Evolution, the mother to all humans, has seen it so that every child has two parents. This phenomenon -- assuming both parents are involved in raising the child -- is not without reason. Each of the parents brings something to the table that the other doesn’t. And neither the child-rearing strategy of the mother or that of the father is objectively superior; it takes cooperation to successfully raise a child.
Moms for Security
From birth, the mother’s instinctual reaction to all her child’s behavior is to question the safety of that behavior. The mother is the protector of her children. She protects them from environmental dangers, from strangers and from themselves. And children know this. They look to their mothers while they explore, as if to ask, “Is what I’m doing OK?” In the older years, the mother is still there protecting her child, but this time it’s more of an emotional protection. The mother lends her children her ears and comforts them in their times of need. In a sense, a mother wants nothing more for her children than to be and feel safe.
Dads for Risk-taking
Fathers tend to push their children to take risks. This is especially true in the older years when children need to become more independent. The phenomenon of a father allowing his child do something his wife is wary of is not uncommon. Part of this phenomenon lies in the different way fathers dish out praise to their children. Educational psychologist John Gottman wrote in his book, “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child,” that research shows fathers are more likely to give praise only when he believes that his child earned that praise. This is contrary to mothers who will often praise their children for the sole purpose of comforting them or helping them build their self-esteem. The result is children working harder to gain the praise of their fathers. A father wants to see his child succeed in the real world and therefore pushes her harder.
Moms for Mental Stimulus
Mothers who often interact with their children, whether it be through play or conversation, are stimulating their children’s cognitive abilities. And though many moms would disagree, it’s not because moms are smarter than dads. Those benefits actually come from the style of parent-child interaction moms prefer. For example, with young children, moms play orderly, rule-based and often challenging games, according to the website for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. They expose their children to puzzles and books, which help children recognize patterns and learn the rules of communication. Even the physical games that moms prefer, such as patty-cake, follow sets of rules that require children to mentally coordinate their actions.
Dads for Physical Stimulus
In contrast to the interaction of moms, that of dads tends to be more chaotic. Dads prefer to joke and roughhouse with their kids and play exciting physical games with few rules. The interaction style of fathers is overall less organized. But children still benefit from such interaction, and the benefits are significantly different from those that moms offer. Gottman explains that the highly physical nature of father-child interaction shows children how to handle emotions such as surprise, fear and excitement. When with her father, a girl knows she’s ultimately safe, even if her father’s actions, expressions and emotions look as if he’s going crazy. So contrary to mom’s intuition, the husband who plays “airplane” with his daughter isn’t being reckless; he’s showing her a new set of emotions, emotions she might not often encounter in the one-on-one interaction with her mother.
- Parent-Child Physical Play; “Sex Roles”; Ross Parke and Kevin MacDonald
- Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child; John Gottman
- Gender Differences in Parenting Styles and Effects on the Parent Child Relationship; Meredith Stephens
- The National Campaign: Teen Pregnancy and Responsible Fatherhood
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children
- Father Involvement Research Alliance: The Effects of Father Involvement
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