Q. My husband and I parent very differently. He is laid back, lives in the moment and has fun with our kids by doing simple things at home or in the neighborhood. On the other hand, I am more structured with our kids. I’m a planner and a doer who likes to stay busy and coordinate activities for our children that get them out doing things. I wonder if our differences are good for our young kids, or if it’s confusing to them. Would it be better for them if we were more consistent in our parenting styles?
A. Dads contribute many positive attributes to the family, attributes different from those of mom. In this month when we celebrate Father’s Day, we can take a look at what fathers tend to offer their children:It possibly would help the children if you and your husband were a little closer together in your style of parenting instead of being exact opposites, but depending on your children’s personalities, your differences could be meeting their different needs. It’s also important to acknowledge that the different parenting styles of fathers and mothers complement each other.
- Fathers usually have a slower response to a young child who is showing signs of frustration. This slower response has the effect of promoting problem solving in the child. Especially as children get older, Dad (and Mom, too) can ask: “How would you solve this problem?” rather than solving problems for their children.
- Dads usually play rougher than moms and encourage risk taking in children. Because of risk taking, children become more self-confident and have higher self-esteem.
- Children learn skills from fathers, such as how to change a car tire or how to use tools to build projects. Teaching is one of the most important things a father does.
- Fathers tend to encourage competition. They promote acceptable behavior around losing as well as winning.
- Research finds that a key factor in developing empathy in kids is the involvement of their father. When Dad spends time alone with his children, they are likely to become empathetic adults.
- Fathers provide the male role model and influence children’s future relationships with others. Children typically value qualities their father has. Girls usually look for these qualities when deciding on a mate. Boys have dad to provide a glimpse into the male world and what a man values.
- Children often look to dad for rules and a sense of security that comes from knowing the rules. Mom and Dad need to agree on rules and to enforce them equally. Rules that dads often enforce have to do with values such as honesty and respect. The best dads I know insist that the children show respect to their mother as well as to others.
I find that most dads today want to be nurturing parents. They tend to want to be better parents than their own dads. They want to raise kids who are better than they are.
In your situation, it could be helpful for you and your husband to discuss each of your roles and contributions as parents. Then, you’ll find your way to strike a good balance that uniquely benefits the entire family.
Betty Richardson, PhD, RN, CS, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist.