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*We've partnered with BabyBjörn to show how modern dads are redefining parenting norms.

Have you ever seen a dad walking down the street wearing his baby, and done a quick double-take? Or watched a dad walking into the bathroom to change his baby’s diaper, and been infinitely impressed? We think we’re living in the age of parenting enlightenment, and yet, it’s often surprising to see someone other than mom taking on the primary caregiving role. It shouldn’t be.

We know there’s amazing dads out there sharing the load in parenting. But there’s not enough amazing stories about them. So we’ve partnered with BabyBjörn to share some #dadstories of fathers who are not just talking the talk, but also walking the walk. Often literally...while babywearing.

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Meet Andrew Bentley, primary caregiver to 20-month-old Booker and founder of Father Figure, a clothing line designed to empower new dads. The former Google exec was “transformed” by fatherhood; soonafter heading back to work from paternity leave, he felt the pull to return home as a stay-at-home dad. Below, Andrew gets real about parenting, the baby/business balance, and what you should know about stay-at-home dads.

What was your plan for fatherhood before Booker arrived?

Ever since I was a kid, I knew I wanted to be a dad. My plan was to be as active as possible in his life. To me, that meant sharing in all caretaking activities and taking as much leave and time off from work as possible in his first year. Fortunately I was working at Google when he was born, which gave fathers 12 weeks of paid paternity leave. And even though I had never taken care of an infant, I wanted to change lots of diapers and learn how to soothe him in an effort to be a big part of his early life. My wife, Betz, and I had talked about the two of us alternating in being stay at home parents but it was more theoretical and wishful than anything. Before he was born, I didn't know I was going to stay home with him but I was open to it. We didn't have a plan for either of us to leave our jobs.

What happened when Booker was born?

Going back to work after my paternity leave was difficult. I cried on and off the first day. Even though it got easier each day, I felt that my heart was with him. I went to an 80% role and spent every Friday with my son, and that gave me a taste for what it was like home with him on a consistent basis.

When did you ultimately decide to stay at home with him?

For me, becoming a parent was transformative, and I tried to listen to who I was becoming. I love being a father. In some ways it feels like a calling. After understanding that, it was a matter of trying to make it work, financially and logistically.

So...how did you make it work, financially and logistically?

I realize that it's a privilege to be able leave a salaried job to spend more time with my son. Thankfully we have some money saved, we have our health and we have a great relationship. It's much harder if you don't have that kind of stability. I remember a stay at home dad friend telling me that it's such a blessing and if you can do it, do it. Leaving that paycheck each month was difficult. I don't come from a family with a lot of money so the pressure had always been on my shoulders to create financial stability in my life. Now that my wife is working, that pressure has eased somewhat, but is still there. For a big life change like this, it's important to be on the same page as your partner. Betz has been incredibly supportive of my move to stay at home dad.

It also made sense to leave my job and spend more time with Booker because I wanted to start my own business, Father Figure. I spent the first few months with him full time while working during his naps and at night. I found that too difficult to get work done, and wanted him to get some socialization, so we put him in daycare part time.

How did your perception of "staying at home" match up with reality?

I knew it was going to be the toughest job I've ever had. It's physically draining and there are some gut-wrenching moments, when he gets sick. But almost every day, there's a moment where I am overwhelmed with love for him and my wife.

Was there ever a moment you thought: I made the wrong decision, this stay at home dad stuff is not for me.

The first few months I was having regular dreams that I was back at Google, in meetings and walking around the office. I miss the people the most. And I miss the free smoothies. But I'm very happy spending time with my boy and starting a business.

What are some of the challenges of being a stay at home dad?

A difficult aspect of being an active father is the lack of products and brands that include dads. I had to go out of my way to find baby books that are dad-centric. That's one reason the BabyBjörn #dadstories campaign is so great. They’re trying to emphasize that modern dads are taking on active roles in their kids’ lives, and redefining cultural norms. Our generation of dads is more active than our grandparents and parents, when it comes to taking care of babies. And sometimes we're excluded to the point of feeling like second-class parents.

Tell me about your dad friends.

I do have a lot of dad friends. I do dad fantasy sports with dads, and I'm in a dad’s basketball league that's competitive but friendly. No one fouls hard because we all know the other guy has to race home to help his son or daughter eat some pureed sweet potatoes in like 30 minutes. I am a part of a few dad groups here in Brooklyn. The dads were encouraging when I was considering leaving my job.

It's great to see all types of dads as primary caretakers, loving their children so much. We don't fit the stay at home dad stereotypes. Most of the dads I hang with left or put on hold thriving careers. One of my dad friends is a huge ex-Division One college basketball player. He's taking care of two girls, has a boy on the way, a mother-in-law with health issues, and a bunch of dogs. He's kinda my hero.

How did your experience staying home with Booker help inspire the launch of Father Figure?

The goal of Father Figure is to strengthen the loving bond between fathers and their children with fashionable and functional products. Taking action to feel prepared for your child, whether taking a class or buying a stroller, builds confidence and correlates with the amount of time a new parent spends with their child. Yet, when my wife was pregnant, I felt excluded from the preparation process. All the products and prep activities were geared towards the woman's experience.

What's one piece of advice you'd give a father-to-be?

I recommend spending as much time with your newborn as possible. Even if you don't have a parental leave program, try to take vacation or sick time. And most importantly, get some time alone with your baby. If you can spend one or two weeks without your partner there, it will pay massive dividends. You'll learn how to listen to your baby and your baby will learn to trust you. That's one way to develop a strong and loving bond.

Original photography by Ren’ee Kahn-Bresler for Well Rounded.

*This post was sponsored by Babybjörn. Find out more about Babybjörn #dadstories here.

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There are few kids television shows as successful as PAW Patrol. The Spin Masters series has spawned countless toys and clothing deals, a live show and now, a movie.

That's right mama, PAW Patrol is coming to the big screen in 2021.

The big-screen version of PAW Patrol will be made with Nickelodeon Movies and will be distributed by Paramount Pictures.

"We are thrilled to partner with Paramount and Nickelodeon to bring the PAW Patrol franchise, and the characters that children love, to the big screen," Spin Master Entertainment's Executive Vice President, Jennifer Dodge, announced Friday.

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"This first foray into the arena of feature film marks a significant strategic expansion for Spin Master Entertainment and our properties. This demonstrates our commitment to harnessing our own internal entertainment production teams to develop and deliver IP in a motion picture format and allows us to connect our characters to fans through shared theatrical experiences," Dodge says.

No word on the plot yet, but we're gonna bet there's a problem, 'round Aventure Bay, and Ryder and his team of pups will come and save the day.

We cannot even imagine how excited little PAW Patrol fans will be when this hits theatres in 2021. It's still too early to buy advance tickets but we would if we could!

News

In the middle of that postpartum daze, the sleepless nights, the recovery, the adjustment to a new schedule and learning the cues of a new baby, there are those moments when a new mom might think, I don't know how long I can do this.

Fortunately, right around that time, newborns smile their first real smile.

For many mothers, the experience is heart-melting and soul-lifting. It's a crumb of sustenance to help make it through the next challenges, whether that's sleep training, baby's first cold, or teething. Each time that baby smiles, the mother remembers, I can do this, and it's worth it.

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Dayna M. Kurtz, LMSW, CPT a NYC-based psychotherapist and author of Mother Matters: A Holistic Guide to Being a Happy, Healthy Mom, says she sees this in her clinical practice.

"One mother I worked with recounted her experience of her baby's first smile. At eight weeks postpartum, exhausted and overwhelmed, she remembered her baby smiling broadly at her just before a nighttime feeding," Kurtz says. "In that moment, she was overcome by tremendous joy and relief, and felt, for the first time, a real connection to her son."

So what is it about a baby's smile that can affect a mother so deeply? Can it all be attributed to those new-mom hormones? Perhaps it stems from the survival instincts that connect an infant with its mother, or the infant learning social cues. Or is there something more going on inside our brains?

In 2008, scientists in Houston, TX published their research on the topic. Their study, "What's in a Smile? Maternal Brain Responses to Infant Facial Cues", takes data from the MRI images of 26 women as they observed images of infants smiling, crying, or with a neutral expression.

The images included the mother's own infant alternated with an unknown infant of similar ethnicity and in similar clothing and position. In each image, the baby displayed a different emotion through one of three facial expressions; happy, neutral, or sad. Researchers monitored the change in the mothers' brain activity through the transitions in images from own-infant to unknown-infant, and from happy to neutral to sad and vice versa.

The results?

"When first-time mothers see their own baby's face, an extensive brain network appears to be activated, wherein affective and cognitive information may be integrated and directed toward motor/behavioral outputs," wrote the study's authors. Seeing her infant smile or cry prompts the areas of the brain that would instigate a mother to act, whether it be to comfort, care for, or caress and play with the baby.

In addition, the authors found that reward-related brain regions are activated specifically in response to happy, but not sad, baby faces. The areas of the brain that lit up in their study are the same areas that release dopamine, the "pleasure chemical." For context, other activities that elicit dopamine surges include eating chocolate, having sex, or doing drugs. So in other words, a baby's smile may be as powerful as those other feel-good experiences.

And this gooey feeling moms may get from seeing their babies smile isn't just a recreational high—it serves a purpose.

This reward system (aka dopaminergic and oxytocinergic neuroendocrine system) exists to motivate the mother to forge a positive connection with the baby, according to Aurélie Athan, PhD, director of the Reproductive & Maternal Psychology Laboratory (a laboratory that created the first graduate courses of their kind in these subjects).

These networks also promote a mother's ability to share her emotional state with her child, which is the root of empathy. "A mother cries when baby cries, smiles when baby smiles," Athan says.

While there's a physiological explanation underlying that warm-and-fuzzy sensation elicited by a smile, there may be other factors at play too, Kurtz says.

"In my clinical practice, I often observe a stunning exchange between a mother and her baby when the latter smiles at her. A mother who is otherwise engaged in conversation with me may be, for that moment, entirely redirected to focus on her little one," Kurtz says. "This kind of attention-capturing on the part of the baby can enable and cultivate maternal attunement—a mother's ability to more deeply connect with her infant. The quality of attunement in early childhood often sets the stage for one's relationship patterns in the future."

Whether a physiological response, a neural activation, simple instinct, or the tightening of emotional connection, the feeling generated by babies' smiles is a buoy in the choppy ocean of new parenthood.

And while the first smile may be the most magical by virtue of its surprise and the necessity of that emotional lift, the fuzzy feeling can continue well into that baby's childhood and beyond. It keeps telling parents, you've got this!

[This was originally published on Apparently]

Life

Chrissy Teigen is one of the most famous moms in the world and definitely one of the most famous moms on social media.

She's the Queen of Twitter and at least the Duchess of Instagram but with a massive following comes a massive dose of mom-shame, and Teigen admits the online comments criticizing her parenting affects her.

"It's pretty much everything," Teigen told Today, noting that the bulk of the criticism falls into three categories: How she feeds her kids, how she uses her car seats and screen time.

"Any time I post a picture of them holding ribs or eating sausage, I get a lot of criticism," she explained. "Vegans and vegetarians are mad and feel that we're forcing meat upon them at a young age. They freak out."

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Teigen continues: "If they get a glimpse of the car seat there is a lot of buckle talk. Maybe for one half of a second, the strap slipped down. And TV is another big one. We have TV on a lot in my house. John and I work on television; we love watching television."

Teigen wants the shame to stop, not just for herself but for all the other moms who feel it. (And we agree.)

"Hearing that nine out of 10 moms don't feel like they're doing a good enough job is terrible," she said. "We're all so worried that we're not doing all that we can, when we really are."

The inspiration for Teigen talking publicly about mom-shame may be in part because of her participation in Pampers' "Share the Love" campaign. But even though Teigen's discussion coincides with this campaign, the message remains equally important. Advertising can be a powerful tool for shifting the way society thinks about what's "normal" and we would much rather see companies speaking out against mom-shame than inducing it to sell more stuff.

Calling out mom-shame in our culture is worth doing in our lives, our communities and yes, our diaper commercials. Thank you Chrissy (and thank you, Pampers).

News

Dear fellow mama,

I was thinking about the past the other day. About the time I had three small boys—a newborn, his 2-year-old brother and his 5-year-old brother.

How I was always drowning.

How I could never catch my breath between the constant requests.

How I always felt guilty no matter how hard I tried.

How hard it was—the constant exhaustion, struggling to keep my home any kind of clean or tidy, how I struggled to feed my kids nutritious meals, to bathe them and clean them and keep them warmly dressed in clean clothing, to love them well or enough or well enough.

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Those years were some of the toughest years I have ever encountered.

But mama, I am here to tell you that it doesn't last forever. Slowly, incrementally, without you even noticing, it gets easier. First, one child is toilet trained, then the bigger one can tie his own shoelaces, then finally they are all sleeping through the night.

It's hard to imagine; I really really get it.

It is going to get easier. I swear it. I'm not saying that there won't be new parenting challenges, that it won't be the hardest thing you have ever done in your life. It will be. But it will get easier.

These days, all of my kids get the bus to school and back. Most of them dress themselves. They can all eat independently and use the toilet. Sometimes they play with each other for hours leaving me time to do whatever I need to do that day.

I sleep through the night. I am not constantly in a haze of exhaustion. I am not overwhelmed by three tiny little people needing me to help them with their basic needs, all at the same time.

I can drink a hot cup of coffee. I do not wish with every fiber of my being that I was an octopus, able to help each tiny person at the same time.

I am not tugged in opposite directions. I don't have to disappoint my 3-year-old who desperately wants to play with me while I am helping his first grade bother with his first grade reading homework.

And one day, you will be here too.

It's going to get easier. I promise. And while it may not happen today or even next week or even next month, it will happen. And you will look around in wonder at the magnificent people you helped to create and nurture and sustain.

Until then, you are stronger and more resilient than you can even imagine.

You've got this. Today and always.

Love,

A fellow mama

Life
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