By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT
There have been many studies that have examined the difference in parenting styles between mothers and fathers. The fact is mothers and fathers tend to have more similarities than differences when it comes to parenting their children. While that is important to note, it is also interesting to explore the differences between mothers and fathers to see how the combination of parenting styles really gives children an advantage.
Much of the research into parenting has been done with a baseline of what is normal or typical. Unfortunately, that baseline was developed from observing mothers for so many years. For quite some time, scientists evaluated fathers based on this baseline and then essentially graded fathers as wrong for doing it differently than mothers. But as we all try to teach our children every single day – different does not mean wrong. In fact, doing something differently can have some very positive benefits. This is why it is important to review the differences revealed in the research in parenting styles between mothers and fathers.
1. Type of Activity or how parents interact with their children
Differences: Mothers tend to interact in more caregiving situations, while fathers tend to play more – particularly physical interactions like rolling on the floor, athletic activities, etc.
Benefits: These physical interactions help better connect children to their own bodies, increase their coordination, prepare them for the possibility of involvement in sports, while providing physical contact with their Daddy.
2. Verbal Exchanges between parent and child
Differences: Mothers tend to be more repetitive and frequently ask questions and explain what things are to her child. Fathers verbalize less, are more focused on doing things together and their verbal interactions are more directive. Fathers also tend to be more demanding when it comes to language than mothers.
Benefits: Some researchers believe that having higher expectations better prepares children for settings outside the home and challenges them to work harder at articulating their wants and needs more effectively.
3. Patience with dependent behaviors
Difference: Fathers are less patient with children’s dependent behaviors (crying out for help with things they can already do, etc.)– especially with their sons.
Benefits: If done in a healthy manner, could significantly contribute to developing the child’s sense of independence and prepare them for separation from their parents.
4. Unconventional behaviors
Difference: Fathers tend to demonstrate more unconventional behaviors (such as teasing, joking around, more slapstick-type humor, etc.) than mothers. Fathers’ behavior with children is less predictable.
Benefits: This has the advantage of mixing things up for the child, better preparing them once again for the outside world where things are not as predictable as they can be at home.
Individually each of these differences seems to bring out different qualities in their children, but probably the most important benefit of these differences is visible when viewed in total. There is an enormous amount of research showing the value of fathers and their contribution to their children’s social competence, sense of well-being, academic performance and much more. It is very possible that one of the reasons involved fathers make such a tremendous contribution is that a child who has positive experiences with two parents learns two ways of interacting with the world instead of just one. A child with two involved parents learns there are at least two ways to handle situations and also ends up with a set of tools in their toolbox for dealing with the world instead of just one.
This is also why it is valuable for parents to try to shift their parenting style, for mothers to incorporate some of the typical paternal style and for fathers to adopt more of the typical maternal style. This will give your children not only an array of ways to deal with the world and all of its challenges, but will also show them that their reactions need not be based on their gender, but more on what actually works best in each situation.
Of course, children who have more tools at their disposal are better at social situations. Of course, children who have been interacted with in different ways by their parents are then able to interact in different ways with other people. Of course, children who have been intellectually stimulated by different parents in different ways, are better able to handle intellectual challenges than children who didn’t have that experience.
Of course an involved father makes a difference. But it is the combination of involved mothers and fathers and their unique styles that make the biggest difference for children and their future health and happiness.