Published in Parents’ Resource Guide Fall 2014
Today a show with a title like the 1950s TV hit, “Father Knows Best,” would be laughably outdated, maybe even offensive. We no longer look to fathers to hold all the authority. Yet we still struggle to find the right balance. In working with families, I find a more common and equally limiting attitude these days can be: “Mama knows best.” Sometimes moms believe that Dads should do things their way – the “right way!” Given my experiences as a parent, I can relate.
Relinquish Some Control
When I went back to school, I wondered how my husband would fare in taking care of our young daughter while I was away. Would he feed her all of the right things? Would he respond to her bids for connection (even when football was on)? Sometimes I had night classes – would he follow the bedtime routine so she got plenty of rest? Looking back I see that the answers to those questions were, no, sometimes, and usually. Despite things not always going according to my plan, the time that my husband and daughter had together deepened their own special bond and gave our daughter a sense of feeling cherished and important to both of us. I learned that moms and dads don’t have to do everything the same. In fact, moms and dads each bring different things to parenting, and that’s a bonus for kids.
Both Parents Have Something To Offer
In her book, “Girls Will Be Girls; Raising Confident and Courageous Daughters,” Joan Deak stresses the importance of father involvement. Whether it is a biological father, an adoptive father, or an alternate father figure, studies reveal that fathers typically do active things with children: playing, building things, and going to events. On the other hand, mothers typically spend more time engaged in passive style activities: talking or reading with their children. Both of these kinds of activities encourage brain growth and develop confidence and competence in children.
Extra Fun; Extra Learning
Take, for example, the tea parties my husband and daughter enjoyed together. Where tea parties with me were pleasant and chatty, tea parties with her dad were adventurous and rambunctious. They would take place in a fort (where else?) and the pretend offerings would include things like “chicken lip tea,” “bear tea,” or “beef tea.” Tea partygoers endured things like pretend scalding burns and helicopter flights to first aid. The only way the tea party members could calm down from the crisis of the moment was by the magic words one or the other would invoke by hollering, “namah-namah-nah!” I’m not saying all dads would have a tea party like this, nor should they. This is just an example of the vastly different approaches my husband and I brought to play. Both sets of experiences are rich and wonderful and I am so glad our daughter was able to have both. When moms encourage dads to be engaged and confident with the kids, there is extra fun and extra rewards for children.
I think we can safely say it’s not either mothers or fathers who know best. They each bring something uniquely important to the party. Parents know best!