Questions From You

Parenting questions submitted by our community members and answered by a YOU Program facilitator.
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Couple Chat: Parenting Expectations Vs. Reality

October 23, 2014

By Mario and Ana Vela

Couple Chat: Parenting Expectations Vs. Reality | Ana and Mario Vela kiss their baby daughter.

In the Couple Chat series, we pose one or two topical questions to a couple and ask each person to answer privately. Each person then reads the other’s response and the couple discusses their thoughts on the topic. They share their discussion together in the reflection.

For today’s Couple Chat, we asked new parents Ana and Mario Vela about parenting expectations versus reality. Here’s what they said.

Before you had your baby, what did you think your biggest challenge would be as a parent? What did you think would come easiest to you?

Ana: Before having our baby, I thought the biggest challenge as a parent would be feeling overwhelmed and lonely. Having all our family 1200 miles away. I kept imagining that I would be holding a crying baby, not knowing what to do, with no one close by to help. The thought of wanting to take a break from the baby, but not having family around to help really scared me. Fortunately, my mother stayed with us for three months after our daughter, Mariana, was born, and taught me how to care for her. My confidence increased. After my mother left, I didn’t feel scared anymore. I know advice is a phone call away.

On the other hand, I thought the easiest thing would be returning to work after maternity leave. For some reason, I always imagined easily managing having a baby and a career without any feelings of guilt for working.

Mario: I thought the biggest challenge would simply be being a father. I don’t have a traditional father figure, and I relied on a collection of influences to help me define the person I am. I truly questioned my ability to be a father for my child, and questioned the value I could offer a child.

I felt comfortable providing the basic care Mariana would require, as I’m the oldest in my family. I cared for my younger siblings and relied on my experience in caring for them including feedings, diaper changes, etc. I even showed Ana how to change a diaper. However, both Ana and my mother-in-law have specific ways of caring for Mariana, and don’t always agree with how I handle her. I don’t let that discourage me, as I know we all want what is best for her. I just have a different way of caring for her.

Now that you’re parents to a 4-month-old, what is your current biggest challenge as a parent? What is the easiest thing about being a parent?

Ana: My biggest challenge so far has been maintaining a work/life balance. What I thought before would be easiest is really the most difficult. I feel guilty when I am away from Mariana, or when I’m not paying attention to her because I am working at home. It gets more challenging when both my husband and I need to put in extra hours at the same time—whose work is more important? One of us has to take care of the baby. We’ve even had to compromise how many work events and late nights we can put in a month to make things fair between us. It has definitely caused some friction, and I anticipate it will continue to.

The easiest thing about being a parent is loving her. Everyday I am amazed at the love that flows out of me for this little person. Before, I really thought I would want to constantly take breaks from her, but I’ve been surprised at how easy and enjoyable it is to spend time with her. Sometimes I just stare at her, and even cry because she makes me so happy.

Mario: Now the biggest challenge is my fear that something might happen to her. I never wanted to be overprotective, but now that I hold her in my arms and see her potential, I’m afraid that something might happen to her. All her care now is our responsibility, and I want to make the best decisions for her, but I feel that these decisions shouldn’t be based out of fear. I need to learn to manage and understand it, and let go when appropriate.

I was nervous if I was capable of offering a father’s love. But from the first moment I saw her and experienced that I was responsible for her, I realized that all those questions I had didn’t matter. I had to move on from all the hesitation I felt, which I did immediately when she was born. I understand now that I will make every effort to make the best decisions for her and our family.

Reflection
Ana: I am surprised that Mario said he was so comfortable with the thought of caring for Mariana. I know he helped take care of his younger siblings, but I still thought he would be nervous with our baby. I hadn’t taken care of babies—and yes, I didn’t even know how to change a diaper! I realize now that I shouldn’t have been so scared to not have my family close by when Mario was perfectly capable of helping me out.

Now that he’s putting it out there, I feel guilty about criticizing how Mario cares for Mariana. Although I may not always agree with how he handles her, I am happy that he likes spending time with her and will always make sure she is safe.

Mario and I had always planned to put Mariana in a daycare. Seeing the quality of care my mother provided her made him realize that he didn’t want to expose her to anything other than one-on-one care. Accommodating this change in plan for Mario has completely changed our plans, which was very stressful. My mother-in-law has decided to move in with us and care for Mariana. It was very interesting to see how differently Mario and I felt about her care.

We both agree that Mariana has completely changed our lives. We are both so in love with her. We talk about her all the time and enjoy seeing how she develops every day.

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Best Practices for Infant Care From a New Dad

September 26, 2014

By Mario Vela

Best Practices for Infant Care From a New Dad | Author Mario Vela looks at his newborn daughter, Mariana, as he holds her.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Shaffer Photography

As a father of a seven-week-old child, I’ve learned a new love that I wasn’t aware I was capable of feeling. My priorities have shifted and caring for my daughter Mariana has replaced any previous priorities I had. In moments when I typically used to be sleeping, I am now rewarded by watching Mariana’s development.

I’ve learned so much about my baby in such a short amount of time, just as many new parents before me have. Here are some of the best practices I’ve found help as a new parent. I hope they help you, too.

Anticipate Needs. My understanding of Mariana’s needs has improved with experience and patience. I have learned to anticipate some needed care to avoid crying or frustration. Types of care include feedings, carrying, soothing, and learning when to burp her.

Smart Buys. Before our daughter was born, my wife, Ana, purchased a few items whose value and effectiveness I didn’t initially understand, but now I highly recommend them.

  • A Boppie pillow is very versatile for feedings and naps.
  • A swing soothes a baby.
  • Bassinets help a child sleep.
  • Rocking chairs help during feedings and to put a baby to sleep.
  • A camera with a motion sensor helps you feel comfortable when your child is in a different room. Fair warning: the motion sensor may startle you in the beginning. I jumped out of bed the first time I heard the noise.

Zippers Are Easy. When changing Mariana’s diapers, onesies with zippers are much more convenient and easier to use than onesies with buttons, especially when there is limited light in middle of the night and you’re really tired.

Sing. Music, singing, and humming help soothe Mariana.

Move Around. Walking up and down the stairs helps Mariana to relax and puts her sleep.

Learn Your Baby’s Routine. I’ve learned a great routine to help Mariana sleep several hours at night that includes:

  • Dimming the lights.
  • Turning on music.
  • Diaper change.
  • Feeding.
  • Burping.
  • Walking the stairs.

Accept Help. My mother-in-law has been very helpful. She’s been staying with us since a few weeks prior to Ana’s delivery, and has helped a lot. I recommend accepting any help you are offered by family or friends.

Even though so much has changed since Mariana was born, I’m so glad that I was able to quickly learn these best practices. What are your best practices with your babies? Tell me in the comments below.

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How to Address the Fear of Becoming a Father

June 24, 2014

By Mario Vela

The author holds his newborn daughter in the hospital.

I’m 32 years old, and for the last seven years I’ve been terrified of the thought of being a father. I am an analytical person, and can lose myself in thinking of worst-case scenarios. But now I am finally comfortable and excited that my wife of ten years is expecting just had our first child.

Why have I been concerned all these years? I questioned my ability to raise a child since I never had a traditional father figure. My mother left my father when I was an infant and married someone with whom I always had a contentious relationship.

In my journey to becoming an expectant father, I’ve used my analytical nature to my advantage. I have thought about why I was afraid to have children, have worked through my fears, and have developed some ideas to help transition from my role as a husband to my new role as a husband and father. I want to share these tips with expectant and new fathers to help them, too.

  • Create a list of parental figures. Think about your role models. What good qualities do they have? Try to embody those qualities and pass them along to your child. Do not limit yourself in gender- or culture-based learning, as it is possible to learn more from diverse perspectives. Since I had an open mind in learning from others, I was able to leave some of the limiting social constructs of my own upbringing behind.
  • Learn from others. Have dinner with your friends with kids and learn from their experiences. Spend time with them and listen to their triumphs with their children and also of the challenges they encounter. Ask yourself if this is the life you want to pursue.
  • Create a support system. My wife and I recently moved to a different city, so creating a support system has been a little more difficult than usual, but we have developed relationships with friends whom I value and trust. Those people have helped me overcome my fears and will help us when our baby arrives. It’s important to know we’re not alone.
  • Spend time with other people’s children. Visit with your friends’ and family’s children and interact with them. Rather than just hearing stories from others, this will allow you to learn from experience and see the patience and care required to raise your own children.
  • Be honest and set realistic expectations with your partner. When my wife let me know that not having children was non-negotiable to stay married, I came to the realization that my children are a source of my legacy. I finally realized that I have something to offer.

Through this decision-making process, I learned from some of my closest friends and relatives. In the end, I made a personal and, for me, a very difficult decision: I know that I can offer a strong future to my children. I kept questioning my abilities as a father, and eventually learned that I have every right to be a father, and that I will be a good one.

*Editor's note: Mario and his wife Ana welcomed their baby girl less than two weeks before we published this article. Congratulations to Mario and Ana!

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I’m a single mom. How can I help my son not feel left out on Father’s Day?

June 13, 2014

By YOU Program Facilitator

Happy Father's Day! Dad, you're awesome.

Question: My son’s father left when he was less than 12 months old and I’m a single mom. He’s 9 years old now and most of his friends celebrate Father’s Day with their dads. Is there anything I can do so that he doesn’t feel left out on Father’s Day?

Answer: Growing up without a father can sometimes be difficult for a child, especially if many of his or her friends live in a two-parent household. Your son is very lucky to have a mother who cares so much about him and doesn’t want him to feel left out.

While Father’s Day traditionally honors fathers, it’s a wonderful opportunity for your son to honor a male role model in his life. This year, ask your son to choose a male whom he respects and values. It can be a grandfather, uncle, family friend, or even a brother. Arrange for the two of them to spend time together. Whether they go out for ice cream, miniature golfing, or to a movie, giving your son the opportunity to spend time with a male role model will allow him to celebrate the holiday without feeling left out.

As you ask your son to choose this male role model, be sure to also ask him how he feels about his father not being in his life. It’s important to listen to him and understand his feelings. While you cannot change the past, you may be able to help your son understand that he is not at fault and is loved by many other people, including his mother.

For more information on parental engagement from birth through high school, see the YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher 3-book set.

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Teen Pregnancy: Prevention and Support

April 17, 2014

By Nely Bergsma

A pregnant teen holds her baby belly.

All stages of a child’s development have its challenges and the teen years are, by all means, no exception. By now, you have introduced life to your children, guided them as they explored and tried new things, and stood in support through the challenging times they faced. All in hopes that they will make good choices, be successful, and reach their life potential: Plan A. That is all a parent wants for his or her child.

Now that your child is a teenager, you continue to introduce, guide and support his or her growth. You talk about the importance of making good decisions. You’ve discussed topics such as drugs, alcohol, and sex. What about the topic of teen pregnancy?

How do you help prevent your teenager from becoming pregnant or getting someone pregnant? In my personal quest for direction, both as a mentor to teenage girls and a parent, I went straight to the source with these questions: teenagers themselves. The main theme in all of their responses was honesty. They want their parents to be honest with them. They don’t want to be lectured or threatened. They want realistic information. They welcome parents having ongoing conversations (examples below) with them about the challenges of parenting:

  • Becoming a teenage parent means you will be responsible for another human being for the rest of your life, even before yourself.
  • It means you may need to leave school, perhaps not go or hold off on going to college. You may have to delay or give up on the career you chose
  • You will need to find the means to financially support your child. What job can you get as a teenager that will allow you to do this?
  • You will need to decide where you want to live. Is the expectation to marry? Is the expectation to live with your parents?

So you’ve done everything you feel you could have to prepare your teenager. How will you, as a parent, address this issue, should it occur? Again, I asked. The overwhelming answer was again that they wouldn’t want to be lectured or threatened. They would want love, support, and understanding. They know they have disappointed you. They again welcome parents having conversations with them about Plan B:

  • Show him or her what a supportive parent you can be.
  • Help him or her to stay in school. Education is key to your child’s success.
  • Help your child create a budget to manage the care of his or her child. Can you help?
  • Help him or her determine where is the best place to live and where is the best place to raise a child. Can she or he remain at home until graduation?

While U.S. teen pregnancy rates are decreasing, teen pregnancy is a reality that parents need to consider. Just because you speak to your child about pregnancy does not mean that you are encouraging sexual activity. Your teenager may appear not to want to hear your perspective, but having ongoing conversations may prove successful in getting him or her to the finish line.

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