I’ve been a dad for 10 years. I have four children. I’ve learned a lot about parenting through experience but – if I’m being completely honest – I still don’t entirely know what I’m doing.
That’s why I always look forward to the Annual At-Home Dads Convention.
Not only is it a great way to meet other dads who are doing the at-home parenting thing like me, it’s also an opportunity to learn different parenting strategies from experienced dads and experts.
The featured presenters at the 17th annual At-Home Dads Convention — which was held in Washington D.C. on Oct. 6 and sponsored in part by Momaha.com – included child development expert Dr. Rene Hackney; Boston College Center for Works & Family executive Dr. Brad Harrington and Jeremy Hilton, an at-home dad who was named Military Spouse of the Year for 2012, the first man ever awarded.
Here’s a recap of what I’ve learned:
“Dr. Hackney is worth the cost of admission,” Will Morton of Baltimore whispered to me just a few minutes into her presentation on “Getting Kids to Listen and Managing Power Struggles.” I completely agreed.
To get kids to listen, she explained that you first need to understand what type of parent you are: passive, pleading for good behavior and making vague requests; aggressive, blaming the child and giving overly severe consequences; or passive-aggressive, overly polite and then becoming frustrated when kids don’t listen.
One dad asked, “What if I’m all three?” (Yes, that dad was me.)
The solution, she offered, was to work on becoming an assertive parent. Use straightforward statements, do not repeat yourself and follow-through the first time when giving directions.
We all shook our heads. Really? We only need to tell our kids once and they will listen? Incredibly, she said it works when you are organized, get the child’s full attention, give detailed and straightforward instructions and then follow-through on consequences.
Of course, this isn’t going to work the first time you do it, she admitted. But, if you work at, it can be done.
Dr. Harrington is one of the country’s most respected researchers on work-family balance. In his three studies on fathers and the workplace titled “The New Dad,” he discovered that dads are interested in having more family time than ever before. In fact, one of his studies found that 53 percent of working dads would prefer to stay home if their wife could earn enough income to support the family. In another study on at-home dads he found more than 70 percent of at-home dads are not forced into the role by the economy but chose to leave the workforce to be home with the kids.
In fact, the number of dads who stay at home has risen by 20,000 over the past year, according to www.census.gov. That figure represents fathers who have been out of the labor force for at least a year and care for children under the ages of 15 while their wives work.
Many of the stigmas working dads face in trying to get more family time are the same we face when we leave the workforce. Dads aren’t seen as competent parents. Employers act like dads are less affected by a new baby than women.
The information we learned at the convention gives at-home dads an opportunity to educate employers; show that dads can and want to be actively involved parents; and show that dads need work-life balance as much as women.
Jeremy Hilton, the Military Spouse of the Year and an at-home dad whose wife serves as an officer at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, closed the convention with an inspiring speech. All at-home dads struggle to find their place some times, but at-home dads with military families face additional challenges: They have to move frequently. Their spouses are gone sometimes for a year at a time and are often in harms way.
Jeremy has persevered through all of that while also raising a child with special needs. He knew if he was going to succeed he needed to connect with other dads in similar situations. It’s why he has become involved with MachoSpouse, a group that helps male military spouses connect.
Other break-out session topics included elementary schools, cooking and bullying. The one thing I learned more than anything was that parenting is hard work. Even though our children are getting older and more independent, my job as a parent is NOT getting any easier and to be good at it takes dedication and persistence.
I guess that means the soap operas and bon-bons I’ve been told I should be enjoying will have to wait a little longer.
Al Watts is an at-home dad of 4 children living in west Omaha and the President of The National At-Home Dad Network. He writes regularly for The Good Men Project and Role/Reboot and is co-editing a book project titled “Dads Behaving Dadly: Chronicles of the Fatherhood Revolution.” Read him Wednesdays on momaha.com.