Reading about fathers, mothers, children, families and related topics, it’s inevitable that one runs into descriptions of the different parenting styles of mothers and fathers. Material on that is quite common and worth reading as long as you take it with a grain of salt.
Tendencies are after all just that and nothing more. So mothers and fathers tend to behave differently in their parenting roles, but not always and not always in the same ways.
Generally speaking though, mothers tend to be more verbal and physically restrictive with children, while fathers tend to be more physical and allow more freedom. Mothers often hold infants facing them while fathers hold them facing outward.
Those are simple and by no means universal observations about parental behavior, and of course there are many more.
One important conclusion that comes from the male and female parental stereotypes is that, when a child has two parents, a sort of synergy between the two exists that exposes the child to differing styles, both of which are beneficial and which tend to complement each other.
One thing that tends to corroborate that conclusion is that, parents without partners tend to take on some of the behavior of the opposite sex. So single mothers move closer to dads’ ways of parenting and single fathers edge toward the maternal ways. To me that looks like a sort of unspoken acknowledgement of the differences in- and validity of- both styles of parenting.
Here’s a short article that features nurse and midwife Jane Barry answering a mother’s question about her husband’s parenting of their kids.
My children love to play rough-and-tumble games with their dad, but I worry that these could teach them to be bullies. My husband says it didn”t do him any harm and his dad played like this with him and his brothers. Is this likely to have an impact?
Now, parenthetically I can’t help but noticing that, to this mother, their children are her children.
Into the bargain, since the suicide of high-school age Phoebe Prince about a year ago, there has been a small avalanche of “awareness” by all and sundry about “bullying.”
So I suppose I should have seen coming the idea that fathers’ physical play produces bullying behavior in children. After all, men do it and it’s physical, so it must surely be a precursor to the violence that men generally are reputed to tolerate, promote and enjoy. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a “study” on that very topic any time.
So it’s good to see Jane Barry injecting some wisdom into the discourse.
Her answer is that this type of fathering is good for kids. Why? Because children involved in it learn the limits of play. They learn when physicality is acceptable and when it’s not. They learn what kinds of physical play are appropriate and what kinds aren’t. In short, far from promoting violence, “rough and tumble” play does the opposite. Kids who engage in it with an adult learn where the lines are that they may not cross.
Not only that, the kids are developing, on a visceral level, a closeness with their dad.
Their bonding and attachment, emotional closeness and connection with their dad are all being built on as they roll around on the floor.
Even though this type of play can appear rough, it is a great way to support your children”s neurological development and build on their emotional and social skills…
When done well, rough play teaches kids about boundaries, how to be sensitive to others and when to pull back and regain self-control.
There was a time we knew all that without having to consult an expert. But forty years of attacks on dads and families take a long time to undo and Jane Barry is obviously someone we can rely on to do her part.
In an aside, Barry tells her readers
There are distinct and measurable differences in the ways in which men and women parent. It”s worth remembering that dads are not the support act in raising their children, they contribute enormously to how their children grow and develop.
“Remembering that dads are not the support act” is in fact something everyone, including family court judges would be well advised to do. The phrase “not just another pair of hands,” when referring to fathers, has been around for a long time, but a lot of people don’t seem to want to hear that message.
The popular view of fathers as simply imperfect mothers has gained acceptance over the past few decades for, I suspect, a number of reasons. One is the attack on the family. If fathers are just poor mothers, then who needs them? And that of course is the sermon that’s been preached by plenty of people throughout our recent Dark Ages. It can’t be an accident that the rise in out-of-wedlock childbearing coincided precisely with the seemingly endless repetition of that sermon.
One corollary to that concept is that the more his parental behavior resembles that of the mother, the better parent dad is. As Barry makes clear, that’s a fundamentally flawed notion, but that doesn’t keep it from being a common one.
Indeed, about a year ago, I reported on a study of same sex parenting whose authors accepted without question the idea that parental behavior typically engaged in by mothers is good, useful and nurturing whereas that engaged in by fathers was at best suspect. Again, the more like her he becomes, the better, at least in the minds of those researchers.
And need I point out that family court judges seem to think the same thing? As I’ve said before, dads whose main contribution is support of the family including the mother, are second-class citizens in divorce court. Is what they do for their children less important than what the mothers do? Not according to most reputable social scientists, but judges go their merry way regardless.