“Daa, da da da daaa, da da daaa. Das, da da da daaa, da da da,” my husband sang the Superman theme as he lifted our one-month-old baby over his face as if she were flying.
“Don’t do that,” I shook my head and scowled. “She’s going to. . .”
SPLAT. White curdled milk slid down my husband’s cheek.
“. . . spit-up,” I sighed in disgust. My heart burned inside me, and my frustration mounted. Why won’t he listen to me? Why won’t he do things my way?
As our children grew, my husband continued to handle situations differently than I did. He liked to rile-up our kids right before bedtime. He wrestled, and teased. He even handled discipline differently than I do. It took me years to realize what my frustration and lecturing of my husband was doing. I was tearing down his confidence. I was frustrated because he didn’t “step-up and help me,” but he was rightly afraid to help because he might “do it wrong.” One day I was talking to a friend and I said, “Just because you do it differently than I do, it doesn’t mean you are wrong.” I can’t remember what the “it” was, but it hit me like a ton of bricks. Just because my husband did parenting different than I did, didn’t mean he did it wrong.
In fact, according to research sited by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, fathers play a significant role in the well-being of their children precisely because they parent differently than mothers. Involved fathers spend more time playing with their children as a leader of the play rather than as a partner in play as mothers do. This helps children develop the ability to work as a team and learn the skill of patience. According to the Administration for Children and Families’ website, “Rough-housing with dad, for example, can teach children how to deal with aggressive impulses and physical contact without losing control of their emotions.”
According to Jennifer Morse in her article, “Parents or Prisons” from Policy Review 2003, “Without two parents, working together as a team, the child has more difficulty learning the combination of empathy, reciprocity, fairness, and self-command that people ordinarily take for granted.” Fathers then, in all the ways they parent differently from mothers, serve an indispensable role.
Since fathers are so important, how can mothers encourage fathers? First, mothers must be willing to let fathers parent differently. Moms should refrain from offering snide comments, disdainful glances, or rolling their eyes when dad parents differently. Instead moms should stay quiet and see how things turn out. Sometimes dad’s ideas will be wildly successful and other times they may bomb, but the same is true for mommy methods. I had to learn to not pre-judge my husband’s ideas. Instead I started holding my tongue and watching what unfolded. It is amazing how my husband experienced some of the wisdom I had tried to verbally impart. When I wasn’t saying, “I told you so,” the impact of his choices on the situation became alive to him. At that point he will sometimes say, “Oh I get it. This is what you meant…”
Mothers also need to refrain from correcting fathers in front of their children. There are times when it may be necessary to confront daddy about his choices, but most often these confrontations can occur behind closed doors without children around. This gives both parents the opportunity to discuss the situation without giving the children the impression that mommy is in charge of daddy. I discovered this lesson when my kids began correcting daddy too. “Daddy STOP! Mommy said…” they would shriek. I could hear my very intonations in the words they mimicked to their dad. Instead of my husband being the leader, I usurped that authority and the kids joined me. I have found that discussions behind closed doors results in fewer misunderstandings and often end in agreement rather than hurt feelings and defensiveness.
Finally, remember fathers need verbal encouragement. Mothers ought to be daddy’s biggest fan. Dads need to know mothers appreciate the time dads spend with the kids. Mothers need to encourage dads to make special time for daddy-daughter dates or guy-time with their son. Mothers should brag about the parenting skills of their husbands. As I began to encourage my husband by saying, “I trust your judgment,” he began to build confidence in his parenting. Now that he is a confident father, he seeks out special outings and looks to pitch-in and help more.
Do you sometimes have difficulties letting dad be dad? Share a way you have encouraged him to be a dad and a way you may have discouraged him as well.