later API meetings, and eventually facilitating parent education programs. I was pretty miffed wondering when he was going to get started with his self education.

I have been the primary source of parenting information for my husband, and after some years of marriage and children, that works pretty well, though sometimes the responsibility feels great to me. For many of our peers, that is basically the arrangement. Don’t think for a moment Dan’s just along for the ride–he’s a former attorney, well educated in weighing all the facts, challenging ideas and making his own judgments.

There’s still so much that I cannot help him with, though. While my husband and I really do share in our beliefs about birth, feeding an infant, responding with sensitivity, using nurturing touch, practicing nighttime parenting, providing consistent loving care, and positive discipline–our perspectives are different. How can they not be? When I’m giving birth or breastfeeding, he is definitely not. On a lighter side, his nurturing touch is tussling for hours with the kids. Mine is cuddling close for story time. I can compare notes about nice story books and toddler communication skills with friends; who does he compare notes with about good wrestling moves that crack the kids up and that they’ll never forget?

Exercising your demons, a 2007 Men’s Health article by Laurence Gonzalez* addresses this isolation men feel from their own childhood through fatherhood. How would a chatty support group work when, “… part of the cultural influence involves the way men are taught from early childhood to be strong, silent, independent, and resistant to suffering.”? We might be raising our boys to express themselves and be interdependent for the future generations but what about the examples, the fathers, who sons, daughters, and wives need right now?

Gonzalez’s article focuses on how men cope differently than women do. I was particularly interested in the relevance of men’s connectedness, or rather, lack of connectedness, and how it relates to fathering.

Male babies receive less of every type of nurturing, including speech, touch, and comfort when they cry. And that is only the beginning of what will be, to one degree or another, a brutal upbringing for boys.

In the 1960s, the crusading social psychologist Jeanne Block and her colleagues explored how differently parents treat boys and girls. For instance, moms and dads encourage boys to be competitive and to achieve. They don’t like them to show their emotions. They encourage them to be less dependent; mothers push them away. They punish them more than they punish girls. And they are unaware that they treat boys and girls differently.

Because of early socialization, women are better at relationships–with children, friends, and relatives. In general, women have more friends than men and are closer to those friends. This, of course, is the direct result of boys’ having independence forced on them early in life, when what they need is emotional and physical contact with others.

But fathers’ parenting training is limited to their own upbringing for the most part, because of this self-imposed and culturally-limiting social isolation. We know this lack of connectedness has terrible implications.

I am so grateful to LLL and API and my connections, my social networks, for the daily support I receive as a parent. I know the tremendous value of this network so how can I not want this for my husband? Before our third child was born I began inquiring about becoming API Leaders. My objective was and continues to be to provide a support group that is very dad friendly, an attempt at culture change by studying carefully what would remove the obstacles and motivate a dad to participate.

API Support Groups across the country can help meet a father’s social network need through regular meetings for couples, fathers and special meetings—at times and places that accommodate dad too.
Men are engaging in online social networks– just look at My Space and Facebook. They are just clicks away from connecting with support so you can only expect I’ll mention Attachment Parenting International’s Forum.

The API Forum does not just welcome fathers but needs fathers. We would love to have a few willing fathers help us moderate and give dads a space to talk. They can support each other with tips from non-violent communication to even engaging in healthy venting about the family bed, challenges they encounter related to primary attachment in the first year, and even the best babywearing product for them. The entire forum is open to fathers who need support or help through all the stages of child development.

I know the majority of readers of this post are women. What else can we mothers do? Perhaps there is an element of awareness we need to create too. We mothers must work harder at seeing some issues from the father’s perspective, since mothers may continue to have the primary family task of bringing parenting information into the home.

Parenting education can also help break the cycle of disconnection but it is also not traditionally the domain of men. API’s new parent education program has an opportunity to clear a new path and connect fathers to information and to each other, and ultimately to their children, not just through a one-shot session but ongoing.

For full disclosure, my AP husband has now over the years read many, many books about the development of children, particularly the adolescent years, including Reviving Ophelia, Teenage Guys, and many others. In fact, he has been very much part of the solution, designing and carrying out a retreat for teenage boys about being a real man that is counter to the culture and providing much needed help to other parents. He’s the one who read and shared Laurence Gonzalez’s article with me.

Dan Gray is Camille, Luke, and Zaiah’s dad and the Coordinator of Youth Ministries for the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church. Happy Father’s Day to the most wonderful husband and father! Love, Samantha, Camille, Luke and Zaiah.

* Quotes used with permission. Laurence Gonzalez is the author of Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why (www.deepsurvival.com) and the forthcoming (in September) Everyday Survival: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things (www.everydaysurvival.net).

Volunteer Spotlight

When I first became involved with API Headquarters it was as the Western Regional Director. I worked directly with Support Group Leaders throughout the western region and came to know some of them on a very personal level. I enjoyed the level of friendship and support that we extended to each other. I have now transitioned to the position of the API Office Manager and through this position I have come to know many of our member volunteers and have to say that I have enjoyed getting to know them as well. By helping volunteers find a position that they enjoy and thrive in I have made some wonderful friends and am able to work with some of them on a daily basis. Their enthusiasm for the work that API does and the love that they share for all children is contagious. They motivate and inspire me and I’m grateful for all that they do.

Volunteer Spotlight – Meet Adrienne
I’ve been volunteering for API since January and absolutely love it! I serve as a copy editor for Headquarters and as a junior moderator for the forums. I signed up for the copy editor position as soon as I saw the ad.

This role has so many rewards for me. First, I know that I am helping API maintain a professional image by helping out with something that often gets left behind when time and other resources are limited—editing! Second, I’m launching a career in editing and, though I have significant training and experience, the work with API has helped me broaden my knowledge and expertise. For example, I was able to edit documents for the Web, something I’d studied but not yet gained experience in. And, finally, it’s really not any extra work. I am reading and editing things that I would have chosen to read anyways, out of personal interest! You can’t beat having a ‘job’ that involves doing things you’d be doing anyways!

While editing for API, I learned they were seeking volunteers for forum moderators, and I jumped on the chance. I love the support offered in online forums, and I was thrilled that API was launching their own. I’ve really enjoyed being a part of it and am so pleased that the forums have been busy since day one!

API is such a wonderful organization. I’m so grateful that I learned of it early on in my parenting experience. My family has enjoyed so much in our relationships because of AP, and I relish these opportunities to give back for the priceless gift API has given me.

Volunteer Position Highlight – Technology Team Members
We are currently looking for a couple of volunteers for our fabulous Technology Team.
Technology Manager
API is looking for someone with a background in technology to research new technologies and help with the implementation and maintenance of API’s shopping cart, forums, databases, and future technology offerings. Specific experience with pod casts and webinars is a plus. If you are interested, please contact Julie.

A Web Content Manager
API is looking for someone with a background in web-based communication to drive the content and style of the new API Web site. Excellent written communication and organizational skills a must. Specific experience with designing information for the web, design, navigation, news feeds, promoting web content is also a plus. If you’d like to be considered for this position, please email Rita.

If you believe in the value of our mission to educate and support all parents in raising secure, joyful, and empathic children in order to strengthen families and create a more compassionate world, please join with us today. Click here for more information on the various volunteer positions that our organization currently has available. Please know that this list is not comprehensive. If you have talents and experience that you feel would further our mission, please email me so that we can chat about the possibilities!
Warmly,

Brandy Lance

Favorite Baby Carrier?

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Q: What is your favorite baby carrier and why?

A: Let me start by saying I have never met a baby carrier I did not like. I firmly believe that each baby carrier is suited to some parent/baby pair out there. Everyone has their own preferences and mostly it is not about quality, just a matter of opinion, or sometimes just a matter of habit and familiarity. I love the huge variety of soft carriers out there and I get a kick out of trying all the fabulous new innovations. What I like conceptually however and what I actually grab when we leave the house are often two different things. Even though I have a mountain of carriers to choose from, I do indeed find myself reaching for the same few carriers. I find I have different favorites for different purposes (household chores, walking, traveling) and certainly for different ages. My youngest child is 6 months old and my favorite carrier for her right now is my good old ring sling.

Here she is in my beautiful silk ZoloWear sling. I love the versatility of my ring sling. I find it perfect for meeting the ever changing needs of my younger babies without ever having to take them out. I find it so convenient when we are out for extended periods of time because I can start her in the tummy to tummy position which she loves for quite some time, then when she has had enough I can loosen the top rail and lay her down in the fabric to discretely nurse her. At this point she usually dozes off and then I just retighten the sling and I haven’t missed a beat. Once she is asleep reclined, I can swing her to my back if I want to. Also, with these young, smaller babies (mine are usually under about 15 pounds at this point) I do not mind the weight and I am comfortable for long periods even though this is a one-shouldered carrier.

Just today I went up to my children’s elementary school for the end of the year parent teacher conferences. I had little Julia in tow so I grabbed my ring sling. I wore her in the hip carry into the building. As always when I trot out my sling covered baby, people commented on how cozy and happy she looked. Fifteen minutes into the first conference she got restless so I laid her down in the sling and nursed her with the tail of the sling offering us privacy. By the end of the conference she was full but obviously sleepy and increasingly fidgety. That is usually my cue to walk around a bit to settle her to sleep. As we stood in the hallway waiting for the second conference I positioned her reclined in the sling, head out away from the rings and began gently swinging her back and forth. I continued this standing for the first part of the second conference until she closed her eyes. I then gingerly sat with her asleep in the sling for the rest of the conference. She slept great, in fact she is still asleep draped across me lap still in the sling as I type this…making those sweet baby sleep noises.

Based on wearing my four children over the past seven years, here is the pattern that has emerged. I have focused on the first group in this post and will address the other two in future posts:

0-6 months: My favorites are the ring sling for outings, stretch wraparound carrier or mei tai for walks where I anticipate baby sleeping for the duration, and a traditional quilted Korean podaegi for early back carries.

6-12 months: Around nine months or so, I find myself reaching for my pouches instead of my ring sling. I start using my mei tai more often. Although I do like the soft structured carriers (SSC) I have tried I am just a creature of habit and end up reaching for my mei tais.

Toddler: Pouch, mei tai, rucksack carry in a woven wraparound carrier. When I carry my two year old, I reach most often for my mei tai. Yes, I have worn them together using two mei tais, the toddler on my back and the newborn on my front, but sheesh is that heavy! I only wear both if I can see no alternative and the screeching is intolerable. Mostly, they just take turns.

In the interest of brevity, I will limit myself to just a few favorites in each of these categories in no particular order. I do not mean to imply an inferior product by leaving out any carriers.

Ring slings: ZoloWear, Moms in Mind Sarong Carrier, new Maya Wrap lightly padded, TaylorMade Slings, Wise Woman Sling

Pouches: Slinglings, Hotslings, New Native Baby Carrier

Wraparounds: Gypsy Mama (stretch and woven), Didymos (woven)

Mei Tai: Kozy Carrier, BabyHawk

Soft Structured Carriers: Beco Baby Carrier, The ERGO Baby Carrier

You can find a more complete list of all the carriers I have tried and what I like about them here. So this is the long answer to the question of my favorite carrier written when my youngest is six months old. Ask me again in six months and I will bet I have another answer. How about you? What is your absolute favorite carrier? Have you found that it changes over time as your baby grows?