We all have emotions — men and women express them differently

Q: I’ve noticed that since I became a dad, I’ve been much more emotional. Is that normal?

Q: I’ve noticed that since I became a dad, I’ve been much more emotional. Is that normal?

A: In a word, yes. People often complain that men are “out of touch” with our emotions or that we suppress them. Before I became a dad, I think I might have agreed. But since then, I strongly disagree. Fathers —especially those who are actively involved with their children —feel tremendous joy, anger, affection, fear, and anxiety. The problem is that men in our society don’t generally have places where we can safely express our feelings. We’re supposed to be the tough guy, the stoic provider-protector. It’s hard for most men to talk about their deepest emotions with their male friends. And it’s even harder for us to talk about them —especially the so-called negative ones —with the women in our lives.

As a result, we learn to regulate our emotions. But please remember: regulating is not the same as suppressing. “The ability to control one’s own impulses in the service of caring for one’s children and emotionally supporting one’s spouse would seem to be an important marker of maturity,” write family researchers Phil and Carolyn Cowan. Nevertheless, don’t forget that you provide a crucial model for how your child learns to express her own emotions —fear, anger, disappointment, sadness, happiness, and excitement.

Besides regulating our emotions, fathers undergo a variety of other changes in how we experience and react to the world around us. Here are some of the many ways men say that being a dad has broadened their emotional range.

Empathy. Learning to see the world from another person’s perspective (in this case, your child’s) is what empathy is all about. Very young children don’t disguise their emotions, and the more time you spend getting to know your children, the more aware you’ll be of their feelings and how they see the world.

Expressiveness. Seeing how emotionally expressive your child can be and helping her express and accept her feelings (from “I love you” to “I’m sad because my feelings are hurt”) may allow you to accept and express your own feelings more readily.

Selflessness. Another major marker of maturity is the ability to take pleasure in doing something for someone else —without any expectation of repayment.

Sensitivity. Try to equate your child’s bruised and unhappy feelings with physical bruises. This is exactly the approach taken by one father interviewed by parent-child communication experts Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. “Somehow the image of a cut or laceration helped him realize that his son required as prompt and serious attention for his hurt feelings as he would for a hurt knee,” they write.

Outrage. I know that before I was a father, I had seen plenty of parents hit or even abuse their children. I’m sure it bothered me —but not the way it bothers me now. And I’m more bothered by reading or watching reports of kidnapped or murdered children than I ever was before I had children of my own.

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