A Podcast Series from The Family Institute
Nikki Lively: Hi everyone! My name is Nikki Lively and I'm the Clinical Director of the Transitions to Parenthood program here at The Family Institute. We are a team of psycho-therapists specializing in reproductive mental health and provide therapy and support to women, men, infants, couples and families during this important life transition. Today, I will be talking to a dad about his experiences transitioning into fatherhood. And this dad and I are actually good friends and we've known each other for many years, but we've never had an opportunity like this one to delve deeper into the psychological, emotional and spiritual transition of his journey of becoming a father. So I'm excited to have this opportunity to talk to him about this today. So I want to introduce my friend Adam. Adam is a full-time working man in information technology, and is the father of two. I'd like you to tell us a little bit about yourself by telling us who lives in your house. 0:59
Adam: Well thanks, Nikki. In my house, in addition to myself, I'm married, so my wife and I of almost fourteen years. And we have two girls, one ten, and one seven. Last summer we made two new additions. We got two little kittens. That's been an interesting change in and of itself. So, it's the six of us in the house.
NL: I wanted to see if we could reflect back. I guess this would be about ten years ago, about what your experience was like becoming a father for the first time. If you had any thoughts about what she might be like, temperament wise, personality wise. Any kind of hopes or fears you might have been in touch with before you met her.
A: I didn't have any specific…I didn't want my kid to do this, or be that way. And for our first one we did find out through the ultrasound that it was going to be a girl, so we did know ahead of time. You know I guess looking at our parents thinking okay well maybe there are certain things that our parents do that we don't really think are great. Here are some traits that we have that you know, we don't necessarily think are great either. One hopes they don't inherently have these traits, they take on all your positives, but that's not necessarily always the case. So, more it's about around how can you help to teach your kids when you see them do things that you know are good, encourage it. And when you see them do things that are bad, maybe not discourage it, but teach them how to adjust their behaviors. Because I find that it's definitely tricky when your kids are doing things that aren't necessarily appropriate. 2:35 Educating them on what it is they're doing, and how they're doing it.
NL: I'm wondering what other support you got as a new father, what you thought was helpful, or what wasn't so helpful, what you wished for and that sort of thing in terms of supporting you in your new role.
A: Maybe it was the pediatrician or something like that that we heard it from first, advice that they are not as fragile as you think, which maybe we didn't fully take that in with the first. I think that maybe most parents don't. There's not tons that you can do that's wrong that's going to mess your kids up. But certainly the pediatrician, and especially in the beginning, I mean you're taking a newborn to the doctor once a week and then once every other week. So you're taking them quite a bit and so, the advice they have in the very beginning is very good. Obviously from family, but we did have a few friends that had some kids at the time as well. Maybe not so much advice that came from them, but just to have someone to communicate with that's going or has gone through the same thing. And you're kind of on the same level as what you're dealing with at home with new kids and babies and things like that. 3:43
NL: I'm wondering, I guess, if you learned anything during the early part of the transition or even, I guess now, that you wish you had known or you'd like other dads to know.
A: I guess, especially in this country, there's not as much of a notion as paternal leave as maternal leave. And so that's something that, you know I took some time off of work, but I wish that I would have just taken more. Because you know, you can do it. And I think that I wish I would have done it. And I think in general, it should be something that's more available to fathers here because it's important to spend time with your new family as it is when there's a newborn. So, I guess that's one thing that I wish I was able to do. 4:28
NL: Yeah. I guess that's good advice, and I guess also a good segue because I'm going to ask you about becoming a father for the second time. I'm curious if there were any experience you had with the first child that kind of helped you. What you were able to glean, and maybe what you weren't able to since it's a different person that's being born.
A: It was definitely a bit of a challenge because now you're taking care of an infant and, at least for us, we were taking care of a toddler. She was two, they are two and half years apart. And one thing that was challenging, that we did, or I guess that I did that maybe wasn't so great, was that we looked at our older daughter as being much older and more mature than she actually was. You look at her next to a newborn, and oh she's two and half. She's this big girl. But she really is not a big kid at all. And I think perhaps we put a lot of undo pressure on her to be more mature than she should have been at two and half years old.
NL: I guess speaking of her, what was the process like of welcoming the new baby into the family? What did you notice and how did people react to this? 5:38
A: I think that, in general, the same as the first time around. People were so excited, especially our older daughter. She was so excited to be a big sister. And it was a little bit challenging when we stayed at the hospital and she went home with her grandmother to stay with them because she wanted to be with us. She still recounts the story of the first time she held her little sister, and singing happy birthday to her on the day that she was born, and that kind of stuff. So, in general, a lot of excitement because obviously there's another new baby around. And having two girls and knowing that they are going to be sisters growing up together. And knowing how close my wife is with her sister and knowing that now her kids are going to have that same experience. You know, for me, I have brothers and sisters, so it's very different from her having a sister and now having two girls. And being able to say okay, now you're going to grow up and you're going to be super close just like me and my sister are, and you know, two healthy kids. Everybody was very happy about that obviously. And yes, Tommy especially was very happy about bringing a baby sister home. 6:44
NL: Anything else you want to say about how your older daughter reacted to not being the only kid in the house anymore?
A: She initially, at least, didn't have much of a negative reaction at all. It was all really really positive. I think it was only after maybe several weeks of her little sister being home, and realizing that she got certain direct attention from her mom, especially around feeding times, that a lot of things were, in terms of her care, and getting food ready for her, and bedtime, and bathtime and all that stuff, was all left up to me. And so, eventually, after several weeks that kind of sunk in. Sometimes timing doesn't work out when the baby needs to be fed when somebody needs to get put to bed. So, I think that it certainly wasn't there initially, but eventually some of that, not quite, but almost resentment, that oh my God there's this other kid here in the house. We didn't really get a ton of that, but it was around certain activities that landed pretty much all on me in the very beginning that she's like wait, I want some mom-time too. 7:46 And how come I don't get mom-time? There was a little bit of that, but in general, she really, she was just really excited about having a baby sister around.
NL: I thought it would be fun to hear what you have to say, or how you might weigh in on these psychological states as they relate to fatherhood. And going through some of these themes that relate to matrescence, they talk about ambivalence. That becoming a mother is neither good nor bad, it is both good and bad. And I'm curious, as a father, does this fit with what you've experienced? And if so, what aspects of your life as a father would you say you did feel or currently feel ambivalent about? 8:31
A: I think you're right. It applies. And I think that reading through this and that article that maybe the notion of ambivalence, in general, applies to life with respect to change. And I think that's what having a kid is. It's a significant change. And when anything changes there's going to be good and bad. And for sure, when having a kid there's good and bad. And bad in that there's certain things that maybe you didn't experience before that's challenging, and hard, and stressful at times. And maybe that's some of the bad. But it's good in that there's significantly different things that you experience. And looking at that transition in life from being a couple. And going from just having two of you and having kids, there's certain experiences that you won't have anymore because the dynamic of your family has changed. But then in doing similar things, similar activities, you're going to experience things differently. So, there's maybe some bad in that, okay, it's not like it was, but now it's good because we are experiencing it in a different way. And, things that you experience in life, now you get to experience with somebody else.
And it's somebody that you get to mold and form in terms of their growth and opinions and what not. You know, maybe my life changed in ways that maybe it's good and bad. You know, I wasn't doing the same kinds of things that I was doing before. I couldn't just pick up and go and do something that I wanted because I have to be concerned around, well, wait a second, who's going to watch the kid? And if there's not anybody around I can't do that anymore. And so, maybe it's bad in certain freedoms not quite there in the same way as it was before because maybe you just have to notify your significant other, hey, I'm going to go do this. But you don't necessarily have to worry about who's taking care of a kid. 10:15
NL: In the article, one thing they noticed about women is that women tended to have some fantasies I guess about how motherhood would be, or about how they would be as a mom. And sometimes that would clash or just be significantly different than the realities. So I'm curious if you had any of that for fatherhood, if you had any fantasies about it. And if so, how you reconciled what you thought it would be like with what it has actually been like.
A: I don't know that I necessarily had, at least in the way that the article talked about, you know, fantasies around how it would be. I like being a father, in terms of what it actually is. It's significantly more challenging than you know, maybe I thought it was. And the challenge, even as the kids get older, is still there. It's just a different challenge. So I think that, for me, has been a big challenge. I maybe never thought that it was going to be an easy thing to do, but perhaps I never thought it would be quite as challenging as it is at times. And that's not to say that there aren't times that are easy and that there's not a significant amount of joy that comes with it, but it's definitely more challenging than what I would have thought before having had kids. 11:29
NL: This is kind of a general question, but anything that we haven't talked about yet that you would like to share that might support other men as they go through the transition of fatherhood?
A: You know, have an appropriate set of expectations for yourself and what you can accomplish. I know that oftentimes it's a stereotype. Oftentimes it's thought of that men can do everything and they don't need help and whatever else. So I think for sure, for fathers, make sure that your expectations are set appropriately. It's, being a father is not an easy thing. Sure there are some aspects of it that are easy. But like I said before there's significant pieces that are definitely challenging. And if you've got an expectation that everything is going to be easy or that you can do something in a certain way without any help, than it will make it that much more challenging for you. 12:24
So setting expectations appropriately for yourself, but then also setting expectations appropriately for your kids. And knowing that it's going to take them a lot of extra time to learn a life lesson, and gain a skill that doesn't come naturally to them or what have you. And they are young and they can only do so much. So I think setting expectations appropriately would be a big thing to set things off appropriately in the beginning. 12:50
NL: Thank you so much for sharing your story but also for sharing some of the wisdom that you learned along the way. I think this is going to really helpful for people to hear.
A: Excellent. Well, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
NL: This podcast is brought to you by The Family Institute at Northwestern University, a nationally recognized leader in the field of behavioral health. We bring together the right partners to support, children, adults, couples and families across a lifespan. As researchers, educators and therapists, we work with our clients to see change. If you would like to request an appointment, please call us at 847-733-4300 extension 263. You may also visit us at family-institute.org. And please follow us on Facebook and Twitter for relationship tools and for updates on new podcast episodes. Thanks so much for listening. 13:47