It’s no secret that men and women approach parenting differently (fortunately, children can benefit from both unique styles). In general, men are not the primary caregiver and perhaps have a perspective that’s a little bit removed from the situation but ironically can be quite helpful and effective in raising kids. Unfortunately, sometimes there may be even a bit of a pride factor where women think they know best about how to raise their family. If this describes you at all, I challenge you to put that notion aside and realize that there’s actually a lot that moms can learn from dads. Here are a few examples of parenting strategies and characteristics that women can adopt from men.
The first is to be more flexible and even a bit more fun. Mothers often like to stick to the rules and may get frustrated when schedules aren’t followed exactly. For example, bedtime can be a common source of stress for moms, but dads are usually pretty good about not worrying too much if a kid goes to sleep a little bit later than normal every once in awhile. Of course, it’s possible to overdo it and get too lax about rules, routines, eating nutritious foods, etc. Think about the parents from Mrs. Doubtfire: Sally Field’s character was pretty uptight, while Robin Williams’ character was incredibly fun but also highly irresponsible (before he became Mrs. Doubtfire, of course). In real life, though, moms and dads can balance each other out and help their children follow the rules, such as getting to bed on time more often than not. So maybe moms can loosen up a bit?
Another strength that men often have and that women can learn from is expecting compliance the first time. When a mom’s limits are tested, sometimes she is overly nice and almost too patient and forgiving of her son or daughter. Maybe she has to ask five times for her child to clean his room before he finally does it. Dads, on the other hand, tend to have an expectation that a child will do as he/she is told immediately. There’s no arguing or bargaining; it’s not up for debate. Kids learn very quickly how much or how little bad behavior will be tolerated, so women can be like men and have high standards for their kids that must be met the first time (or at least very soon). There’s no need to be mean, just firm in our expectations.
Women can glean the power of simplicity from men. I honestly think that Pinterest has done a lot of harm to women’s self-esteem in showing them what they think their lives should be like. For instance, consider kids’ birthday parties. A customized cake, homemade decorations, an extravagant piñata, and party favors for 6-year-olds may be an unrealistic expectation that women put on themselves, whereas a dad in charge of a birthday party might order pizza, get a cake from Costco, and call it good. Men know they’re not going to be perfect and don’t let it bother them. Women tend to ruminate and replay mistakes or shortcomings in their minds. As moms, we can learn to simplify and let go of parenting perfectionism. Also, why not have the man of the house plan the next birthday party?
And one final lesson about parenting that women can learn from men is to separate or differentiate themselves from their children. Moms work so hard for their kids and want the best for them but may inadvertently over-identify with them. For example, if a child bombs a test, a mother might feel some guilt and stress over it. Dads are generally pretty good about realizing that a child’s behavior or performance does not necessarily reflect on them. Of course, there are limits to this idea: Parents are to blame for a child being an addict if they were the ones who first introduced him to drugs. But beyond dramatic situations like these, parents don’t need to feel like their children’s individual actions are their own responsibility, and so women can follow men’s example in drawing an emotional distinction between themselves and their kids.
Props to the great dads out there who aren’t perfect (none of us are!) but are using their natural gifts in raising their families in a healthy and loving way. Let’s all learn from them about how to relax, be simple, and have high but reasonable expectations for our children and for ourselves.