Time Out to Consider Dad: Saturday’s New York Times (6/19/10), in anticipation of Father’s Day, published an article by Tara Parker Pope entitled “For Fathers, A Tough Balancing Act”. The article and a similar piece in the New York Times November 2, 2009 by Laurie Tarkan “Fathers Gain Respect From Experts (and Mothers)” inspired me to address a topic that has been on my mind for many years: that Dads are doing a far better job as partners in child rearing than often acknowledged by their spouses.
Who Deserves “Most Stressed”: Parker Pope’s piece describes the findings of researchers measuring stress on today’s dads who attempt to balance work demands while trying to spend more time with children and chores (a dilemma well known to women). For years, women have been the focus of concern regarding familial stress, work and parenting, and rightfully so. But now men are rushing to be at two places at once, on the soccer field or the chorus performance and at their computers, driving their trucks, or flying to board meetings. They are measuring domestically “stressed” on the charts now too.
Partnership In Parenting: Tarken’s article touched on the work of Kyle Pruett and Marsha Kline Pruett whose book Partnership in Parenting should be on every family’s shelf. The Pruetts, and other experts on family relations, observe that dads are often marginalized by the culture and their wives for either not parenting the “right way”, or undeserving of an equal vote on child rearing because of years of absenteeism on the job. These observations confirm my clinical experience as well: men often express feeling hurt and frustrated that no matter what they do with their children, their wives are never satisfied; “it is never good enough”. Instead of appreciation, or no comment, the men get a scolding. All of which leads me to suggest that if you are puzzled as to why your husband does not pitch in more, ask him if he ever feels that way. And be prepared to listen. He has a point. If you want someone to help you, praise them for their help. Don’t chastise them for not doing it your way or they will eventually give up ….as children do….trying at all.
Flowers Not Good Enough: Years ago a husband told me that he stopped buying his wife gifts because no matter what he bought her, she never liked it. So he just gave her money, or flowers. Finally, after she criticized his flower choices enough times, he gave that up too. The experience of many men regarding caring for their children is of a similar nature: after awhile, they give up the flowers/their children.
Difference in Parenting: The Benefits: What is often seen as “wrong” by moms (whose vision of good parenting may need some updating to include two interested but stylistically different parents) may actually be quite useful. Fathers are the guardians of separation; they teach our children to move on, leave home, need less of the breast and more of the brawn. Not burdened by “perfect mom syndrome”, they may provide some objectivity, less judgment and a soupcon of pragmatism. Their psychological influence can help mothers relinquish guilt and fearfulness and see strengths and destiny in their offspring. A father’s take on a child may be just the perspective needed by mom to help both child and parent take that next big leap to independence.
A Hot House for Observation: Recurrent themes include fathers using humor, playfulness and buddy-ship with their kids while paying no heed to bedtime schedules and dietary enforcement. Wives who see great injustice in dad’s welcome home to an enthusiastic audience eager to play while they are left to enforce the rules, discipline the children to do their homework, catch the bus and eat their broccoli. Hubby ‘s playfulness is viewed as undermining his bride’s efforts to do a good job. Understandable. Research shows that moms, no matter if they are stay at home, work full-time or part-time, feel and often are more responsible for their family’s smooth and safe operation. But the rub here is that dads are trying harder and care more yet are often villainized (not too strong a word if you are sitting in my viewer’s seat) for their fathering styles because they don’t replicate those of their wives. Our culture contributes to the lack of recognition of dads efforts as legitimate child care givers, addressing most child rearing news and information to moms. Moms are considered, and they consider themselves, to be THE EXPERTS on raising children.
New Ideas To Float Out There: I think Moms are still the experts! Yes, I do. They have been on the front lines of parenting far longer: take the job seriously and view motherhood as a main thread of their very identity. Fathers have been the “providers”, less about child rearing and more about bringing home the bread. But that has changed and women have made that change occur by insisting on and expecting far more from their husbands as parents than their moms ever did of their fathers. And women have become excellent providers themselves. However, increasingly dads have wanted to be an active part of their child’s lives, often articulating a desire to be more hands on than their own fathers. So we did it! Now let’s enjoy it. Fathers can be appreciated for taping their inner child in order to join their children in play. Fathers can push harder for more independence and less coddling……and fathers can be welcomed home with open arms, without moms feeling undermined or the heavy. That is where the Coupledom comes in to play.
How To Share and Respect The Parenting Roles: As always, nothing beats sitting down, spouse to spouse, and discussing how each of you views your role as parent. Read books such as the Pruetts’ Partnership in Parenting, and review them together. If you don’t have time to read the whole book, pick out relevant chapters and talk about what is feasible in your household. Couples birth order, their parents style of child rearing, religious and ethnic backgrounds, peer pressures, all influence expectations of the parenting job. Taking time to uncover belief systems, access new information and factor in individual styles, will enable couples to meld together a far better parenting contract; one that is open to the rewards of difference…..rather than the insistence on sameness. And who benefits? Absolutely Everyone!
Seek Out Experts If Stuck: And don’t wait for hindsight and regret. Improve the partnership now and reap the benefits tomorrow.
©jill edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2010