As much as mothers want their partners to be involved with their children, experts say they often unintentionally discourage men from doing so. Because mothering is their realm, some women micromanage fathers and expect them to do things their way, said Marsha Kline Pruett, a professor at the Smith College School for Social Work at Smith College
In a similar vein
Uninvolved fathers have long been accused of lacking motivation. But research shows that many societal obstacles conspire against them. Even as more fathers are changing diapers, dropping the children off at school and coaching soccer, they are often pushed aside in ways large and small.
“The walls in family resource centers are pink, there are women’s magazines in the waiting room, the mother’s name is on the files, and the home visitor asks for the mother if the father answers the door,” said Philip A. Cowan, an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, who along with his wife, Carolyn Pape Cowan, has conducted decades of research on families. “It’s like fathers are not there.”
And now for the really interesting part
In the study, low-income couples were randomly placed into a father-mother group, a father-only group and a control group of couples. The controls were given one information session; the other two groups met for 16 weeks at family resource centers in California, discussing various parental issues.
In both of those groups, the researchers found, the fathers not only spent more time with their children than the controls did but were also more active in the daily tasks of child-rearing. They became more emotionally involved with their children, and the children were much less aggressive, hyperactive, depressed or socially withdrawn than children of fathers in the control group.
But notably, the families in the couples group did best. They had less parental stress and more marital happiness than the other parents studied, suggesting that the critical difference was not greater involvement by the fathers in child-rearing but greater emotional support between couples.
“The study emphasizes the importance of couples’ figuring parenting out together and accepting the different ways of parenting,” Dr. Kline Pruett said.
Fathers tend to do things differently, Dr. Kyle Pruett said, but not in ways that are worse for the children. Fathers do not mother, they father.
Dr. Kyle Pruett added: “Dads tend to discipline differently, use humor more and use play differently. Fathers want to show kids what’s going on outside their mother’s arms, to get their kids ready for the outside world.” To that end, he said, they tend to encourage risk-taking and problem-solving.