When it comes to raising kids, it can be tough for moms to concede that their male counterparts are often just as good as they are (and in some cases better). According to Nancy Buck, PhD, developmental psychologist and founder of Peaceful Parenting, Inc., "Women often come to motherhood with the mistaken belief that they're naturally better at parenting." However, the reality is that men and women tend to have differing parenting styles, and kids need and benefit from both, says Kyle Pruett, MD, child psychologist at the Yale University Child Study Center, and coauthor of "Partnership Parenting." Read on to find out seven classic "Dad" approaches to raising and caring for children — and the parenting lessons you can learn from them.
1. Get physical.
Tickling. Wrestling. Tossing in the air. Generally, you're more likely to find dads doing the physical stuff with their kids, while moms worry that someone's going to get hurt. But, as hard as it can be for some moms to watch this kind of rowdy behavior, Dad is actually engaged in his own form of bonding. According to Dan Pearce, blogger at Single Dad Laughing, what Mom might call roughhousing, a dad would call love. Mom holds and hugs and cuddles; he dangles the kid upside down (and probably has him shrieking with joy, too). "It's a natural desire on the part of parents and children to bond physically, and men more often respond to that with physical play," says Dr. Buck. So don't be so worried that Dad is showing affection the "wrong" way. Unless he's completely clueless — which is very rare! — he won't hurt the youngster, who is much sturdier than he looks. "Look at it in a positive way," says Dr. Buck. "Think, 'Isn't it wonderful that he wants to bond with the baby and has found a way to do that?'"
2. Advocate independence.
As a general rule, "men push for their children's freedom and independence because they feel that urge themselves," says Dr. Buck. That translates into a dad who thinks it's perfectly fine — even good — for his eight-year-old to ride his bike to the store solo, or for his five-year-old to climb to the top of the jungle gym. "I am constantly floored and thrilled to see my son become more independent, while my wife mourns it, wishing he would stay a baby forever," says Pearce. Instead of resisting your child's urge for self-reliance, embrace the male perspective by realizing that you're both interested in the same end-game: raising an independent adult. Ultimately, there's plenty of room for both cheering your child's independence, and also feeling sentimental about the past.
3. Don't be so quick to judge other parents.
For some reason, if you see another mother making what you feel is a mistake — no jacket on a chilly day, fries for a toddler's lunch — a mom is probably more likely to judge her than a dad might be. Why? "We moms believe we were born with the gene that tells us what to do with kids at any given moment," says Dr. Buck. However, the danger that comes with judging others, she says, is that we end up being far too hard on ourselves as a result. Judgment is a dead end, adds Dr. Buck. It doesn't give you a chance to wonder if perhaps the other mom forgot the jacket, or if fries are a rare lunch (and a small price to pay for peace). If Dad is less apt to leap to parental judging — and seems happier and more relaxed for it — why not try to copy his style?
4. Don't over-plan every outing.
You know exactly what to pack for an afternoon at the playground. You know about emergencies and contingencies, and while you may never actually need that box of bandages or those granola bars, you keep them with you just in case. Meanwhile, Dad can leave the house with nothing but the kid and his keys. "Men spend more time focusing on the big picture than on the details," says Dr. Pruett. "Going out and having a fun day is more important than worrying about a full diaper or a late lunch." See his side by zeroing in on your child's demeanor after an adventurous outing that didn't include four kinds of snacks and an overstuffed diaper bag. Did she have fun? Did it matter that her shirt didn't match her shorts and her hair clips are missing? Nope. That should clearly demonstrate that occasionally winging it is also fine.
5. Don't give in to guilt.
Give a mother two seconds and she'll find something to feel guilty about — from how many hours she spends at the office to how well she handles her kids as a stay-at-home mom. Much of maternal guilt, says Dr. Buck, "comes from the mistaken belief that we mothers are supposed to be 'perfect' and that we're supposed to naturally know how to care for children." Men, by contrast, don't necessarily enter into parenting with the feeling that they have to get everything right, so they often have less guilt. And they may be on to something, since feeling as if you can't do anything right can be corrosive and lead you to second-guess your choices, rather than create the best life out of whatever decisions you've made. If Dad never seems to feel guilty when it comes to the kids, take a minute to ask yourself why you do. (For example, maybe declaring your guilt is a way of saying, "See? I'm a good mother! Good mothers feel guilty!”) To get to the root of the issue Dr. Buck suggests asking yourself, "Why do I feel guilty? Is it because I feel like I should? Does it do me any good?" By realizing the source of your guilt as well as not associating it with being a "good" parent, you'll likely become a much happier mom.
6. Allow kids to experience uncomfortable emotions.
Picture this: The laces on your first-grader's soccer cleats have come undone, and he has stooped down to fix them. Not being very adept at tying his shoelaces just yet, he's fumbling and failing. As a mom, your urge is to rush over and help him — not because you don't want him to learn how to tie, but because it's hard for you to see him frustrated, not to mention sad, hurt or embarrassed. Dad, on the other hand, is more likely to hold back to give him a chance to keep trying. A little frustration, he might reason, will do the kid some good. Instead of viewing your husband's choice to let his children feel frustrated and thwarted as "mean," try seeing it as he does: an opportunity to grow. Really, says Dr. Pruett, "both approaches are right." But if Dad is urging you to hold off while your child figures it out on his own, do it; you might find that your child is successful before long, and that's a win for everyone.
7. Don't try to follow parenting "rules" to the letter.
You read all the parenting books and know that every diaper change or bath can present an opportunity to bond, that you feed an infant cereal before pureed steak and that even 10 minutes of television is 10 too many for a young child. But Dad didn't necessarily read those books — most likely because he's simply not as emotionally invested in "getting it right" as you are, says Dr. Buck. It's not that he doesn't care, it's just that he may be more apt to play things by ear and trust his instincts. Rather than attacking your man for not making bath-time eye contact, try to be curious about the different ways to handle the same tasks, says Dr. Buck. "Re-train yourself to think, 'Hmm. So that's how he does it. I wonder why? That's interesting.'" The idea is to see how a father's flexibility with "rules" can allow him to have more fun. As Dr. Pruett says, "If you're not having fun with parenting, then you're working too hard."
This article originally appeared on WomansDay.com and is republished here with permission.
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