Unmarried Dads Have Rights Too


60Dear Mr. Dad: My girlfriend is pregnant and we’re having some major relationship problems. I don’t think we’re going to make it. I’ve been very open about wanting to be a big part of our child’s life no matter what, but she has already started excluding me. She doesn’t tell me when her doctor visits are and refuses to take a labor and delivery class with me. I’m worried that she’ll keep excluding me after the baby arrives. What can I do? Do I have any rights here?

A: Over the years, I’ve interviewed a number of attorneys about this exact subject and many of them have told me the same thing: that dads—even if they’re not married to their child’s mother—have almost as many rights as mothers. But they almost always add that courts are generally more likely to enforce mothers’ rights than dads’.

Before you do anything else, I suggest that you talk with a lawyer. If you’re worried about the money, there are a lot of organizations that offer free or low-cost advice, as well as help filling out all the papers and getting them to the right places at the right time. It’s essential that you do this now: mistakes made in the early stages of a custody issue can lead to all sorts of problems later. Be aware that many legal clinics are reluctant to help fathers.

Once you’ve got that process started, take a few minutes and think about what may be going on in your soon-to-be-ex’s mind. To start with, all those pregnancy-related hormonal ups and downs can affect her behavior. Besides that, being a single mother isn’t easy and she’s probably concerned about making ends meet, daycare, where she’s going to live, and how she’s going to be able to raise a child by herself.

You have three goals: first, to show her that you understand what she’s going through; second, to show her that you really want to be involved in your child’s life; and third, to make sure that involvement actually becomes a reality. Something as simple as telling her that you’ll be available to care for the baby when she goes back to work (assuming that’s true)—will help you achieve all of those goals.

There’s also a fourth goal, although this one’s harder to accomplish: to educate her about the many ways your involvement will benefit the baby and the mom (besides providing support, which, of course, you’re legally and ethically obligated to do). For example, your involvement during the pregnancy reduces the risk that the baby will be born prematurely and that the mom will suffer from post-partum depression.

If the two of you can’t have a civil discussion—or at least a rational one—see if you can find someone you both trust to make your case.

Hopefully, her current, unreasonable attitude will turn out to be temporary. Once the baby is born and she has the time to recover, her thinking might be less guided by emotions and more by the desire to raise the child in the best possible conditions, that is, with the presence of a loving and supportive father.

If she doesn’t reach that conclusion on her own, talk to your lawyer about what you need to do to ensure that your rights (and your child’s) are protected. And don’t forget about your responsibilities. Putting money aside for your child (starting now) and documenting everything you do to fight for your right to see him or her will show a judge that you’re committed to being an involved dad.

Brotherly Love, Faith, and a Race That Changed a Family’s Life

Jenny Long, author of Expect a Miracle.
A mother’s tale of brotherly love, faith, and the race that changed a family’s life.
Issues: The incredible, moving, and inspiring story of brothers Conner and Cayden. Cayden has spastic cererbral palsy and can’t walk or talk. But Conner dreamed about playing sports with his little brother and entered a triathlon with him. Since 2011, they’ve competed in more than 20 traiathlons together.

Happy Kid Handbook + Expect a Miracle

Katie Hurley, author of The Happy Kid Handbook.
How to raise joyful children in a stressful world.
Issues: Understanding childre’s personalities and temperaments; teaching children how to regulate their emotions; helping children discover the importance of empathy; teaching assertiveness skills; reducing children’s stress and anxiety; helping kids cope with frustration.

Jenny Long, author of Expect a Miracle.
A mother’s tale of brotherly love, faith, and the race that changed a family’s life.
Issues: The incredible, moving, and inspiring story of brothers Conner and Cayden. Cayden has spastic cererbral palsy and can’t walk or talk. But Conner dreamed about playing sports with his little brother and entered a triathlon with him. Since 2011, they’ve competed in more than 20 traiathlons together.

Shooting Stars

Little kids have access to more technology than ever before. And one of their favorite activities is taking pictures. For parents, the challenge is finding inexpensive, good-quality, easy-to-use cameras. This week we look at two devices that satisfy all three requirements, as well as some toys that make use of an alternate definition of “shoot,” and something that’ll help instill some order into your spring and summer.

kidizoom smart watchKidizoom Smart Watch DX (VTech)
VTech has packed an amazing number of features into one kid-friendly smart watch. For example, your little one can take photos, shoot videos, play games, and record his or her voice. He or she can also use the Smart Watch DX as a pedometer, timer, alarm, and, gasp, as an actual watch (choose a clock display from among more than 50 analog or digital options). It’s all accessible through an easy-to-use touch screen display. The rechargeable battery lasts anywhere from a day to two weeks, depending on usage. And the internal memory can store a day’s worth of pics and vids that Mom or Dad can USB over to your computer for editing. The DX watch is splash- and sweat proof, but not intended for underwater use. Ages 4+. $44.99 www.vtechkids.com


snap petSnap Pets (WowWee)
Snap Pets are cute, easy-to-use, Bluetooth cameras that are great for taking selfies, group shots, and more. It all starts by pairing the free app with your Pet (they come in a variety of colors and animals). Once that’s done, you can start shooting. Sometimes it’s hard—especially for people with small hands—to hold the phone for a selfie and push the shutter button without messing up the shot or dropping the phone. But Snap Pet gives you several options. The Pet is small enough to fit in a child’s hand and all you do is hold it at arm’s length and push the button on its head. Your selfie is automatically Bluetoothed over to your phone or tablet. Want to include yourself in a group action shot? No problem. Just put your Pet down, set the timer, and start dancing. Phone ran out of juice? No problem there either. The Snap Pet can store up to 20 pics that you can download, edit, and share with your besties later. Ages 6+. About $29.95. www.wowwee.com

air warrior blastersAir Warrior blasters (Buzz Bee Toys)
Taking pics isn’t the only kind of shooting kids like. And Buzz Bee (now part of the Alex Brands family—and you know how we love Alex!) has a whole collection of fun, safe, blasters for the whole family. All of them shoot foam suction darts and offer a wonderful opportunity to talk to kids about gun safety. The Predator launches those darts up to 30 feet; the Snipe sends them flying up to 72 feet; and the Tyrant blasts as far as 80 feet. Ages 6+. Prices vary. http://www.buzzbeetoys.com

epson labelworks label makerLabelWorks Label Printers (Epson)
Winter is barely underway, but we’re already starting to think about spring cleaning and even plan for the summer, both of which involve plenty of organization. For those of us with not-very-legible handwriting, creating labels for files or trying to put a child’s name on the inside of a piece of clothing is a frightening prospect. Epson’s LabelWorks line makes that a lot easier. Depending on the unit and the label material, you can create just about any kind of label, including crack-and-peel, tape, and iron-on. Kits generally come with several label cartridges and a keyboard that prints letters, numbers, symbols, emojis, and a lot more. Prices vary. www.epson.com/labelworks

Are the Holidays Really So Close?

As temperatures drop and family playtime starts moving indoors, you’ll find yourself wanting to break out (or acquire) new playthings for your little ones. Here are some adorable options that we’re sure will make their way onto your holiday wish lists (yes, we’re already thinking about the Holidays).

zoomer chomplingzZoomer Jester and Zoomer Chomplingz
Last week we introduced you to Zoomer Kitty. Now it’s time to meet her new, prehistoric relatives. Zoomer Jester is a new species of Zoomer Dino, called the Jokeasaurus, and, as you might guess, he loves to make you laugh. Balanced on two wheels, Zoomer Jester can spin around, chomp, and growl. Yes, he can get angry, but he also giggles. He detects movement with his nose and you can control him by using your hands or the remote control. He’s eager to please and if you’re patient, he’ll “learn” tricks. When you’re done playing, be sure to charge him up so he’ll be ready to go for the next round of fun. Prices vary. Available in stores like Toys R Us and Amazon. Zoomer Chomplingz are mini versions of Zoomer Dinos, but they deliver just as much fun. With mouth- and nose sensors that detect motion, they’re quite interactive. They also come with a bone to play catch with. These little guys make all sorts of noises (including gas, which just about guarantees that the kids—and dad—will love them even more). Set your Chomplingz to “guard mode” and they’ll protect your room (or your dinner!) and will ferociously growl at those that dare to trespass. Three different Chomplingz are available everywhere, and five are exclusive to a specific store (i.e. Walmart or Toys R Us). Check http://zoomerdino.com  for pricing and info on where to buy your favorite.

cloud petCloud Pets
When bedtime looms, these cuddly, plush companions from Jay at Play are good for a lot more than snuggles. Just download the free app from the Apple Store or Google Play and you (or grandma or grandpa or anyone else) can record a message for your child. You can send the message from anywhere, but not directly to the Cloud Pet—it has to go through a Bluetooth-enabled device that’s in the same room. A blinking red light lets your child know that a new message is waiting; they just squeeze the Pet’s paw to hear it. Kids can reply to the message in the same way—from their pet to the nearby device, and on to Dad or Mom in Timbuktu. Comes in Puppy, Kitty, Teddy, Bunny, Elephant, or Unicorn. http://cloudpets.com.


little bits gizmos and gadgetsGizmos & Gadgets (LittleBits)
This kit is great fun for kids who enjoy building, tinkering, and inventing. Gizmos & Gadgets comes with all the materials, electronic building blocks, tools, and detailed instruction they’ll need to design and build more than 15 projects, including a functioning racecar and a bubble machine (more are available on the LittleBits website or through their free app). And of course, there’s no limit to the number they can come up with on their own. Learn more at http://littlebits.cc/shop

strawberry shortcakeStrawberry Shortcake 35th Anniversary Edition
For the Strawberry Shortcake lover in your life—or the girl who grew up in the 80’s—there’s a cute Strawberry Shortcake Classic 35th Anniversary Edition Small Doll, who looks and smells just like she did way back when… This special edition reproduction of the original doll is exclusive to Target for $10. If you’re looking for something cuddlier, consider the Strawberry Shortcake Classic Rag Doll 35th Anniversary Edition. She’s great to take along on trips, put in your baby stroller, and tuck into bed with your child at night. At $20, she’s also great for collectors.