Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, or so the saying goes. If that's so, how do two interplanetary people co-parent children? Surely, their approaches to things like play and discipline will be different, informed not so much by the rules of the galaxy but the laws of biology and social conditioning.
Though gender roles aren't always set in stone, it is true that men and women often bring different strengths, weaknesses and styles to the table when it comes to many things, parenting chief among them. This is important to take note of within couples, because the dynamic is ultimately shaping an infant into a grown person. When we understand how men and women parent differently, we can better understand what the child best responds to and how.
This won't be the same with every partnership. But in general, it's good to have different forces and priorities at work--it rounds out the child and provides an example on caretaking values. It may also inform their separate relationships with mom and dad.
Here's several ways that men and women tend to differ when it comes to parenting, and why it matters for children.
Details vs. The Big Picture
According to author of Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, Dr. Meg Meeker, "Dads approach parenting with different priorities than we mothers do. They tend to care less about dress, eating habits, and other details. Instead, dads tend to want to play with kids more and challenge them more, and this can help kids gain confidence."
This might not always be true, but it does speak to the stereotypical strengths of men and women both personally and professionally. Women are known to be strong, detail-oriented multi-taskers, where men tend to dominate leadership roles, build morale, and think about parenting from a big picture perspective.
This may be why moms focus on the everyday details, like scheduling and chores, while dads act as both buddies and authoritarians -- roles that build character and confidence.
Competition vs. Equity
Dads and moms play differently too, and the ways the play differs may have to do with the values men and women tend to cherish. One example, posed by Glenn Stanton in his book Why Children Need a Male and Female Parent, is the dichotomy of lessons imparted by men and women through play. Fathers emphasize competition, while mothers emphasize equity. Both are important, and one without the other, Stanton argues, could be unhealthy in the long run for a child.
The competition and equity equation further sheds light on how experience shapes parenting. Men, who are taught to be competitive and take risks, teach their kids (both male and female) to take risks too. Women are taught to protect themselves and treat others fairly, and pass this lesson on to children for safety reasons. With these two perspectives combined, kids can learn to be be competitive but fair, and take risks while understanding consequences.
Nurture vs Discipline
Both mothers and fathers are capable of being strict disciplinarians, but it perhaps comes more naturally to the father, if only because mom is the chief nurturer. Cautious mothers prioritize comfort and security for their kids, and are sometimes viewed by dads as being "too soft" on children. In these cases it may fall upon the dad to enact law and order in the family.
This becomes more apparent as kids get older and into their teenage years. A mom may be more inclined to be the "peacemaker" when things go awry, while dads are more intent on teaching a lesson than making the conflict disappear.
The roles could easily be reversed, however, if dad was taking on mom's responsibilities as the main caretaker, which is increasingly common. Whatever the case, parents need to support one another and provide their children a balance between support and discipline.
Emotion vs Detachment
Ideally, mothers and fathers love their children equally. But generally speaking a woman's emotional attachment to her kids is stronger, or at least more apparent, than a father's may be. This has a lot to do with the high expectations moms are held to as opposed to dads, who are relegated to a supportive role. As a result, moms that stay at home can feel emotional and overworked, while working moms feel guilty for not being home. Whatever the case, it's difficult for mom to detach, or separate work from home.
This dichotomy between emotion and detachment is also apparent in the ways men and women tend to communicate with their kids and each other. Fathers are more brief and to the point, while moms tend to dig deeper. This doesn't mean that moms are over-involved and dads under-involved, just that a parent's experience and role in the family is likely to affect his or her ability to detach. Ideally, fathers could take some of the emotional weight off of moms, and moms would encourage this when given a chance to step back.
Photo Credit: PROShrisha Radhakrishna Flickr - Changes made to the photo: Black & White + Text Addition