It’s a crowded party on a Thursday evening. It’s standing room only in the main area with streamers everywhere and a cake just waiting to be cut. Women, men and children of every age line the walls, crouch on the floor and huddle in every corner. It’s full of noise and smiles as songs fill the room, voices joining together.
A little girl in a tutu and a tiara begs her father to twirl her to the music. He does his best in the crowded space and she gleefully completes her ballerina spin. Father and daughter both burst into giggles as she stumbles but still finishes with a flourish and a bow.
It’s the one year anniversary of the United Way-funded Perinatal Fatherhood Initiative at the Children’s Home Society of Florida. As usual, tonight’s meeting starts off with singing with the children and playing games before the dads split off into their own group meeting in the specially designed “man cave” — a space complete with couches and television.
Designed originally as a program for expecting or new parents, the initiative helps parents learn about child development and parenting skills. Through emotional support and mentoring, the program gives new parents the foundation needed to bond with their children.
After several years of the occasional brave dad attending the predominantly female group, several got together and asked to form their own father’s section.
“Having a fathers-only peer group gives them a safe place to talk,” says Perinatal Initiative Director Jo Howard. “They can discuss issues they’re facing, questions they have and be a support network for each other.”
Topics discussed in the United Way-funded Perinatal Fatherhood Initiative often include appropriate discipline and effective techniques, communicating with a small child and common challenges new parents face as a couple. The sessions are relaxed and casual in nature, allowing for open discussion and honest exchanges.
“Our goal was maybe 15 dads for the first year,” said Howard. “But after one year, we have almost 30 dads who take part in this.”
First time parents until their first child reaches age 3 are welcome. Many parents grew up in stressful or neglectful homes and want better for their own children. Others are simply overwhelmed and do not know what to do as parents. Either way, all parents are joined together by a common goal: To surround their children with love, safety and a nurturing environment.
United Way is focused on developing healthy children and families for the betterment of the community. Through initiatives like the Perinatal Fatherhood Initiative, we foster supportive conditions at home, allowing all generations to thrive together and build a better life.
For more information about the Children’s Home Society of Florida, please visit www.chsfl.org.