This weekend my husband took our daughters, ages seven and nine, on a Daddy/Daughter retreat, an event that rivals Christmas in terms of our girls anticipation. On Friday at 9:00pm my husband texted me to tell me that he was taking our girls swimming.
“Now?! Put them to bed or you will have a terrible day tomorrow,” I wrote.
“That’s why it’s called Daddy/Daughter- no moms to tell us what to do! Ha!” he retorted.
After a little bit of “Ooohhh, this is not going to go well for him” I arrived at “This is exactly what they should be doing this weekend.”
There seem to be good reasons that children need both biological parents. The sexes are different. Because gender is a real phenomenon, it should come as no surprise that men and women parent differently. Men and women bring different, complementary skills to childrearing. Men are more likely to play expansively with their children than to do mundane care taking; women tend to be more practical. Mothers tend to be more responsive to their child’s immediate needs, while fathers tend to be more firm, more oriented to abstract standards of justice (right and wrong). Kids need both. Mothers tend to emphasize the emotional security of their children, while fathers tend to stress competition and risk taking. Mothers tend to seek the immediate well-being of the child, while fathers tend to foster long-term autonomy and independence. Children need both parents, because they learn different lessons from each. Neither fathers nor mothers are expendable. The presence of a father is critical to a male child’s learning self-control and appropriate male behavior, especially learning to respect women. Similarly, the presence of a father is vital for a female child’s self-respect and eventual development of a healthy adult sexuality. Children need mothers just as much. The presence of both parents seems to be necessary for ideally balanced emotional and mental development.
My man sent pictures of the girls crossing a mossy, fallen tree over a river. The initial shot was of them crossing on hands and knees and then another picture of them standing confidently on the other side with hands on hips. The weekend also promises a giant swing, go carts, and horse-back-riding.
Expansive play? Check. Developing autonomy? Check. Encouraging independence? Check.
It is a time of risk and adventure, confidence-building and bonding. But there is also a Daddy/Daughter dance preceded by a dress-up banquet, and the exchanging of letters where both fathers and daughters express what they love about one another.
Activities that aim to the strengthen my girls’ self-respect and development of a healthy adult sexuality? Check.
They came home with these bracelets. The girls each have one with a heart lock. My husband wears the one with the key. Every girl deserves to be adored, cherished and sought out. If fathers lavish those gifts on his daughters, girls are much less likely too succumb to social pressures. As one blogger so astutely pointed out, “A girl who knows she is a Princess will not be ‘ruled over’ by boys seeking sex.”
The reality is that my kids need me to enforce daily standards for sleep, nutrition and behavior- “mundane caretaking” as mentioned above (not to be confused with insignificant caretaking). So I bite my tongue when they leave for the retreat with two giant chocolate bunnies in tow. (Because I know that for the other 363 days of the year I can stuff them with avocados, carrots, coconut, and eggs from two-parent homes and have them in bed by 8:30.)
And there are times when they should step out of that routine, under loving supervision, and learn to navigate their world when there is a little more risk and a little less structure.
Our children glean distinct and vital life lessons from my husband and I. Fathers and mothers give uniquely to children and neither is dispensable. We parent differently, and that is good.