Mobile Toggle
btn-shop-fathersourcehomepage-btnbrn-free-resources
twitter facebook mail_button give_button 247toGo_app_fh

The Father Factor

subpage-image

Christopher A. Brown

Chris is President of National Fatherhood Initiative. He is married to Kayla, has two teenage daughters and lives in Texas.
Find me on:

Recent Posts

Research to Application: Keystone Habits

In the first installment of this Research to Application series (Cues, Triggers, and Nudges), we introduced you to research from Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit1 and how organizations and practitioners can use this research to improve the effectiveness of a service, workshop, or program for fathers. In discussing the role of cues, we described the research Duhigg highlights on the power of habits and the role they play in our lives.

This installment focuses on another important aspect of the research Duhigg highlights: the concept of keystone habits.

keystone-habits

These are the habits that matter more than others in changing unhealthy behaviors or developing healthy ones. As you can imagine, keystone habits are very important as they relate to father absence and encouraging father involvement… more on that soon.

But let’s begin by sharing one of Duhigg’s diverse examples of keystone habits and their importance in triggering a cascade of change: integrating exercise.

As Duhigg points out, research shows that when people start habitually exercising, they usually:

  • Eat better
  • Smoke less
  • Become more productive at work
  • Show more patience
  • Feel less stressed
  • Use their credit cards less often

Yes. They even become more financially responsible, at least in a specific way.

That kind of change might seem odd until you realize that exercise has a spillover or cascade effect that triggers other healthy habits because it makes other habits easier. Think of the power of exercise as the first domino in a domino structure that, when pushed into the next domino, triggers all the other dominos to fall one by one. Similarly, the power of exercise is not only in its ability to help people lose weight and become more fit; its power is also in its ability to start widespread, positive change in people’s lives—even in areas that seem unrelated to physical fitness.

The power of keystone habits explains why being an involved father is so powerful. Father involvement is a keystone habit. (Actually, a set of habits that form a keystone habit.) That’s why father involvement affects so many areas of fathers’ lives and the lives of children, mothers, and families, and even the environment in communities. When fathers are involved in the lives of their children, it triggers positive behavior in other aspects of fathers’ lives (e.g. they engage in healthier behavior), children’s lives (e.g. they are less likely to abuse alcohol and drugs), and mothers’ lives (e.g. they are healthier during their pregnancies). It’s also why it positively affects our society (e.g. lower levels of poverty and child abuse and more educational success for children). It’s why more resources must be focused on addressing the crisis of father absence. 

Ideas on Application

When it comes to working with fathers individually or in groups, you can use the power of keystone habits to help fathers identify the habits (behaviors) unique to them that: 1) trigger a lack of father involvement, and 2) will trigger greater father involvement. (You can also use keystone habits to look for clues that will improve father-mother relationships.) It’s likely that a single habit will contribute to a lack of father involvement or trigger more father involvement (moreover, it’s likely to be a group of habits.) Nevertheless, one or two of those habits might be more important than the others, thus revealing an area(s) of focus for immediate change.

To apply the power of keystone habits, use the following process, which you can customize to fit your setting (e.g. group, one-on-one case management, etc.):

Step 1: Develop a comprehensive list of frequent/regular activities/behaviors.

  • Identify the “universe” of frequent/regular activities/behaviors that fathers currently engage in.
  • Ask fathers to write or tell you (and you record) their activities/behaviors during a typical week. Consider using the structure of roles in which to group activities, such as father, husband/partner, worker/employee, friend, etc. You could start by asking fathers the roles they have, and then ask them to list the activities they engage in each week to perform those roles.
  • After fathers develop their weekly activities, ask if they perform activities less frequently (e.g. monthly), but that they do consistently, to ensure you get a comprehensive list.

Step 2: Identify existing keystone habits that promote father absence.

  • Look for keystone habits that encourage or lead to father absence. Focus on habits that are within his control.
  • Ask of each father: What do you do with such frequency that it prevents you from being present? After you identify those habits, ask: How can you eliminate them? Work with fathers to develop tactics to eliminate these poor habits. It might not be easy, but it will be worth it.

Step 3: Identify existing and potential keystone habits that promote father involvement.

  • Look for keystone habits that encourage or lead to father involvement.Again, focus on habits that are within his control.
  • Ask of each father: What do you do that gets you involved and that you could do with more frequency? Add to that list habits for fathers to consider integrating into their lives. You can come with a list to discuss or start developing a list with fathers from scratch. Identify habits within fathers’ control, they can do frequently (e.g. several times a week or once a week), and that provide “small wins.”

Step 4: Focus on small wins.

  • After fathers develop their list of potential keystone habits that promote father involvement, narrow that list down by focusing on habits that fathers can do easily and frequently before tackling habits that are harder to accomplish and that, even if easy to accomplish, they can’t do as frequently.
  • Why is this focus so important? Because it creates small wins that fathers experience often/repeatedly. While they might seem minor in the broad scheme of things, they build a foundation of confidence, especially in fathers who haven’t been successful at being involved.

Step 5: Reinforce/praise the small wins.

  • When fathers achieve small wins, praise fathers. This praise will help keystone habits snowball into the other habits of involvement the habits will affect. In other words, praise helps tip the keystone habits—the first dominoes—into the other habits. Watch them fall one by one!

Depending on your situation and how much time you have to work with fathers, it might not be possible to focus on keystone habits that both encourage and discourage father involvement at the same time. At the very least, address keystone habits that encourage father involvement. 

Application Tools

For users of NFI’s 24/7 Dad® A.M and P.M programs, the My 24/7 Dad® Checklist new to the 3rd Editions is an ideal tool for fathers to use to apply keystone habits. In fact, these should be the most important checklist items. 

In addition, NFI’s 24/7 Dad® To Go Android application (app) is an ideal tool that allows fathers to create to-do lists, and would be a great place for fathers to integrate keystone habits (download the app for free from the Google Play Store.) Having a checklist provides fathers with clear direction around what they should do on a regular basis to be involved. They can modify and add to their items (habits) as they become more involved, and want to tackle more challenging (but important) habits of an involved, responsible, committed father. 

Regardless of how you apply keystone habits, approach your effort as an experiment. Keep track of what works with fathers in general and with specific kinds of fathers (e.g. custodial and non-custodial) so that you can apply what works in future work with fathers one-on-one or in groups, and avoid what doesn’t work.

Resources

As you consider using keystone habits to improve retention and fathers’ involvement in the lives of their children, review the following resources:

Don’t forget to look for more posts and reference guides in this series!

1) Research to Application > Cues, Triggers, and Nudges

2) Research to Application > Framing and the "No Choice Option"

3) Research to Application > Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

4) Research to Application > The Power of The "Deviant Dad"

Click here for the full PDF of the this post. 

1) Duhigg, C. (2012). The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. New York, NY: Random House.

About the "Research to Application" Series

As the nation’s #1 provider of fatherhood skill-building programs and resources, NFI provides guidance for practitioners and organizations on how they might be able to use to use the latest research on human behavior to enhance the effectiveness of their work with fathers. NFI provides this guidance in a series of blog posts called Research to Application: Guidance for Practitioners and Programs.

The series offers a platform for generating dialogue among NFI, organizations, and practitioners on ways that research can be applied to addressing pain points in serving fathers. This post is the fifth one in the series. It provides ideas on how you might integrate research on keystone habits. Integrating this research could make it easier for you to help fathers to identify the most significant barriers that keep them from being as involved in their children’s lives as they’d like to be. It could also help fathers develop the habits of good fathering above and beyond reliance on the resources (e.g. programs/curricula) you might currently use.

If you implement any of the ideas in this post, or develop and implement your own ideas, please share them with us at info@fatherhood.org. We’ll use your experiences to update this guide so it is even more useful.

Get Your Father Engagement Certificate™ from the Nation’s Leader

National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) has always been dedicated to providing resources, training, and technical assistance on how to effectively engage fathers. That’s why I’m so pumped to announce that we’ve taken that dedication further with the launch of our Father Engagement CertificateTM (FEC), an affordable on demand training that focuses on the 5 core competencies you need to make an even bigger difference in the lives of children, fathers, mothers, and families.

slider_FatherEngagement

What’s Great About It? 

The FEC is:

  • On demand. Learn and earn at your own pace. Get trained and earn the FEC as quickly as you need, or take as much time as you like.
  • Convenient. Always available. No travel, no hassle.
  • Affordable. Enough said.
  • Fully automated. Get started whenever you want. The entire process from purchase to receiving your certificate is fully automated. No need to email or call staff or wait for staff to get back to you. (Although we’re here if you need us!)
  • Valuable to You. Develops 5 core competencies. Increases your effectiveness. Builds further credibility within and outside your organization. You will receive an official certificate to display and an electronic badge you can place on your resume, LinkedIn profile, and other social media profiles/accounts.
  • Valuable to Your Organization/Program. Builds organization and program effectiveness. Includes practical advice and guidance that addresses critical pain points (challenges) in serving fathers. Builds credibility with funders. Your organization can promote that it has staff with FECs from the nation’s fatherhood leader.

Who Should Earn It?

The FEC is ideal for:

  • Individuals who currently work with, or desire to work with, fathers and families in communities. It’s ideal for fatherhood practitioners and staff in community organizations, social service agencies, churches, prisons/jails, military bases, and more… basically, anywhere there are fathers receiving services or participating in programs.
  • Anyone working with fathers on a volunteer, mentor, or consulting basis.
  • Anyone who has started, or wants to start, a fatherhood initiative in his or her community.

Which Father Engagement Topics are Covered?

You will learn strategies and tactics not previously released to the public. These are strategies and tactics taught to a select group of nearly 125 fatherhood and family service organizations during NFI's 5-year federally-funded National Responsible Fatherhood Certification College. NFI invested a significant amount of time and funding to develop and hone the curriculum for the college. The FEC distills the most vital content from that curriculum. An evaluation of these organizations showed that they used the same content contained in the FEC to increase their organization’s capacity in the short term and long term to effectively engage fathers. (It also helped them acquire additional funding!)

The topics include:

  1. Foundational: How to Create a Father-Friendly Organization
  2. Program Design: 7 Best Practices in Designing a Fatherhood Program
  3. Recruitment & Retention: How to Think Like a Marketer When Marketing a Fatherhood Program
  4. Involving Moms: How to Work with Moms to Encourage Father Involvement
  5. Fundraising: How to Develop a Funding Plan for a Fatherhood Program

Click here to learn even more about the FEC including the content of each training session.

What If I Want Multiple Staff in My Organization to Earn an FEC?

That’s easy. Purchase as many FEC trainings as you need. Our fully automated process does the rest!

What If I Want Multiple Staff in Several Organizations to Earn an FEC?

That’s easy, too. Let’s say you’re with a local, state, or federal agency that has grantees or partners who can benefit from acquiring FECs for their staffs. Or, perhaps, you’re part of a city, county, or state fatherhood or family strengthening initiative that includes multiple organizations as members or partners who could use FECs? Just contact us and we’ll coordinate everything for you for the cost of the certificates you need and an additional, reasonable coordination fee.

FEC_training_logo

How Do I Get Started?

That’s the easiest part. Click here to start the process of earning your Father Engagement CertificateTM. (If you need to pay by purchase order [PO], email us.)

Click Here to Start Your Father Engagement Training

How NFI Programs Can Help You Secure a Federal Fatherhood Grant

As you probably know by now—and certainly if you receive regular updates from National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI)—the Office of Family Assistance (OFA) in the Administration for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services just released the funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) for the next round of Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood grants.

2000px-US-DeptOfHHS-Seal.svgThe two Responsible Fatherhood FOAs are:

  • New Pathways for Fathers and Families (New Pathways)
    • Funding Opportunity Number: HHS-2015-ACF-OFA-FK-0993
    • Current Closing Date: July 7, 2015
    • For more details on the funding including eligibility requirements visit here.

  • Responsible Fatherhood Opportunities for Reentry and Mobility (ReFORM)
    • Funding Opportunity Number: HHS-2015-ACF-OFA-FO-0992 
    • Current Closing Date: July 7, 2015
    • For more details on the funding including eligibility requirements, visit here.

A thorough review of both FOAs reveals that OFA continues to build what it has learned from previous rounds of funding to identify:

  • How the agency can use this funding most effectively (e.g. with which groups of fathers)
  • Which organizations or groups of organizations working together can most effectively leverage this funding (e.g. through the provision of comprehensive services to fathers)
  • How it can prove that the investment of this funding has paid off (i.e. a keen focus on evaluating funded programs).

This review also reveals that NFI continues to be well positioned to help organizations secure their first OFA fatherhood grant or, if they currently have or had an OFA grant, another round of funding. 

Two independent evaluations—one of previous grantees by the federal government’s General Accountability Office and the other of the “fatherhood field” by Columbia University—found that NFI’s programs were, by far and away, the most widely used fatherhood programs. Specifically, we have the evidence-based and evidence-informed fatherhood programs and resources emphasized in both FOAs, and the training and technical assistance needed to effectively implement those programs and resources.

Here is what you need to know about what these FOAs emphasize, and how including NFI’s programs and resources in your grant application(s)—along with other programs, services, and resources that combined comprehensively serve fathers—will help you address these areas of emphasis. Both FOAs emphasize:

  • The overall plan/intervention must contain activities that support at least one of the following three categories: responsible parenting; economic stability; healthy marriage and relationship education (the plan/intervention may contain activities that support one, two, or all three)
  • Development of a clear logic model for the overall plan/intervention
  • Implementation plans that include how staff will be trained (e.g. on implementing a fatherhood program)
  • Programs that are appropriately tailored to the characteristics of the target population, including formerly incarcerated fathers and their families, and descriptions of curricula
  • The use of skills-based parenting and healthy marriage/relationship education
  • In the case of New Pathways, a particular interest in serving the following kinds of fathers:
    • Fathers and young fathers receiving TANF assistance, as well as those who have previously received, or who are eligible to receive TANF assistance
    • Active-duty military and veteran fathers
    • Low-income, at-risk fathers and young fathers, including high school dropouts; young fathers involved with the juvenile justice systems; fathers who are in, or aging out of, foster care; non-custodial and custodial single fathers; and refugee and other immigrant fathers
  • Measurement of short- and long-term outcomes for fathers, children, couples, and families (outcomes must be included in the logic model)
  • Plan for project sustainability

Activities that Support at Least One of Three Categories (responsible parenting; economic stability; healthy marriage and relationship education):
NFI has a number of evidence-based and evidence-informed programs/curricula that support responsible parenting. The two programs most relevant for these FOAs are 24/7 Dad® A.M. or P.M. (New Pathways) and InsideOut Dad® (ReFORM). 24/7 Dad® has also been used in combination with InsideOut Dad® in reentry programming to serve fathers prior to (InsideOut Dad®) and after release (24/7 Dad®). (For an example of the use of both programs in reentry, read this blog post on the use of them by the Kentucky Department of Corrections.) Both of these programs address topics emphasized in the FOAs (e.g. co-parenting, employment, and relationship education). 

We also encourage you to consider Understanding Dad as a component for mothers to enhance the focus of your plan/intervention on improving the marriages/relationships between fathers and mothers. Other programs/curricula to consider include:

A Clear Logic Model:
Each of our programs for fathers and mothers include a clear logic model (with short- and long-term outcomes) that you can integrate into (draw from) the model for your overall plan/intervention or simply use to show an additional emphasis on logic models (i.e. overall plan has a model and so does the NFI program[s] you will use). – you can learn the 6 ways to create a useful logic model in our free ebook: How to Start a Fatherhood Program.

Staff Trainings:
NFI provides comprehensive, affordable training on all of our programs, on-going support after training, and, for 24/7 Dad® and InsideOut Dad®, guides on implementing the programs with fidelity. (All of our trainings touch on implementing with fidelity—these guides provide even more information.) Visit our training page for details.

Programs Appropriate for Target Population:
24/7 Dad®, while appropriate for fathers of all races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic statuses, is designed with a special emphasis on non-custodial, non-residential fathers, including young fathers. Activities within the program are designed for effectiveness with these fathers. You can also add the FatherTopics for Non-Custodial Dads as “Booster” sessions that target this specific audience of dads. Moreover, the curriculum provides facilitators with guidance and instructions on how to modify sessions depending on the unique makeup of each fatherhood group (e.g. when some fathers are employed and others are not, and when some fathers have access to their children and others do not). 

Additionally available is our InsideOut Dad® curriculum, the only evidence-based program in the country specifically designed for incarcerated fathers (as opposed to incarcerated parents generally).  

Use of Skills-Based Parenting and Healthy Marriage/Relationship Education:
All of our programs are skills-based.

Interest in Serving Particular Kinds of Fathers:
The focus of our fatherhood programs on universal concepts of effective fathering has facilitated organizations’ use of them with each of the kinds of fathers of particular interest, including active-duty military and at-risk and young fathers.

Measurement of Short- and Long-Term Outcomes:
NFI’s programs focus on creating positive, short-term outcomes that research shows can affect/lead to positive, long-term outcomes. NFI’s programs include evaluation instruments you can use to measure short-term outcomes. You will need additional instruments to measure short-term outcomes unique to your plan/intervention not captured by our programs’ instruments, as well as additional instruments to measure long-term outcomes. Carefully choosing instruments will be a critical part of your evaluation plan.

Project Sustainability:
We have designed and priced our programs, trainings, and other resources to help you sustain your fatherhood program/intervention at a reasonable cost. The cost to sustain our programs after your initial investment (which is low compared to other options) is extremely reasonable (e.g. simply purchase additional handbooks for fathers or mothers you will serve after the grant ends). Moreover, we have options for affordably training additional facilitators (either those to replace existing ones who might move on from your organization or additional ones to help your program expand) via our webinar-based trainings and Organizational Master Trainer program. 

In addition to the information in this post, please take advantage of these free resources to help you put together an outstanding application.

  • A recording of a free webinar NFI held on April 16th on putting together an effective federal grant proposal. 
  • Our Copy Blocks for use in describing our programs/curricula, a requirement noted in the FOAs.
  • Learn how to create a logic model in our free ebook: How to Start a Fatherhood Program
  • Visit the page of each program in FatherSOURCE, our online resource center/store for additional information and to download samples and tables of content.
  • We also encourage you to visit our evaluation page to download evaluations of our programs. Use the results of the evaluations and the content in the evaluation reports as you see fit.

All of us at NFI wish you the best of luck in securing your first or a subsequent grant from OFA. And, as always, we’re here to help.

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

2 Basic Traits Key to Lasting Relationships

Whenever I speak on the importance of father involvement, conduct a training institute on one of our programs, or conduct a capacity-building workshop, I make it a point to drive home the fact that the most important relationship in a child's life is the one between the child's parents. It's the blueprint that a child uses as a model for his or her own relationships. 

couple-relationships-two-keys

That's why improving the father-mother relationship is a vital part of our fathering programs, and why we provide programs and resources for moms, such as Understanding Dad™, that help mothers improve that relationship for the sake of their children. It's also why I scan the research for insights into how NFI can help you, if you're a dad or mom, or your organization to help individuals and couples understand the importance of this relationship and help them improve it.

The husband and wife team of John and Julie Gottman brings together two of the country's leading experts on what makes relationships successful. Together they run The Gottman Institute and have researched for four decades what makes relationships between couples work. One of their recent, fascinating discoveries is the influence that "bids" between couples have on their chances of success (i.e. a happy, long lasting relationship). (For more on this research, read this article in the Wall Street Journal from which I drew to write this post.)

A bid involves one half of a couple making an attempt to connect with the other half -- not unlike when a government agency or company issues a bid for work in an attempt to connect with a vendor to perform that work. In the case of couples, a bid can involve asking a partner a question, making an affectionate gesture toward a partner (e.g. attempting a hug or kiss), or simply making a statement. Regardless of the action, the partner who makes the bid hopes the other partner will respond, ideally in a positive, supportive manner.

The "bidee" (my word, not the Gottmans') can respond in one of two basic ways. The bidee can turn toward the "bidder" (again, my word) and respond with interest or turn away (i.e. not acknowledge/ignore the bid or respond in a hostile manner). Depending on the nature of the bid, either reaction might seem minor in the broad scheme of a relationship, especially when bids are examined in isolation. But because relationships involve frequent bids -- sometimes several times a day -- how couples handle them can provide a hint about the health of relationships. In other words, they reflect patterns of communication in relationships, good or bad. If, for example, a husband typically doesn't acknowledge bids from his wife, that pattern of communication is harmful. Why? Because when the wife makes a bid, she's doing so because she thinks it's important, which is why she expects a positive, supportive response.  

John has found that he can predict with 94% accuracy whether a couple will stay together based on how they respond to bids. He and Julie studied the interactions between married couples and followed up with them six years later. The couples who were no longer married only responded positively to bids (turn-toward bids) 33% of the time. Couples who were still married responded positively to bids 87% of the time. Although these couples were married, John says he can predict the success of relationships, based on bid reactions, whether a couple is married or not.

Herein lie the two traits of generosity and kindness that mark successful relationships. How someone responds to bids exists on a continuum with generosity and kindness on one end and contempt, criticism, and hostility on the other. This continuum applies not only to bids but also to the ways in which partners generally interact with one another. Successful relationships involve partners (or one of the partners) who constantly look for ways to support each other -- a kind of proactive generosity and kindness. They go out of their way to find ways to support their partner in minor and major ways. Unsuccessful couples involve partners (or one of the partners) who constantly look for what's wrong with the other partner that they can point out and criticize and who generally react to the other partner's statements and actions with contempt or outright hostility.

I'm convinced that these two traits lead to success in any relationship whether a couple is romantically involved or not. (Every relationship, personal or professional, involves bids.) We receive a lot of emails, calls, and responses to our blog posts from divorced parents struggling with the relationship with their ex-spouses. These relationships are often at the contempt, criticism, and hostility end of the spectrum, to the detriment of these parents and their children. These traits also apply to the relationships between parents and their children. We see a lot of dads who, as they enter our fathering programs, treat their own children with contempt, criticism, or hostility. Those reactions are a cancer that destroys everyone it touches.

If you're a dad, mom, or practitioner who works with dads, moms, or couples, heed this insight. Seek ways to move yourself or those you work with toward the generosity and kindness end of the continuum. While doing so might not be easy, everyone will be the better for it.

What's the level of generosity and kindness in your relationships? Are some toward one end of the continuum while others are at the other end?

What's the level of generosity and kindness in the relationships between the dads and moms you work with and between the dads and their children?

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

How Mindsets Impact Helping Dads

Do you believe that a person's intelligence is fixed, or do you believe it can be developed and grown? Do you believe, for that matter, that a father's intelligence about parenting is fixed, or do you believe it can be developed and grown? At NFI, we believe a father's "parenting intelligence," to coin a phrase, can indeed be developed and grown.

Carol Dweck, Ph.D., is a leading psychologist who has conducted extensive research into people's mindsets when it comes to their views on the static versus pliable nature of intelligence and other human abilities. In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dweck describes two mindsets. The fixed mindset is characterized by a belief that a person's intelligence, attitudes, beliefs, and abilities (e.g. parenting, cooking, writing, etc.) are set in stone and can't be developed or grown. The growth mindset is characterized by a belief that those same aspects of a person can, in fact, be developed and grown. A person can have a fixed or growth mindset they apply across the board or a kind of mixed mindset in which they believe some things are fixed while others can be grown. The graphic below provides an excellent summary of the differences between the two mindsets.

two-mindsets

Whether a person generally has one mindset or the other explains a lot of the differences in how people behave and approach certain situations. When it comes to personal improvement, for example, a person with a fixed mindset tends to be super sensitive and dismissive when someone suggests areas of improvement. A person with a growth mindset, in contrast, tends to be open and accepting of such a suggestion. The same is true of parenting. Have you ever suggested to one friend that he could improve his parenting by doing something new or different and another that she could do the same and gotten totally different reactions--one open and accepting and the other closed and dismissive? Have you ever suggested to your spouse or significant other a way to improve his or her parenting? What reaction did you get? Has someone ever suggested to you that you could improve your parenting? How did you react?

Regardless of your experience in suggesting that others in your personal life can improve their parenting--or in receiving suggestions--the work you do with dads is affected by the mindsets they have about improving as a man, father, and husband/partner. One dad might have a fixed or growth mindset that he brings to every aspect of his life, while another dad might have a mixed mindset that makes him resistant to change in certain areas (e.g. his view of the mother's ability to be more accommodating in granting him access to his child) but open to change in others (e.g. his ability to learn more effective tactics to discipline his child). What might look like a schizophrenic reaction is simply a different mindset applied to a different situation.

Here are some of the primary areas affected by dads' mindsets to reflect on as you work with individual dads and groups of dads:

  • Views of their own intelligence and their own parenting and fathering attitudes, beliefs, and skills
  • Views of the intelligence, attitudes, beliefs, and skills of their children's mothers
  • Views of their children's intelligence and abilities
  • Views of the people and systems they interact with (e.g. judges and court systems and child welfare workers and systems)
  • Views of you and your organization

Knowing the mindsets of the dads you work with and to which aspects of their lives they apply them will make you a more effective agent of change.

To help you develop and grow fathers, all of us at NFI bring the same growth mindset to an organization's ability to become a father-friendly organization and to improve its fatherhood program(s). That mindset is why we provide a ton of free capacity-building resources that focus on the entire organization, such as the Father Friendly Check-Up™, and implementation of fatherhood programs, such as the Research to Application series. There's no reason your organization or program can't develop and grow! Check out our new Free Resources section that just keeps growing and growing!

What mindset do you bring in working with dads?

What mindsets do the dads you work with have in general and about specific areas of their lives?

What mindset does your organization have in helping dads to be the best dads they can be?

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

Hyundai's Daddy-Daughter Spot You Must Watch to Believe

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

Consumer brands continue to focus more on dads. What a concept. It's about time. Here's why Hyundai's new campaign is so important and why others have a lot to learn from this automaker.

If you follow my posts in this blog, you've read about consumer brands that continue to promote a negative image of fathers as bungling, clueless parents in contrast to brands that understand the important role fathers play in children's lives by portraying fathers as they are--competent, compassionate, knowledgeable parents.

Consumer brands, those bell weathers of today's culture, still have a long way to go in consistently portraying fathers as parents worthy of our admiration for everything they do and sacrifice for their children and families. Fortunately, I continue to see more and more examples of brands that understand fathers are critical to the success of their businesses.

Automakers --Toyota, Honda, and Nissan in particular -- have been especially keen to promote a positive image of fathers. Enter Hyundai. The South Korean automaker just released one of the coolest spots I've ever seen, father-themed or not. (It's interesting that all of these automakers are Asian in origin. It seems American automakers are, once again, behind the curve.)

hyundai a message to share

This 4-minute spot -- called "A Message to Space" -- centers on the daughter of an astronaut who works on the International Space Station. The spot opens with the daughter talking about how deeply she misses her father and he misses his family. The daughter and her mother travel to the desert where Hyundai employs a team of drivers that, collectively, uses 11 Genesis models to write a message in the sand (using tire tracks that etch the message) that is large enough for her father to see as the space station passes over the desert. I won't spoil it for you by sharing the message, but it will warm your heart.

 

The skeptic might say these automakers are just trying to make a buck. After all, aren't men primarily responsible for making purchase decisions when it comes to automobiles? Not so fast. Men certainly influence those decisions, but recent surveys (click here and here for examples) point to the growing influence of women in making those decisions. It seems auto-buying decisions have reached gender parity.

Still, men are a major influence on those decisions. What these automakers understand, however, is that beyond these consumers being men, they're fathers. These automakers understand the growing influence of the fatherhood role on today's man and how powerful that identity has become. By appealing to that identity, they know that men will appreciate a brand that understands how important being a father is to men.

Bravo Hyundai. You've joined the Asian block of automakers that get it.

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

5 Challenges Faced by Fathers in Responsible Fatherhood Programs

What are the primary challenges of fathers who participate in responsible fatherhood programs? The Fatherhood Research and Practice Network (FRPN) recently released a brief that attempts to answer that question. (I sit on the FRPN's advisory committee.) Answering that question is critical because these challenges may be, as the brief notes, strongly associated with lower levels of father involvement in children's lives and lower quality coparenting relationships.

5 Challenges Faced by Fathers in Responsible Fatherhood Programs

FRPN's Dr. Jay Fagan and Rebecca Kaufman interviewed fathers--from 9 responsible fatherhood programs in 5 cities in the northeast that serve primarily low-income, unmarried, non-residential fathers--about the challenges they face.

The top 5 challenges they mentioned in descending order of frequency were:

  1. Unemployment
  2. Lack of money to buy things for their children
  3. Inability to pay child support
  4. Difficulty keeping a job
  5. Inability to pay bills

The other challenges they mentioned were wide-ranging, from physical health problems to their living situation preventing their children from coming to see them to drug/alcohol use to being accused of abusing/neglecting their children. (The brief includes all of the challenges the fathers mentioned, the frequency with which fathers mentioned them, and the severity of those challenges.)

These challenges underscore one of the most vital pieces of guidance National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) has provided to organizations through the years: the importance of helping fathers meet their most immediate, pressing needs as part of or even before enrolling them in a responsible fatherhood program. Meeting these needs is often the hook that encourages fathers to enroll in a responsible fatherhood program and to maintain their participation rather than learning how to be a better father and parent (e.g. through increased knowledge of child development, child discipline, etc.). Indeed, helping fathers overcome these challenges should be a component of a responsible fatherhood program either through the provision of services (often called "wrap-around services") by the organization running the program or the organization's partners.  

The FRPN's findings are similar to the results of research that I conducted with Dr. Keith Cherry, a long-time colleague and friend, when NFI was part of the National Quality Improvement Center on Non-Resident Fathers and the Child Welfare System (QIC-NRF), a 5-year project (2006-2011) funded by the Children's Bureau in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through a contract with the American Humane Association. That research involved interviews with low-income, non-resident fathers involved in the child welfare system in four communities supplemented by interviews with fatherhood program practitioners who worked with these and other child-welfare involved fathers.

Like the fathers interviewed by the FRPN researchers, the fathers Keith and I interviewed also mentioned financial challenges as their most pressing needs. Our research (published in the journal Protecting Children) also involved delving deeper into the impact of these fathers' challenges on the fathers and their perceptions so that child welfare workers and fatherhood practitioners within and who work with the child welfare system could better understand these fathers and, as a result, work more effectively with them and develop better strategies to encourage enrollment in fatherhood programs offered by child welfare agencies.  

We recorded, transcribed, and conducted an in-depth content analysis of the interviews. We identified the following themes in the lives of these fathers:

  • The financial and emotional devastation caused by their own absence from their children's lives.
  • The belief that they are constantly extorted by the mother of their children with their children being bargaining chips in a constant tug-of-war between them and the mother in which the mother has the upper hand.
  • The loss of control over their lives and hopelessness about the future.
  • The belief that the judicial/court system fosters poor fatherhood.

This deep understanding of these fathers' lives is so critical to effective program delivery. Staff of responsible fatherhood programs must look not only at fathers' needs but how those needs affect fathers. It is those affects that drive fathers' behavior. Indeed, the most successful of the programs we studied during our participation in the QIC-NRF were those seen by fathers to meet fathers' needs and care about fathers' welfare. 

What are you doing to understand and solve the most pressing problems of fathers?

What are you doing to better understand the impact of father absence on the fathers you serve?

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

Two Stories that Will Warm Your Heart

We receive a lot of phone calls and emails from dads and moms who seek guidance on father involvement and related issues. The vast majority of these calls and emails are associated with the negative effects of father absence. But every once in a while, a dad or mom, and sometimes a child, shares an uplifting story about how a dad stepped up to the plate to be a great dad and the positive impact of that action. Those stories drive our staff to never stop ensuring that as many children as possible experience the love of an involved, responsible, committed father.

share-your-story
We also stay on the lookout for such uplifting stories that aren't directly shared with us because we know they can motivate individuals and organizations in their work to connect fathers and children. These stories are often shared by the organizations that use our resources, donors, and dads and moms across the country. (Click here for Stories of Impact shared by our organization partners.) Sometimes we find stories during the course of our work to provide the most useful information and resources. 

While conducting some research recently, I learned about StoryCorps, a nonprofit with the following mission:

StoryCorps' mission is to provide people of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of our lives. We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. At the same time, we are creating an invaluable archive for future generations. 

In its more than 10 years of existence, StoryCorps has captured and archived more that 50,000 recordings on an incredible range of topics. Curious, I plugged "fathers" into their search function to see whether I could find stories to use in our work. The result produced a number of recordings that turned up a few gems, two in particular that I hope will uplift you as much as they did me.

The first recording is of a 9-year-old boy, Aidan Sykes, who interviewed his father, Albert, about being a dad. (Albert runs a nonprofit focused on mentoring children. He is not only in a great dad, he has stepped up to help children less fortunate than his own.) Click here to listen.

albert-sykes

The second recording is of Wil Smith telling his now adult daughter, Olivia, what it was like to raise her as a single dad while in college. He recorded the conversation shortly after he was diagnosed with cancer. Sadly, he died just a few months ago. Click here to listen.

wil-smith

We want to share more stories like these. Please let us know if you have one.

Do you have an uplifting story to share? 

Do you have a Story of Impact that resulted from the use of an NFI resource? If so, click here to learn more about how to share it with us.

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

3 Ways to Leverage the Good News about Teen Dads

So much has been written and said about the problems created by teen pregnancy, particularly the problems it creates for teen moms and their children. Teen moms are, for example, much less likely to graduate from high school, or get a high school diploma by age 22, than are teen girls who don't have children. This disparity leads to other long-term disparities between these two groups including fewer employment opportunities and lower earnings for teen moms. And most of them receive little or no child support. These disparities place a burden on society as 63 percent of these moms rely on some kind of public assistance. Teen pregnancy places the children of teen parents at increased risk for a host of poor outcomes too numerous to mention here.

But what about teen dads? What do we know about their interactions with the mothers of their children? Do their interactions make things better or worse for the moms and children? Here's what we know.

Pregnancy_IconWe know they're much less likely to be involved in the lives of their children than are adult fathers. One primary reason is, quite simply, that a teen dad is rarely married to the mother. A whopping 88 percent of these parents are not married. Nevertheless, 20 percent of teen moms live with their "romantic partner" (most likely the father, but not necessarily a teen) within a year of giving birth. Even if all of these romantic partners are the fathers and are also teens, that's still a very low number of them living with their children. And that's unfortunate, because teen fathers who live with their children at the birth of their children are more likely to still live with them when these fathers become adults. 

Fortunately, there is good news about the involvement of teen dads not living with their children and the impact of their involvement.

  • Half of these dads visit with their children at least monthly with most of them spending time with their children frequently. Interestingly, this is about the same rate of visitation among older nonresident fathers. 
  • Some research has shown the quality of the father-child relationship does not differ when comparing teen and adult fathers, contrary to popular belief. Surprisingly, teen dads are more likely than adult dads to feel attached to their children.
  • Additional research finds a positive impact of teen fathers on teen mothers and their children when teen fathers are involved before and immediately after the birth of their children. These teen fathers have a protective effect by reducing the risk of depression of teen mothers and distress of infants.  

So when we take all of these facts into consideration, the picture of teen fathers' involvement in their children's lives is mixed. While the ability of teen dads to be involved in their children's lives is more challenging because of their lack of physical proximity, most of them are involved at some level and, when they are, have a positive impact on their children and the mothers. 

The question, then, for organizations and practitioners is: How can I increase teen fathers' involvement? There are several ways, and NFI's resources can help:

  1. Provide fathering education to teen fathers. NFI's 24/7 Dad® program is an excellent choice as organizations around the country have used it successfully with teen dads.
  2. Provide relationship education to teen fathers. NFI has partnered with The Dibble Institute to provide Love Notes, a program for teen dads (and couples).
  3. Provide education to teen moms on the importance of father involvement and how they can facilitate that involvement. NFI's Mom as Gateway™ workshop and Understanding Dad™ program are excellent choices.

Do you work with teen dads? Do you use a comprehensive approach that involves working with teen dads and teen moms?

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

What Makes a Parent a Smart Parent

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

"I think one of the true ways I've gotten smarter is that I've realized that there are ways other people are a lot smarter than me. My biggest asset as a writer is that I'm pretty much like everybody else. The parts of me that used to think I was different or smarter or whatever almost made me die." —David Foster Wallace

That quote from the American writer David Foster Wallace underscores one of the great lessons of life: There are plenty of people smarter than you, and you need to learn from them. This lesson applies to parenting.

WhatMakesaParentaSmartParent

When I joined National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) 15 years ago, my daughters were 5 and 2. I had only begun my parenting journey. I knew that I had things to learn about being a good father and parent. What I didn't realize was how much I had to learn. As the old saying goes, "You don't know what you don't know."

Fortunately, my boss was Wade Horn, the first president of NFI and a child psychologist. Wade is one of the smartest people I know. He's a smart father and parent who, as a child psychologist, knows a bit about how children are wired. The most important lesson I learned from Wade? Never project your consequences on your children. Just because I didn't have a negative outcome as a consequence of a decision to engage in a risky behavior doesn't mean that my children won't have a negative outcome if they engage in the same behavior. I've applied that lesson so many times I've lost count.

Wade helped me through several difficult parenting situations. One of those occurred about three years into my tenure at NFI. My oldest daughter had become an extremely picky eater. It drove me nuts because, since my mid-20s, I've focused on eating healthy and staying fit. The fact that I had a child who wasn't eating healthily signaled my failure as a parent. I had tried many of the tactics recommended by nutrition experts to get children to eat healthy. Not one of them worked!

I was at my wit's end when I asked Wade for guidance. He smiled and chuckled when I shared my frustration and concern for my child, which initially made the situation worse as he must have thought my concern to be ridiculous. But then he explained that a lot of young children are picky eaters because it's one of the few ways they can exert control over their lives. It's not necessarily the parents' fault.

He identified, however, one way that I might have indirectly contributed to my daughter's choice -- my own picky eating habits. He pointed out that my diligence in eating healthy is type of picky eating that my daughter had undoubtedly noticed at the dinner table and during conversations about eating healthy I'd had with her and my wife, and seen in several other ways I'd reinforced that form of picky eating. He encouraged me to keep trying to expand her tastes, but to also let the situation play out as many children's tastes expand, as they get older. (I'm happy to report that hers expanded.)

In my time at NFI, I've had the benefit of learning from many parents, especially fathers, who are smarter than me. These parents include NFI's second president, Roland Warren. Roland gave me more practical advice than I can share here. What was the most important thing I learned from him? Good fathers do three things well: provide, nurture and guide.

Other parents I've learned from include Stephen Bavolek, author of the internationally-acclaimed Nurturing Parenting Programs, who assisted me in developing the first editions of our 24/7 Dad® and InsideOut Dad® programs. I've applied much of the knowledge and many of the skills we teach fathers in those programs to parenting my own children. I've also learned from the countless fathers and mothers who have contributed their wisdom on parenting in this blog The Father Factor, and the many experts in parenting whose research on parenting effectiveness has informed the programs and other resources I've developed at NFI.

Don't wait until you're at your wit's end before seeking advice on how to be a better parent generally and in specific situations. Part of being a smart parent is realizing you're not as smart as you think.

Question > What's one thing you could use parenting advice on now? Share your answer in the comment section or on , or .

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

*The opening quote by David Foster Wallace is from Conversations with David Foster Wallace (Literary Conversations Series)

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

4 Steps for Making Tough Parenting Decisions

How many times have you faced a tough parenting decision and wished you had a tool or process for helping you make that decision? In Engage the Fox, authors Jen Lawrence and Larry Chester describe a four-stage process that, while taught to students of business to help them make better team-based decisions, can help anyone, including parents, make better decisions regardless of setting or situation.  

  1. Gather
  2. Generate
  3. Evaluate
  4. Agree
tools


Let's say your child is having a difficult time with a teacher. Your child believes the teacher is unfairly treating your child, but your child won't confront the teacher out of fear of retaliation. What advice do you give your child? Several other questions might quickly pop into your mind, the answers to which will help you answer that ultimate question. These questions might include:

  • What evidence does my child have for the unfair treatment?
  • What about the treatment is, exactly, unfair?
  • Is that treatment really unfair?
  • If it is unfair treatment, is the teacher singling out my child or is this how the teacher typically treats students?
  • Will I have to confront the teacher?
  • Might I eventually have to go to a school administrator to resolve the issue?

The list of questions could go on and on. Clearly, this decision is a tough one.

Lawrence and Chester's process can help you critically think about this kind of decision and avoid a knee-jerk reaction that doesn't do you or your child any favors. If possible, bring your child's mom into this process from the very beginning. Because this is a process that improves team-based decision making, it's ideal for decisions made by families.

First, gather as much information about the situation as possible. Ask your child some of the questions that you can reasonably expect her or him to answer with accuracy. Your child can probably provide evidence for the unfair treatment and whether the teacher treats other students in the same way. If you know the families of some of the other students in the class, you could contact them to determine whether the teacher has unfairly treated their children. You might also have to talk with the teacher to get the full picture, even though your child might be adamantly opposed to that action. If you (and mom) decide the teacher is unfairly treating your child, move on to the remaining steps.

Second, identify possible solutions. Assuming that the teacher is unfairly treating your child, sit down with your child (and mom) and think through the possible solutions. These might include everything from letting the situation play out before taking more decisive action to confronting the teacher. Generate as many solutions as possible without initially judging them. Write down the solutions as you and your child (and mom) generate them.

Third, evaluate the options and select the best solution. Use a critical thinking tool, such as a list of pros and cons, to evaluate the options. Using such a tool will help you and your child (and mom) arrive at a decision that is as objective as possible. If your child's mom is the more analytical of you two, ask her to lead this step. 

Before you move on to the final step, it would be a good idea to step back and gain some distance from the situation before making the final decision. In their book Decisive (another great book on critical decision making), authors Chip and Dan Heath recommend that people "attain distance" before making a final decision because short-term emotion can lead to poor decisions (e.g. by clouding judgment). Attaining distance can involve taking a few days or more to let the options sink in before making a final decision. It can also involve asking questions that shift your perspective, such as, "If I had a friend in the same situation, what would I tell my friend to do?"

Finally, you and your child (and mom) should agree on the final solution. It's possible that your child won't agree and you (and mom) will have to make a unilateral decision in the best interest of your child. But hopefully, by following this process, your child will see that the decision you see is the right one.

Parenting is full of tough decisions. Having a process in your parenting toolbox that can help you critically identify and evaluate options and decisions will make you a better parent and enhance the relationship you have with your child (and mom).

What's the toughest parenting decision you face today?

How do you make the tough parenting decisions?

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child  

The Opportunity Costs of Absent Fathers

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

There are 24 million children (1 in 3) who will go to sleep tonight in homes in which their fathers do not live. That's a staggering number. But the problem of father absence doesn't only affect those 24 million children. It also affects the children living with fathers who are spiritually and emotionally absent from their children's lives.

the_opportunity_costs_of_father_absence
Research
shows that children with absent fathers are more likely than their peers growing up with their fathers to suffer from a range of ills, such as poverty, poor school performance, drug and alcohol abuse, and the list goes on. But, once again, it's not just physical absence or presence that makes a difference. Children who live with fathers who are but a mere presence in their homes suffer as well. The level of involvement matters; for example, a landmark study by the U.S. Department of Education found that children whose fathers are more involved in their education have better grades than fathers who are involved in their education to a lesser degree.

The costs of father absence matter, a lot. These costs have a name -- opportunity costs. An opportunity cost is any cost that results from a person's decision to do something instead of something else. From another perspective, it's the benefit a person sacrifices to do something else. When fathers are absent from their children's lives -- physically, emotionally, or spiritually -- it costs them dearly. They give up the benefits of being involved, responsible, committed dads -- such as the love of their children and the joy of seeing their children grow into adults -- and the benefits of mothers' love in raising children together.

To be fair, there are some rare instances of father absence in which fathers don't choose to be absent. Fathers' levels of involvement must also be understood within the context of how they provide for their family. A father, for example, who must work two jobs to support his family has only so much bandwidth to be physically present. The vast majority of instances of father absence, however, involve fathers who choose to do something other than be present -- to be somewhere else physically or in their minds than where they should be.

What makes father absence as a choice so incredibly heinous are the opportunity costs of it for children, the mothers left to care for absent fathers' children on their own, and our society. If the costs only accrued to absent fathers, the National Fatherhood Initiative wouldn't exist. But the costs don't only accrue to these fathers. Like the ripples that result from the rocks fathers and children throw into and skip across ponds, the impact of father absence is felt far and wide. Children, mothers, and our society need involved fathers. We can't spare a single one.

To all those fathers who have made a choice to be absent, I implore you to reverse course. Think about the opportunity costs to you. More importantly, think about the opportunity costs of your choice to your children, the mother of your children, and our society.

FF6_image-1

 

The costs of father absence is high. Visit our Father Facts Page to learn more and support NFI’s work to connect father to child.

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

Research to Application: The Power of the "Deviant Dad"

As the nation’s #1 provider of fatherhood skill-building programs and resources, NFI provides guidance for practitioners and organizations on how they might be able to use to use the latest research on human behavior to enhance the effectiveness of their work with fathers. NFI provides this guidance in a series of blog posts called Research to Application: Guidance for Practitioners and Programs. The series is also available in the form of quick reference guides that you can download by clicking on the button at the end of the posts.

deviant-dadThe series offers a platform for generating dialogue among NFI, organizations, and practitioners on ways that research can be applied to addressing pain points in serving fathers. This post is the second one in the series. (To access the first post, click here. To access the second post, click here. To access the third post, click here.) It provides ideas on how you might integrate research on positive deviance into your work with fathers. Integrating this research can help you identify model fathers who have overcome great odds to become involved, responsible, committed fathers, models you can share with other fathers who struggle to do the same.

If you implement any of the ideas in this post, or develop and implement your own ideas, please share them with us at info@fatherhood.org. We’ll use your experiences to update this guide so it is even more useful.

The Research
In the Power of Positive Deviance (1), Richard Pacale, Jerry Sternin, and Monique Sternin chronicle the research and share many diverse examples of how professionals have used positive deviance to create positive behavior change in populations across the globe. Don’t be thrown by the negative connotation that the word “deviance” might have for you. As the authors point out, positive deviance refers to “outliers who succeed against all odds.” Furthermore,

Positive deviance (PD) is founded on the premise that at least one person in a community, working with the same resources as everyone else, has already licked the problem that confounds others. The individual is an outlier in the statistical sense—an exception, someone whose outcome deviates in a positive way (emphasis added) from the norm.

They share examples of how professionals have created programs to address such wide-ranging subjects as improving child nutrition (Vietnam), reducing female circumcision (Egypt), reducing hospital infections (United States), and reintegrating abducted girls—turned into soldiers after abduction—back into the community (Uganda).

What links all of these examples, and is a hallmark of using positive deviance, was the use of ethnographic research methods, primarily observation, to identify outliers who engage in positive behavior (i.e. the innovation in the community) to produce the outcomes the professionals sought (e.g. children who were well nourished and girls who weren’t circumcised), and then to understand the steps (process) that the outliers followed to produce the outcomes. The professionals used what they learned to design programs that had community involvement—indeed that were primarily community run—that spread knowledge and skill development related to the behaviors that led to the positive outcomes.

Another example in the book, which is relevant to working with fathers, involved the use of positive deviance by the international non-profit Save the Children to reduce infant mortality among the Pashtun-speaking people who live in the remote mountains of northwest Pakistan. The following description uses excerpts from the book. (Pardon the length of this example. The length provides the breadth necessary to grasp the power of using positive deviance.)

The Pashtun-speaking people in the remote mountains of North-West Frontier Province, Pakistan, endure one of the world’s highest infant mortality rates. One of every twenty newborns dies within the first year of life. A fiercely independent people, their communities have a long history of rebuffing the efforts of health authorities to address this problem. Recognizing these inhibiting features as conditions in which positive deviance often flourishes, Save the Children resolved to give the process a try.

So how does one coax a community into tackling a problem it has never acknowledged as such? Most were aware that infant mortality was among the highest in all of Pakistan (85 deaths in every 1,000 births). Yet leaders and villagers were inured to all this as “Allah’s will.”

It was agreed that a good initial step would be to create reliable maps of recent village experience with newborn survival. That very evening, the first of what was to become a number of such efforts took shape with improvised materials representing houses, streets, mosque, and market-place. Hunkered on the ground, using colored felt-tipped pens to code stones into categories (e.g. families with no children, families that had lost a newborn since the previous Ramadan, etc.) the men created an epidemiological map. A green dot on a village home denoted a newborn who had survived. Black denoted less fortunate households. Orange, yellow, brown, and purple indicated cause of death—umbilical chord infection, asphyxia, diarrhea, hypothermia, or extremely low birth weight. Participants became wholly engrossed. Why had some newborns, born under exactly the same conditions as those who died, survived and flourished? These conversations would ultimately pierce the shroud of “Allah’s will."

As the men were compiling census data, a parallel endeavor unfolded among the women. In their case, beans were the artifact of choice for the mapping process. Analogous to the Eskimos’ proverbial twenty-three words for “snow,” Pashtun women traffic in the currency of beans, a staple of everyday diet. Differences between beans are subtle to the untrained eye but as distinct as words in a dictionary for the literate. The women’s maps had deeper texture. They understood precisely what went on in the first two to three weeks after each child was born. Considerable care was devoted to creating these epidemiological maps. They captured who was born, who died; babies that had diarrhea, were underweight, or experienced respiratory difficulties or umbilical cord infections but survived. The end result was a composite picture of the men’s and women’s efforts. 

Unsurprisingly, the ensuing process was not conducted as “interviews” but informed through stories. Pashtun life is captured in oral tradition. While there are no written diaries or civic records, memories provide an astonishing wealth of detail. When a baby is born, neighboring women visit, discuss, observe, and commit to memory what happened and how. To accommodate this tradition, tactile objects such as homemade stuffed dolls were employed to capture what people do, not what they know. This impelled the classic shift from the “what” to the “how.” Enactment confirmed that many households delivered the baby in an animal shed because delivery was regarded as messy. Some sessions evoked stoic accounts of tragedy as mothers-in-laws, new mothers, and traditional birth attendants (dais) elaborated on infants that had turned blue and died a few hours after a winter delivery. Reenactment with rag dolls and crude material substituting for umbilical cord and placenta revealed how the dais attention switches from the newborn to the mother as soon as the baby is born. Miriam, one of the oldest and most respected dais in the village, enacted the common practice of placing the naked newborn on the mud floor so those present could blow prayers over it. In the cold Haripur winter (with no source of heat and insulating blanket between baby and damp earth), hypothermia was the unintended result.

Once common practices had been captured, it was time for the PD inquiry itself—the search of PD’s. Earlier mapping helped the group identify families who had “at risk” newborns who had survived against all odds. Small groups of male volunteers joined Shafique and his team to visit and chat with the male members of these families to find out what they had done. A similar process took place among the women. Pashtun tradition is exquisitely sensitive to not awarding social recognition to one person at the expense of others. It was understood that “heroes” would not be singled out—rather, discoveries would highlight successful practices, not individuals.

One mother-in-law mentioned using a gadeya (pillow). “Why?” the visitors asked. “Before the baby arrives,” she answered, “I make a special pillow of rages to put on the floor and to cover the baby when it is born.” “Show us,” the visitors requested. She did. A member of the visiting team, a mother-in-law herself, interjected: “I do something similar. I immediately put the baby to the mother’s breast and put a blanket on it.” 

The men’s visits with male relatives shed light on the PD practice of using a clean razor blade to cut the umbilical chord. One PD husband had created a “clean delivery kit.” Another took his wife to the clinic for a prenatal exam. The list of practical and successful expedients gradually expanded.

In parallel conversations, men and women discussed their findings. At times this triggered heated debate. Vetting ensured the most relevant strategies and practices would gain ascendance. Convergence wasn’t always easy. 

It was time to share discoveries with the larger community. Separate male and female community meetings were carefully choreographed to share the findings from the home visits. Eager villagers came together to hear about some of the secrets that could save newborn lives. The design of this phase gave testimony to the villagers’ latent creativity, confirming yet again that a community knows best how to engage its own.

Dissemination workshops tended to follow a trajectory. They led off with an introduction of technical PD practices (e.g. clean razor blades) but turned inevitably to the importance of the husband’s involvement and support of his wife. One violated a cultural taboo by giving his pregnant wife special food (trespassing on the mother-in-law’s authority). Then questions began: “What do you think of this?” “How about a husband taking his wife to the prenatal clinic?” “Where do you draw the line?”

At the conclusion of the community meetings, volunteers gathered to develop a strategy to enable the whole community to practice the successful but sometimes controversial strategies that had resulted in newborn survival. It was decided that the men should gather once a month at the tea shop in their mohallahs (neighborhood meetings), recount stories of recent newborns, discuss what they should do, learn more about pregnancy and delivery, and perhaps practice some new behaviors. Women developed a similar plan for monthly mohallah sessions where more elaborate new behaviors were practiced as well as stories of deliveries where the new behaviors were adopted.

The point, of course, was to reinforce the focus on the effect of PD practices and to highlight the importance of the participation of both mothers and fathers in the survival and well-being of their children.


The point, of course, is not that this example has direct application to increasing father involvement in this country. It shows, however, that even in a culture in which fathers were involved only at the margins in an aspect of child well-being that the use of positive deviance can overcome extremely challenging barriers to greater father involvement.

Ideas on Application
The PD approach the authors outline involves much more than simply finding outliers. It involves getting a community to own a problem and then mobilizing the community to solve the problem. Nevertheless, you can use the “finding outliers” portion of this approach to identify models of fathers who have overcome great odds to become an involved, responsible, committed father that you can share with other fathers. You might also be able to involve fathers in developing an approach that will help other fathers to overcome great odds. Involving model fathers to influence other fathers will increase buy-in from other fathers because the solutions come from and are delivered by fathers like them. Here are some ideas to consider.

  • If you work with a father (one-on-one or in a group setting) who is involved, responsible, and committed in the lives of his children, ask him how he became a good father. Ask him questions, such as:
    • How did you become involved in the lives of your children?
    • What barriers did you face in becoming involved?
    • What steps did you take to overcome that (those) barrier(s)? (Or) How did you solve the problem(s) that (those) barrier(s) presented?
    • What advice would you give to a father who faces the same barrier(s)?

Keep an open mind to how the father overcame the odds. Resist judging his solutions. Pay particular attention to uncommon or unusual solutions the father developed. If after he shares his experience you think he provides a good model for you to share with other fathers, ask him whether he’d be willing to share his story. He could share through you via a case study you could write on his story. If he is part of a group of fathers you work with, ask him to share during a group meeting/session.

  • If you don’t work with such a father, commit now to finding such a father so you can eventually apply the idea above.
  • If you’re fortunate enough to work with several fathers who have overcome great odds, ask them whether they will volunteer to develop an approach to sharing their experience with other fathers, and whether they will share their experience. (Some or all of these model fathers will act as spokespersons, so they must be reliable and credible. Be careful in your choice of them.) If they are willing, gather them (e.g. in a focus group) and ask them the kinds of questions identified above. Then have them design an approach that focuses on strategies and tactics (i.e. specific behaviors rather than simply sharing knowledge) for overcoming barriers that will help other fathers become involved in their children’s lives. Focus them on the “how to” of transferring these behaviors to other fathers. Consider asking the fathers to not only develop an approach for transferring behaviors to fathers served by your organization, but to include ways to transfer those behaviors to fathers they can access in other parts of the community. You will probably have to hold several meetings to use this approach.

Regardless of how you apply positive deviance, approach your effort as an experiment. Keep track of what works with fathers in general and with specific kinds of fathers (e.g. custodial and non-custodial) so that you can apply what works in future work with fathers one-on-one or in groups, and avoid what doesn’t work. And last but not least, share your results with NFI at info@fatherhood.org so that we can improve future versions of this guide.

Resources
As you apply positive deviance to identify models of fathers who have overcome great odds to become an involved, responsible, committed father, consider reading The Power of Positive Deviance. We also recommend the book Switch, which discusses a similar idea the authors call following the “Bright Spots” (i.e. find what’s working and “clone it.”). This similar idea is part of a larger framework (the Switch Framework) that you might find useful in your work.

FREE SAMPLE Get the full PDF version of this study today!


Don’t forget to look for more posts and reference guides with post 1, post 2, and post 3 in this series!

[1] Pascale, R., Sternin, J., & Sternin, M. (2010). The Power of Positive Deviance: How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World’s Toughest Problems. Boston: Harvard Business Press. 

350 Practitioners on the Challenge of Maternal Gatekeeping

Have you ever struggled to convince a mother to allow the father of her child to be more involved in the child's life? Maternal gatekeeping is one of the primary challenges practitioners face when encouraging moms to allow dads into their children's lives. Maternal gatekeeping refers to a mom’s protective beliefs about the desirability of a dad's involvement in their child’s life, and the behaviors acted upon that either facilitate or hinder effective co-parenting. Maternal gatekeeping occurs regardless of whether parents are married, divorced or unmarried, and regardless of the parents’ satisfaction with the relationship between them. But, clearly, it presents the greatest challenge when the relationship between the parents is poor.

102814blog-1350 Practitioners Speak Out

NFI surveyed more than 350 practitioners who attended NFI's free What's Mom Got to Do With It webinar on December 9th, 2014, and asked them the following question related to maternal gatekeeping: What are the most important problems the moms you work with have with involving dads in their children's lives? (To access a recorded version of the webinar, click here.) The most important problems (in descending order of importance) are:

  • History of domestic violence or other abuse
  • Poor past or current experiences with/perceptions of the dad
  • Mom doesn't like dad or is angry with him
  • Mom doesn't see dad as important in the life of her child
  • Dad isn't a good parent
  • Mom doesn't want to give up control over the life of her child (i.e. if dad becomes involved, she perceives she'll lose control)
  • Mom has no contact/relationship with the dad

The research on maternal gatekeeping supports these practitioners' experiences. The motivations for maternal gatekeeping vary widely. They depend on individual, couple, and familial circumstances and situations. Mothers might have a difficult time relinquishing familial responsibility, might want to validate their identity as “the mother” and garner recognition for their “maternal” or “feminine” contributions to the family, or might view the father as incompetent or even dangerous to the child. This latter view might be based either on actual evidence, the father’s past behaviors, or her personal perceptions of him and his failures in the male familial role. 

Helping Practitioners 

One of our primary jobs at NFI is to help practitioners to more effectively do their jobs. Accordingly, we asked those same 350 practitioners the following question related to how to help moms involve fathers: What are the two most important topics moms need help with around involving dads? The biggest topics (also in descending order of importance) are:

  • Why dad is important to their child's life 
  • Communication
  • Co-Parenting
  • Importance of putting the well-being of the child first
  • How to trust dad
  • Mutual respect (i.e. important of mom respecting dad and vice versa)
  • How to keep the dad engaged
  • Conflict resolution

The good news is NFI already has a number of low-, medium-, and high-intensity resources that address these and other challenges presented by maternal gatekeeping (e.g. the impact of the mother's history with men and her own father). These resources include the Understanding Dad™ program, Mom as Gateway™ workshop, downloadable eguidespocketbooks, and tip cards for moms. And we've already started to identify additional resources to develop that will help practitioners address the other issues because, well, that's our job and commitment to practitioners: Supporting You. Supporting Fathers. Supporting Families.™ Stay tuned. 

Have you reviewed our resources that address maternal gatekeeping?

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

5 Tips to Help Your Children Maintain A Healthy Weight

As I turned the "big 5-O" a couple of weeks ago, and chuckled as I received my first invitation in the mail to join AARP, I reflected on the importance of health and fitness in my life and that of my children, and on how much it pains me to see so many children these days who are overweight and obese. It also got me thinking about the ways in which dads can make a difference in the fight against childhood obesity.

help_child_maintain_healthy_weight

Being active has been a vital part of my life since I can remember. I played baseball, football, and golf as a child. I'm not sure where the drive to be so active came from. Neither of my parents were active, and they didn't encourage me to be either. I just loved being outside all day, getting dirty, and playing pick-up games in the neighborhood. 

When I stopped playing organized sports after high school, I continued to be active in college through intramurals. Because I was fast, several of my fraternity brothers who played soccer in high school recruited me to play on our fraternity's soccer team, which kindled a passion for the sport that remains today. In graduate school, I engaged in what was the beginning of the health and fitness craze of the 1980s. (Are you old enough to remember Physical -- as in "Let's get physical, physical!" -- by Olivia Newton-John?) I ran, swam, biked, and lifted my way to my master's degree. I continued to regularly exercise after graduate school, got married, and had kids. 

As soon as I started my fatherhood journey, I committed to not let any grass grow under my daughters' feet as far as being active was concerned. Perhaps what drove me more than anything else to ingrain in them the importance of health and fitness was the memory of the struggles my parents and my younger brother had maintaining a healthy weight. I desperately wanted to break that cycle. I placed a soccer ball at their feet soon after they started to walk and enrolled them in organized soccer by age 4. I took them to watch my road races and entered them in races soon thereafter. As someone who understands the importance of self-awareness -- the first characteristic of a 24/7 Dad -- it's been difficult for me to encourage them to be active in their own way and to let go of the process. I only hope that the model of my dedication to health and fitness has rubbed off. Fortunately, my girls have maintained a healthy weight throughout their childhood and, for my oldest, into early adulthood.

I'm sure it's not news to you that childhood obesity is a major problem in this country. You've undoubtedly seen its consequences in some of the families you know--perhaps even in your own family. According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 17 percent of children -- some 12.7 million -- are obese. Many more (around 1 in 3 or 4) are overweight and on the road to becoming obese. Obesity is one of the primary drivers of the rise among children in type 2 diabetes, which typically doesn't develop until adulthood. Obesity places children at risk for a lifetime of poor health.

What might be news to you, however, is that your simple presence and involvement in the life of your child is one of the most potent weapons in the fight against childhood obesity. Research shows that family structure matters a great deal when it comes to the prevalence of childhood obesity. Children from single-mother families are at higher risk for obesity than children living with two parents. Moreover, studies show that a father's body mass index (BMI) -- the primary and, somewhat controversial, metric for determining whether someone is at a healthy weight -- predicts his children's BMI. Obese dads are more likely to have obese children. Other studies reveal that how well fathers eat and their level of activity directly affects their children's weight. When fathers (and mothers) create an environment that promotes obesity, their children are more likely to become obese.

Here are 5 tips to help your child maintain a healthy weight. (If you're a professional who works with families, encourage fathers to use these tips.)

1) Examine your eating habits and level of exercise and improve them if necessary. You must model good eating habits and regular exercise. Otherwise, your children, especially if they're in their teens, will see you as a hypocrite if you tell them to improve their eating habits and become more active.

2) Get involved in an active way in your child's life. There are many ways to get involved, but to directly affect your child's activity level, you must do things together that require regular physical activity. Find things you and your child enjoy doing that you can repeat often.

3) Eat meals together. Studies show that simply eating meals as a family lowers the risk of childhood obesity. But you must eat at least three meals together on a weekly basis to make a difference.

4) Enroll your child in a team or individual sport. Studies show that children who play organized sports are less likely to be overweight.

5) Encourage mom to examine her eating habits and level of exercise and improve them if necessary. It's better to have two good models than only one. Applying this tip might be easier said than done, but it's vital you have the courage to challenge mom if she doesn't set a good example in this regard.

healthykids_500px

 

For more tips on raising healthy kids, check out our downloadable guide Tips for Raising Healthy Kids


Question > When was the last time you talked with your child about the importance of regular exercise?

The Father Factor Blog > Where Fatherhood Leaders Go To Learn.

Search Our Blog

Topics