In the world of published media, you find few regular columns devoted to the subject of fathers. Among those few, an even scarcer thing is the columnist who regularly takes time to share his own experiences as a father. That is what sets Jeremy Schneider apart. His column, “A Father’s Voice,” is not afraid to share the struggles, surprises, and insights that come from his daily experiences as a father. Starting next week, The Father Life will be publishing “A Father’s Voice” on a monthly basis. I’ve been inspired by what I’ve read so far, and I look forward to reading what is to come.
As we at The Father Life considered running Jeremy’s column, I did some research looking to find out just who this guy is. I was intruiged when I learned that he is regarded as something of a “fatherhood expert.” That was enough for me to decide that it would be a good idea to interview Jeremy—if for no other reason than to find out just how one becomes an expert in the field of fatherhood. My conversation with Jeremy (below) revealed that he is so much more: a man with a passion for his kids, a passion for helping others, and one heck of a nice guy. For more info on Jeremy Schneider, follow the link at the end of this article.
Ben Martin: You’re recognized now as a “fatherhood expert,” but that can’t be something that happens overnight. How did you get started down this path?
Jeremy Schneider: I always wanted to be a therapist, always wanted to help people…since I was 9 years old or so. When I was finishing college, I realized I wanted to work with families and decided to become a family therapist. When my twins were born my life completely changed, and with it, my focus on how I wanted to help people. I began to focus my experience and knowledge onto becoming a better parent, to exploring my own parenting experiences to better help other parents—especially other Dads.
I don’t really think I do anything more incredible or interesting than most other dads do, but I’d like to think my training and experience help me to articulate it in a way that hopefully connects with other parents—particularly dads.
BM: As a guy that was already focused on families, did you find it easy to transition into the role of being a dad when your kids were born?
JS: No, not at all. In fact, it was the complete opposite. I found becoming a father challenging and even disturbing at first. I write a lot about the lack of connection many fathers feel when their baby is born. Well, I felt that and experienced it all too intensely. But writing about it has made it easier for other dads to admit they felt the same way and to realize they weren’t the only ones. My background didn’t help me transition, but it did help me deal with all of the challenges that came along with the transition—thankfully!
BM: Most dads get their kids one at a time… but you jumped in with two! How did you manage to survive two simultaneous newborns? What are some of the ongoing challenges unique to raising twins?
JS: Yeah, I do wonder what one-at-a-time is like. Obviously, two at a time is more overwhelming than words have any ability to express. If one slept, the other didn’t. If one was having a good day, the other wasn’t. We were twice as likely to have problems, so we had more of them. But if my wife held one, I got to hold the other. While many singleton fathers may walk around the house empty-handed, I always had a baby in my arms when I was at home, and that helped build a relationship with each of my children as well as build my confidence.
I think there are two main challenges in raising twins. One is being able to build an individual relationship with each of my children. With two, my attention is always on both, and I don’t get enough one-on-one time with each of them. One-on-one time means I go with one while my wife is with the other, and it means our family is split up. That’s tough on us. The second huge challenge is even though they are the same exact age, they develop completely differently. They started eating, crawling, walking, using the potty, counting, recognizing letters, etc. all at different times. It is very hard to find the balance between encouraging and supporting the one who is doing something while not inadvertently putting down the other for not doing it yet. I do feel we’ve been better at that than we have at finding the one-on-one time. Oh, there’s always more to work on as a parent isn’t there?
BM: When did you decide to start writing “A Father’s Voice”? What was your inspiration?
I started writing—and still write almost all of my articles—on the train, usually in the morning. The first couple of pieces appeared in my brain and demanded to be written down, and the writing helped me work through some of the challenges I was facing. Since the writing helped me, I started writing more. Then I started sharing them with other parents, and before I knew it I had created “A Father’s Voice” to share them with anyone who wanted to read them. More recently, I started doing the podcast so people could actually hear “A Father’s Voice”—my voice.
BM: From what you’ve seen, are today’s dads more active in their children’s lives? Is fatherhood changing?
JS: I think more dads are more active or involved in their children’s lives. There are still so many men (and even some women) out there who don’t understand the importance of being involved as a father. Involved fathers make such a tremendous difference in the lives of their children, from their self-confidence, self-esteem, and academic achievement, to their level of satisfaction as adults. The impact we dads have on our children when we’re involved is incredible. Unfortunately, most of us know how important dads are because our dads weren’t that involved in our lives. We know we missed out on something important, and we don’t want our kids to miss out on that, too. The problem is many of us dads don’t have good role models. We don’t have someone to look up to as a dad and are often left figuring it out on our own. Publications like The Father Life are helping to create an image of fatherhood that men can strive for, an image that men can recognize themselves in through the articles and issues you publish.
I think the change is only at the beginning and we have so much more to go. Parenting magazines still primarily focus on mothers. Doctors still get surprised when fathers come to pregnancy appointments. Mothers still mostly assume that the responsibility of parenting is theirs and that dads are helpers. I think more dads are “helping,” but it will take some time to truly shift our perspective on parenting to a true equal experience for both moms and dads.
BM: If you could give one piece of advice to someone out there who has just become a dad for the first time, what would it be?
JS: Perspective. Those first few days and weeks—and even months—seem so monumental. Every little thing you do seems so important and it seems so easy to make a mistake, to cause your little baby harm. When my kids were born I didn’t feel a strong connection with them and I thought there was something wrong with me. I remember thinking I should never have become a dad. I had thought I was so sensitive, so connected to my emotions, so aware of how I wanted to be for them, but that powerful connection I expected wasn’t there. It seemed like an insurmountable problem, something I would suffer with for the rest of my life. I know other fathers who have felt the same way. What none of us realized was it was only a few weeks or even months in a relationship that will last for decades. My kids are almost five now, and I only have a vague memory of not feeling really connected to them. I have a relationship with my children that I never believed was even possible. That connection was only missing for a couple of months, but my special relationship with them has already lasted for 4.5 years. Of course, at the time those months felt like an eternity, but it was a blip and something they will never remember. They are growing up with a special relationship with their dad and that is what matters.
Prospective new dads: Try, anyway you can, to retain some perspective in your sleep-deprived lives to remember this is only the beginning. It may be all you know, but it is not all there is and it only gets better from here.
Jeremy Schneider is a fatherhood expert, syndicated columnist, and marriage and family therapist specializing in parenting, relationships and helping people overcome depression. He has been interviewed, published and quoted in media throughout the United States and the rest of the world.
Ben Martin is Editor-In-Chief of The Father Life. He makes his home in the Rochester, NY, area with his wife and four children. Even with the experience of four kids under his belt, Ben is absolutely certain that he would be overwhelmed by twins and thinks that people who survive twins must have some sort of mystical super power.
Ben Martin is the CEO of THE FATHER LIFE. He lives with his wife and five children in the Rochester, NY, area.