LA Baby Show’s Special Honoree: Boot Camp for New Dads

dscf1158-1Editor’s Note: One of the greatest things about the LA Baby Show is being able to help expectant parents feel more confident about raising children by connecting them with local brands and influencers in the childcare world. That’s why we’ve named Boot Camp for Dads one of our special honorees this year, because they have helped over 400,000 new dads prepare for fatherhood with over 200 programs across the country. At the LA Baby Show, you can participate in a Boot Camp for New Dads workshop on November 5-6 from 3:30-4pm. The members of Boot Camp for New Dads will also be at our Dad’s Lounge on both days of the show.

We sat down with Greg Bishop, founder of Boot Camp for New Dads, to discuss his organization and what parents can expect when they sign up for a workshop. To learn more about the Boot Camp for New Dads, visit bootcampfornewdads.org

How would you describe Boot Camp for New Dads?

What we do is prepare men and women to start a family – the basic building block of humanity – together. Our workshops have a coach, and about 10-15 rookies (what we like to call dads or moms-to-be) being oriented by three-four veteran dads or moms who have attended Boot Camp before. The veterans focus on the issues they found most important, describe their experiences, and answer a litany of questions. After being immersed in the life of new dads and their babies for 3 hours, the rookies leave feeling more confident.

When did Boot Camp for New Dads start and how has it evolved over the years?

In 1990, after helping raise nine brothers and sisters and four children of my own, I was very good with babies and decided to help new dads get up to speed on childcare. I started Boot Camp for New Dads by recruiting rookies through a local hospital and asking some friends with babies to join me as veterans. Soon the original rookies started cycling back as veterans and in 1995 I started training other coaches around the country. The workshops are the same as when I started, but the issues – what the veterans found most important – expanded from babies to include mothers, team work, balance, etc.

What can new parents expect from a Boot Camp for New Dads class?

The rookies should expect to be coached by veterans who remember being new parents, and do their best to help rookies prepare for whatever they might encounter. If a dad-to-be says he has no experience with babies, he can expect a veteran to hand him his baby, along with a quick lesson on handling. The rookies should also expect a boost of confidence. It works because the veterans understand how to best support the rookies due to their own experience as dads-to-be. They give back and treat the rookies in the same respectful manner that they experienced and a high degree of trust is quickly established between these men. The veterans who volunteer set a high bar for the new guys, and build their confidence to help them clear it.

What are some of the common topics that dads always look to Boot Camp for help with? 

All of the above, plus handling the birth, what’s in a diaper bag, baby development, child care – there is a broad range of issues when one is getting ready to be a dad. The egg demo is one that sticks with them – the coach talks about the frustrations crying babies generate on sleep deprived dads, and places an egg into in a small glass jar and shakes it to simulate what happens to the baby’s head if you shake a baby.

What’s some of your favorite bits of advice to new dads?

I tell the rookies they are going to get dumped when mom falls madly in love with the short one, explain the science (a baby generates so much oxytocin in mom that she needs less than none from dad), and point out that she will fall back in love with him (i.e., oxytocin generated by dad) after a few months when she sees dad loving, caring for and playing with her baby.

Who are the coaches that train new dads at Boot Camp? 

There are about 400 coaches who have stepped up big time to work with the veterans to get the new guys ready. They are veteran dads and facilitators, and not trainers – you cannot train a man to be a dad. The workshops are not franchises; typically they are programs sponsored by a hospital or community group who pays the coach a stipend to conduct a workshop. A coach starts as a rookie, typically comes back several times as a veteran, and our current coaches will then recommend them to be a coach after watching them as veterans. They also attend a weekend training program where they are assessed, and we have found that professional backgrounds are generally not an asset.

We heard that you’ve also started Boot Camp for New Moms. How is this class different than something offered at Boot Camp for New Dads?

It became clear that moms were the missing piece, so my wife, Alison, started Boot Camp for New Moms in 2012 with one workshop a month in Irvine, and piloted it there for three years before expanding to three Southern California locations. She is also working on adapting the program for the workplace, with a maternity mentoring component, because it’s hard to be engaged at work when you’re struggling at home. Moms-to-be leave Boot Camp telling us they have a better understanding of their partners and they love hearing the moms share their different experiences about so many different topics. Seeing mothers with their babies helps the moms-to-be know they are not alone and gives them confidence they’ll find their own way. Hearing the difference Boot Camp makes as couples are forming their new families is more rewarding than we could have imagined, and the cherry on top was being named the grand prize winner of Clinique + TED’s Next Smart Idea for women.

The structure of the workshop is the same, with a coach leading the discussion, new moms or dads with their babies imparting wisdom, advice and experiences, and moms-to-be or dads-to-be ready to soak it all in. It’s deceptively simple, but very effective! Parents-to-be get real-world takes on what to expect (or not expect) as brand new parents, including conversations to have with their partner, strategies to get ahead of common challenges, and how to keep the relationship with their significant other strong through those first tough months. Some topics are covered in both workshops and some are unique to each group, but no matter what, they’re tackled from the lens of being a mom or dad, so when a couple drives home after attending their Boot Camps, they’ll have a lot to talk about and notes to compare. Moms and dads-to-be tell us the hands-down favorite part of the workshops is the interaction with the new parents and their babies.

Boot Camp for New Dads is a unique father-to-father, community-based workshop that inspires and equips men of different economic levels, ages and cultures to become confidently engaged with their infants, support their mates and personally navigate their transformation into dads.

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