Ask Sally: Spotlight On Dads

Young hipster father playing with his daughter

Today’s dads are more involved with their children’s day-to-day lives than ever before. With Father’s Day just around the corner, Sally Tannen, Director of 92Y’s Parenting Center is turning her focus to dads, and answering the questions both parents have been asking.

Q: My wife and I agreed that I would be the stay-at-home parent after our first child arrives next month, and following my wife’s maternity leave. I know there are more men in this role than ever before, but I seem to be a pioneer among my friends and colleagues. Any advice to get me off on the right foot?

A: It’s been wonderful to see more and more dads assume the role of at-home parent, and great that you and your wife have worked out an arrangement that makes sense for your family. My best advice is to seek out ways to connect with other new or soon-to-be dads (it’s not too early to start). In my experience at the Parenting Center, stay-at-home dads can feel as isolated as moms do when they’re the ones home with the baby. There are groups you can join which will connect you with other dads in your community. NYC Dads Group is the largest in New York City, and was the first with a network of support just for men (the organization has since expanded and is now national, so you can reach out wherever you live). Support, resources and social opportunities abound, from “Boot Camp” classes for new dads to meetups and outings you can join. Take advantage of them. Baby (and mom) will benefit, too.

The takeaway: No dad is an island! Connect with other men in the stay-at-home role to ensure you have the support and camaraderie that are so important.

Q: My wife and I both work full-time, and share in childcare responsibilities for our two young children. But instead of being appreciative of what I contribute, my wife often criticizes my way of doing things. I don’t want to slip into: “So, you do it, then!” Any advice?

A: We hear this kind of thing so often, and from both perspectives. You and your wife may be co-parenting the same children, but you are still individuals, and no two people have the same exact way of doing things. Mom packs the Cheerios snack in a little container, then remarks negatively when she learns Dad packed them in a little baggie; Mom puts the baby’s hat on in the house, and disapproves that Dad waits until getting outside; as long as you are on the same page regarding the big issues, these differences don’t matter! Talk with your wife (when you are both not exhausted—I can’t overstate how important that is), and explain that it’s dispiriting to be regularly criticized for your efforts/actions. And try to understand what is going on from your wife’s perspective. New moms can find it particularly difficult to give up control, even when help is what they need most. Establish—together—that your differences are matters of style, not substance, and the critiques will ease.

The takeaway: When the vibe from your spouse is “Trust my judgement” rather than the opposite, it’s time to talk. Listen to each other, come to an understanding, and agree not to sweat the small stuff!

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Q: My husband and I are strong equal partners in the parenting of our three young kids. But when we are with my in-laws, they address any matters involving the children exclusively to me! It’s maddening for both of us! Help!

A: Maddening, no doubt! Even if your in-laws “know” how your situation is structured, which they no doubt do, it can be hard for them to adapt to it. Your husband’s parents grew up and raised their family in a different, more traditional time, and it can be difficult for them to accept that you and their son have roles that are more fluid than their own. If your father-in-law never changed a diaper, it can be almost instinctive for your mother-in-law to assume you’ll handle these things. Your in-laws “knowing” about how you’ve shaped your parenting roles isn’t meaningful if it doesn’t translate to their behavior. They also may not fully understand how their lapses irk you. Talk through with your husband what you want to express to your in-laws, and determine who should express it—for some couples that might be both of you, for others, it might be your husband alone. People can change! Dads can change diapers! Encourage the support your family deserves.

The takeaway: It’s not easy to teach old(er) in-laws new tricks, but give it your best effort, and never assume that people can’t change.

Q: I’m the dad of a fine young boy I want to help shape into a fine young man. The things my own dad guided me to be seem very out-of-step today. As fathers’ roles have changed, so has what we show our sons as role models. What are the most important things I can be and do in raising my son in today’s world?

A: It’s great that you are so “conscious,” and how exciting to be raising children in a world where traditional notions of what it means to be male and female have evolved so greatly. Gloria Steinem famously said: “I’m glad we’ve begun to raise our daughters more like our sons, but it will never work until we raise our sons more like our daughters.” Want your son to learn that strength comes in many forms and that empathy is among them? Demonstrate them yourself, and he will. Want him to grow up to be a man who respects women? Treat your wife and the women in your son’s life (and all women) with respect, and he will. Model good character, and you’ll nourish the qualities you want to see reflected in any child or young person, boy or girl. Create a climate of open communication and you’ll fuel self-expression and help build self-esteem. Lastly, leave stereotypes and expectations behind, and encourage your son—or daughter—simply to be the best version of the human being he or she is inclined to be.

The takeaway: To move beyond stereotypes, live beyond stereotypes.

Director of 92Y’s Parenting Center and Grandparents Center, Sally Tannen has been supporting parents of young children, building community, and creating and offering activities and classes for babies, kids, parents and grandparents for thousands of NYC families for more than 25 years. A mother of four and grandmother of three, Sally’s personal experience continues to enrich and inform her work. Learn more at!