New dads have a lot to prepare for and all kinds of adjustments to make as they delve into parenting. But figuring out how to still hang out with other adults, and learning how to wipe someone else’s butt are just practical considerations first-time dads have to focus on. A new dad also has to have some softer skills — emotional skills that require thought and practice.
Fortunately, Licensed Mental Health Counselor and author of the parenting guide A Pint of Patience with a Dollop of Love, Dr. Rachna Buxani-Mirpuri has the expertise to walk new dads through emotional skills that can help them build healthy relationships with their partner and children.
Admittedly, a list of emotional skills can appear daunting. But it shouldn’t be viewed as a checklist that needs to be completed. Instead, it’s a robust set of tools that can be used as a person figures out the whole dad thing and there are plenty to choose from, depending on the task at hand.
Fathers will need all the empathy they can muster as children grow. But the good news is that they get to practice perspective taking before the kid even arrives. Immediately out of the gate, dads can love their partner well by understanding and sharing the feelings that they are experiencing.
“70-80% of women will experience postpartum depression or at the very least ‘baby blues’ when they have a baby,” says Buxani-Mirpuri. ”First-time dads need to develop a sense of empathy towards their partner for whom this time along with being joyous can be emotionally challenging. Your partner is doing something beautiful and scary at the same time, and you need to be there to support her or stand back when she needs.”
It’s easy for new dads to focus on the problematic aspects of parenting. But placing gratitude front of your mind can change a fathers entire disposition and help them see the good in others even when those others might be engaging in frustrating frustrating behavior.
Dads need to find that healthy spot between passivity and aggression when someone in the family (including themselves) needs something. Confidently communicating needs, desires, and feelings in such a way as to influence others without harming gives fathers and families the best chance at immediate success while not burning bridges that may be helpful in the future. As a new dad, assertiveness comes in handy in maintaining healthy boundaries with employers or extended family members. And in the future, assertiveness is helpful when communicating with teachers, coaches, and directly with kids.
- Rejection Tolerance
Regardless of how strong a dad’s communication skills are, they won’t always get what they want. And sometimes, those rejections are going to feel personal. Decreasing how other people’s behaviors and opinions affect self-esteem helps fathers feel better about themselves and their community. Don’t let it cut to the core when kids want to keep their distance. It’s important to take a deep breath, acknowledge that it stings, and then let it go like Elsa.
“It is important that dads are attentive towards the physical and emotional needs of their partners,” says Buxani-Mirpuri. And because of the interrelatedness of relationships, changes that a partner experiences may, in turn, affect a fathers physical and emotional needs. “Fathers need to be mindful of the shifts in emotions of their partner and the baby along with a change in their feelings,” she says.
Kindness goes deeper than doing nice things. It also considers the attitude and motivations underlying a person’s actions. In parenting, as in all relationships, begrudgingly doing nice things for others is likely to breed resentment.
A recent article in the European Journal of Developmental Psychology by Dr. Tina Malti from the University of Toronto offers a new framework for understanding kindness. Malti concludes that kindness can be nurtured when we “… acknowledge that balance between self-and other-oriented tendencies is beneficial to remain healthy and contribute to a greater good … are developmentally sensitive and … take the principle of equifinality to heart and enhance multiple facets of kindness in both the child and in the environment.”
When parents are low on energy and can’t think as clearly as they’d like they’re bound to face parenting obstacles. Developing persistence helps fathers identity obstacles they can creatively work through, which ones will have to wait, and which ones to avoid. For instance, when a kid hits their inevitable picky eater phase, they may need to be presented with a food 10-15 times before deciding they like it. And the only way to work through that challenge is with patient persistence.
A partner is an excellent person to help build trust. But fathers should allow the confidence in their partner to spread to others in their support network. When people ask if they can bring a meal or help out in other ways, let them. It’s a simple step that can be much more difficult than it sounds for dads who feel the need to prove they don’t need help. But every time assistance is accepted, dads learn that others are dependable and reliable.
- Self Control
Impulse control is one of the skills parents most ardently want kids to grasp. The best way to make that happen is by modeling the behavior. Consider how to avoid distractions and focus attention on the current task. Think about how individual decisions may affect long-term goals. And pay attention to situations that may trigger a reduced ability to harness undesirable behaviors.
Not only does parenting change everything, but it causes things to change all of the time. “Sleepless nights, extra work around the house, restricted social interactions, and changes in the relationship with your partner are some of the changes that come with the territory of being a parent. Nothing will be just about you and your partner anymore, and that is the fact that you need to adapt to,” says Buxani-Mirpuri.
This doesn’t mean fathers should abandon planning and preparation. On the contrary, it’s always good to have a game plan. But know going into it that it may become necessary to call an audible.
- Emotional Control
It’s ok to be mad. Or sad. Or whatever emotion a person is feeling at any given moment. The key is not allowing those emotions to overwhelm others — particularly when feeling angry. A father swinging from mood to mood easily, or seeing people around them reacting to your changes in temperament, may want to explore some self-regulation exercises that can help find calm when faced with conflict or disappointment.
- Emotional Expression
All those emotions a dad needs to control? They’d also do well to express them. Many dads have trouble expressing their emotions, but bottling them up can inhibit intimacy with partners and is unhealthy for the psyche. If verbalizing emotions is too challenging, try writing them down first. Learn to listen to feelings before expressing them. Putting things on paper allows parents to process at their own speed and then share once they’ve had time to organize their thoughts.
There is an extent to which we choose what to expect from the world around us. New dads who wish themselves and life to turn out positively can spread that confidence to other family members. Allowing pessimism to gain a foothold may lose some potentially winnable battles before they even start.
New dads get to experience all types of surprises. At times children may baffle, perplex, and even mystify. It’s helpful to develop an inclination to explore why kids do. It’s even better to make the most of the new experiences and create an environment in which a family can learn and grow by seeking answers for any question a child might ask.
Parenting isn’t all fun and games, but there are plenty of opportunities for both. It’s great to take responsibilities seriously. But a family will also need fathers who know how to let loose. Enjoy the fun aspects of parenting, and don’t be afraid to inject some fun into family relationships.
“Parenting is a serious business; however, it cannot be all work. Otherwise, parents tend to experience burnout,” says Buxani-Mirpuri. “Have fun, laugh, and enjoy the few moments of peace you get in between the hectic job of caretaking. Playful fathers can positively impact the emotional development of the child as well as help lighten the mood for their partners.”
Help others build trust by agreeing to do things and then following through. The obligations don’t have to be huge. Promising to accomplish ordinary tasks — changing the next poopy diaper or picking something up from the store — is a chance to follow through and make good on your word.
One area of demonstrated responsibility where parents can struggle? Showing up on time. When parents agree to be somewhere at a specific time, they have the opportunity to show you reliability. Do that enough and parents will be trusted to be there in times of need. Show up late or skip out altogether and doubts about reliability will always lurk just below the surface.
The world full of competing ideas and people with unique experiences. Even so, it’s possible to live an insular life where interactions only happen with people who share the same thoughts, values, and experiences. Fathers that open themselves to different perspectives cultivate cultural flexibility that will pay out in accepting kids, even if their worldview differs as they get older.
Duct tape can’t fix everything. Kids often have unique challenges that don’t have clear-cut solutions. The thing about creativity is that it doesn’t require the correct answer every time. It’s simply the skill of figuring out how to best use the tools available. And it’s ok to keep chucking ideas that don’t work until landing on one that does.
- Self Awareness
“It is imperative that you are mindful of your own needs, triggers, and stressors that might come in the way of being the dad you want to be,” says Buxani-Mirpuri. “Studies have shown that new fathers can experience a level of depression themselves. Being aware of mood changes, sleep, eating patterns and behaviors can ensure that depressive symptoms are treated if needed.”
Fathers need to focus on themselves sometimes too, if only to catch themselves before they develop unhealthy habits or attitudes.
Fathers can’t embody all 25 skills on this list. Nobody expects them to. So dads need to accept from the start that mistakes will be made as they grow into evolving parenting responsibilities.
“Self-compassion means being in tune with your internal struggles, being kind to yourself and provides an alternative to negative thinking. Fathers need to forgive themselves for the times that you are not the partner or the father that you aspire to be. And children learn resilience when they see parents display self-compassion,” explains Buxani-Mirpuri.