Modern society tells us so many mothers are relentlessly hardworking. Many manage full-time careers, then go home to “cook, clean, and kids.” A time for self-care or miscellaneous indulgence is often completely disregarded, and she usually crawls to bed late after being “everything” to everyone. Arts and entertainment have amplified this symbol of “haggard mom stretched thinly” and has soaked what we watch with the notion, normalizing the look.
Society then pushes the image of the father as the provider and breadwinner, simultaneously exempting him from the rigors of daily household maintenance, except in the cases of honey-do lists on the weekends. Dads are projected as ignorant of how to deal with their own children or have the clueless audacity to demand a home cooked dinner, a beer, and television control until he falls asleep where he has perched for the evening. He is either super authoritarian towards his children or too playful to recognize potential danger.
Moms carry the world. Dads add another burden.
What kind of mess is this? Who created this…this…system?
At the intersection between reality and flat-out incorrect assumption is where a narrative change needs to occur: Millions of dads are present parents, too. So many dads contribute more than just bill-paying to their families. To improve strained domestic relationships and to bolster a necessary sociopolitical modification in how we visualize “mothering” versus “fathering,” we must respect and welcome wide range deviations in parenting styles.
How moms and dads are wired
Most mothers and fathers actively parent towards opposite ends of the spectrum. This is not to say, however, that one formality is better than, or more beneficial than, the other. Add on the fact that it is not realistic to try to encourage a mom to parent “like a dad” or vice versa. Gender societal expectations have come a long way, but biological evolution cannot move but so fast, resulting in many parenting differences that rely on what we naturally do best as a man or as a woman.
According to an article from the website Live Science, strides have been made in the study of gender and the brain; these microbial variances may affect the activity of parenting. “. . .Findings lend support to the view that males may excel at motor skills, while women may be better at integrating analysis and intuitive thinking.” (Lewis, 2013) This patronizes the assertion that fathers are viewed as more physically active with their children while mothers are more nurturing and that, moreover, dads routinely “play” while moms “work.”
However, the characterization that dads are unaware when they are too aggressive in play, or that they do not know how to be serious when needed, is highly skewed and unfair. One benefit, in fact, in what is considered a dad’s “rough and tumble play” is that it “helps with a child’s physical development and coordination in addition to teaching limits and healthy risk-taking,” according to the family empowerment site First Things First. Dads constantly receive the short end of the parenting stick in this regard of a lack of perceptiveness and rationality, but seemingly just because physiological participation is not seen outright as a developmental distinction for a child. “Play,” amongst other dad-centric contributions, is essential.
Dads give children developmental teachings that differ from moms
The lessons of a dad span a space that often lends a companion hand to that of a mom, which can create a complete circle of progression during a child’s and an adolescent’s growth.
For example, dads can “. . .create minor obstacles for kids so that the kids learn in their early life how to overcome issues,” says Margrit Bradley, writer for Health Guidance. “In a way, they indulge in more boundary pushing acts than what moms do. Dads are [also] said to be more practical in life. A father’s way of training the kids involve coaching on how to deal with hard times with positive attitude and social performance.” (Bradley)
Children who grow up with a dad figure receive a real-life mirror with which to learn from and reflect upon. “Fathers support ‘novelty-seeking’ behaviors, such as encouraging children to explore their environment,” notes the article from First Things First. “Dads also are more likely to let kids master tasks on their own before stepping in to help.” Additionally, dads “discipline by using more real-life consequences” and adapt their speech patterns to benefit their children: “. . .with older children, they tend to use more ‘adult’ language–bigger words and longer sentences.” (“Dads and Moms Parent Differently,” 2012)
Many dads take their children out for hikes or construct something special in the garage. Dads may go bicycle-riding or push their children on swings in the park. Video game playing opens a dialogue between dad and child. Even a quick 60-second act as a ride on dad’s shoulders or a flight through the air at the expense of dad’s arms gives a child a unique interactive experience with dad that does not rival those with mom—they just round out a child’s continuing maturation and memory-building.
Moms can change the narrative about dads
A mom must be open in communicating about needs and institute a compromise with dad that can work best for the whole family, particularly if she feels she needs more help at home. Balance must be met; otherwise, mom stays stressed, dad stays out of mom’s way, and the kids learn lessons the parents passively teach. Mom speaks loudly by leaving unspoken needs scattered about on the floor, instead of out on the table for sorting and settlement.
If moms appreciate the contributions dads make towards their children’s development, moms should first express that gratitude, then feel free to erect the family structure around the individual strengths of the two in charge. She can be empowered to stand up for what dads signify and negotiate early and often. It may be quite alright, for instance, for a child to take a study break with dad to wash the car at sundown, as long as everyone is in agreement that the child must return to studying in a certain time period and that dad is available to help review for the test.
Furthermore, moms should ward away fear when the children are out with dad. This strengthens confidence. Dads carry the same level of management and commitment regarding their children as moms do, with the exception that dads seldom wear it on their sleeves. Children should be openly permitted to travel with dad, hunt with dad, shop with dad, get matching haircuts, and any other entertainment undertaking, as long as mom and dad have equally fostered a conversation regarding what the family values as a whole. “Then, as you parent together, you can be united on the things that matter and identify the best way to get the values embraced in any given situation,” says Wayne Parker, writer at The Spruce. “The ‘greater good’ will help you find the right approach.”
Finally, moms must find healthier ways to dealing with stress. It will always be around, but the children will not be.
Dads can change the narrative about moms
There are many incentives to having a significant other who cares so much about the comfort of her family that she’d virtually walk hot coals to ensure that all in her reach runs smoothly. Instead of observing a mom’s potential Type A habits as something disruptive or annoying, dads can reprogram themselves to defend for those routines.
Dads have to consider that a mom commonly has an emotional bond with their children that he does not have, which can encourage her to be much more worried and verbal about that worry. Therefore, care must be made in phrasing responses to what can sound like badgering. Parker says, “Mothers generally put their children’s needs ahead of their own. She seems to come ‘pre-wired’ to self-sacrifice.”
This also means that it is not okay to suggest that a mom should just leave the dishes in the sink or the clothing on the floor for the night. A statement of this magnitude may come with some backlash. Samantha Rodman says it best in her article: “Women are judged differently, and judgment matters. . .We all use proxy variables. In society, there is a baseline expectation that your home does not look like an alley in Calcutta. . .Keeping a fairly normal looking home is a proxy variable for ‘understands how society works.'” Specifically, if a mom views her home as her castle, she will work all night to clean it, whether or not dad or the kids object, just to get up and do it all again tomorrow.
With this in mind, volunteering to help her finish a task is not only good human decency, but looks great and can score dad major cool points. Put a load of laundry in the dryer. Vacuum the crumbs from the kids’ rooms. If the baby is having a tough day and laying at mom’s feet as she makes dinner in the kitchen, comfort the baby and entertain her with a game until mom is done the cooking.
If dad is more open to assisting mom in maintaining a respectable level of daily cleanliness in the home, chores are done sooner, mom and dad both get to relax longer, and there’s a better possibility of a happier home. Moms usually just seek a bit of verbal affirmation. Running the vacuum lets her know that dad values her physical rest as much as his own and tells her that he wants them to all get to that rest period sooner rather than later.
Moms and dads alike must learn to accept the importance of the entire stream of parenting–accept that children learn from both mom and dad–so that we won’t drive one another, and our children, crazy with complaints. Unaddressed emotions and defensive behavior can break a family apart. Peace of mind and quality of life are both paramount in our world so unrested.
Bradley, Margrit. “Dads are Different Than Moms—That’s a Good Thing for Kids.” Health Guidance, n.d., http://www.healthguidance.org/entry/13659/1/Dads-Are-Different-Than-Moms–Thats-a-Good-Thing-for-Kids.html. Accessed 23 Feb. 2017.
“Dads and Moms Parent Differently.” First Things First, 2012, http://firstthings.org/dads-and-moms-parent-differently/. Accessed 23 Feb. 2017.
Lewis, Tanya. “How Men’s Brains are Wired Differently Than Women’s.” Live Science, 2013 Dec. 2, http://www.livescience.com/41619-male-female-brains-wired-differently.html. Accessed 23 Feb. 2017.
Parker, Wayne. “Balancing the Parenting Styles of Fathers and Mothers.” The Spruce, 2016 Mar. 11, https://www.thespruce.com/balancing-parenting-styles-1270915. Accessed 23 Feb. 2017.
Rodman, Samantha. “7 Reasons Your Wife is Stressed Out All the Time.” The Huffington Post, 2015 Dec. 5, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/samantha-rodman-phd/7-reasons-your-wife-is-st_b_6621940.html. Accessed 24 Feb. 2017.