Moms and Dads parent differently. And that’s good.

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.”

It’s a classic illustration of how fathers and mothers parent differently and why kids need both.  I’ve cited this passage before but it bears repeating:

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 20130317_131848and 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.

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12 thoughts on “Moms and Dads parent differently. And that’s good.

  1. I don’t really disagree with what you are saying – I just want to disagree with what you aren’t saying. The inference here is that anything less is not good – our single mothers, single fathers and gay families do not need guilt thrown at them. They often face dificulties, financial, emotional, discrimination etc. they do not need the added pressures you politely imply. If I was you I would just add one more sentence – we all parent differently, we provide the love and support as God gifts us and this is good.

    • I hear what you are saying Tapman, and thank you again for your heart of sensitivity. You are right that the financial, emotional and social pressures that alternative families face can be significant.

      And many do not choose to be in that situation. That is where the church is called to step in and support in any way possible.
      https://askthebigot.com/2012/10/02/the-other-american-church/

      “The inference here is that anything less is not good”.

      Close. What I am is that anything less than a child living with their married mother and father will involve loss, with varying degrees depending on innumerable factors.

      “Fragmentation within families is a reality of this world. It’s one thing to recognize the brokenness and strive to strengthen the parents and children living in those situations. It’s another thing completely to call “whole” that which is incomplete.”
      https://askthebigot.com/2012/08/20/biology-matters/

      • I guess my point is that we are all in the same boat – the same brokenness that affects a couple affects a single parent – I would be hesitant to call any family complete. I am probably reading too much into your post because of my prejudice in this area.

        When my kids were little I had to work hard and often weekends – also had to work at the mines often and be away for extended periods. I was often stressed and often failed as a Father. You could say I was a distant father. There is a lot of incompleteness in the best of families.

        • You have made a great point. Every person will bring baggage and brokenness into their relationships- friendship, marriage, or parenting. Because a peaceable and complimentary marriage wasn’t modeled for either of us, my husband and I feel as if we have had to grope around as we strive to establish traditions, figure out what our roles look like, and battle to keep our relationship healthy amidst all the distractions of this life. We are not doing this perfectly by any means, but we do find healing and wonder in how secure and emotionally satiated our kids are and we marvel at how the pieces fit together- pieces that were missing from our own childhoods. It humbles us, delights us, and spurs us on to worship our Creator.

  2. I think the point is that we should strive for what is best for our children, whether or not in reality we are always able to provide it. Yes, there is brokenness to some degree in every family – what the homosexual equivalency movement would have us believe is that it does not matter whether children are raised by their mother and father, so long as they are “loved”. So there is a failure even to acknowledge that children in those situations – and particularly when it is done “on purpose”, through the use of reproductive technology or sexual encounters engaged in for the sole purpose of conceiving a child (which apparently happens with some regularity these days), to manipulate a child into existence KNOWING FULL WELL that he/she will not be raised by his/her mother and father – those children have had something taken from them that was rightfully theirs. My faith teaches that children are a blessing, not a right, and that the ones who have rights with regard to their existence are the children themselves, not the adults. Being raised by both biological parents is a fundamental right of every child. Sometimes, in our broken world, it won’t work out – but we shouldn’t pretend that it doesn’t matter. And we certainly shouldn’t set it up that way.

    For what it’s worth, I feel the same way whether it’s a heterosexual or homosexual couple (or single) contemplating egg donation, sperm donation, etc. My husband and I struggled with infertility when trying to conceive our second child – which admittedly is a somewhat “easier” position to be in than childlessness, but the inability to give your child a sibling when everyone around you is doing so is its own form of suffering… The problem in our case was my age – but it was out of the question to use a younger woman’s eggs in order to produce a child. I am thankful for the guidance of our faith on these matters, because it is such an emotional experience it can be hard to keep your head screwed on straight. So I do not say any of this out of judgment for what others have done, just to say that I think we need to remember that children are a gift, not something we are owed.

    In reading this post, I couldn’t help but think of the recent events in Steubenville, Ohio. How those children could have used the proper guidance of mothers and fathers who had the courage to set limits, teach boundaries and insist upon appropriate behavior toward the opposite sex! Where does a 16-year-old girl learn that an appropriate way to get attention from boys is to get falling-down drunk at parties? Where do 16- and 17-year-old boys learn that an incapacitated female is nothing more than a plaything? I think where we fail to acknowledge the significance of gender – and the rights, responsibilities and realities that go along with being male and being female – we create the kind of “cavalier attitude toward sex” that was publicly lamented by the Ohio attorney general following the Steubenville trial. Throw in immaturity and alcohol, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

  3. Beth, you said:
    “For what it’s worth, I feel the same way whether it’s a heterosexual or homosexual couple (or single) contemplating egg donation, sperm donation, etc.”
    I agree with you on this one Beth, something about someone elses sperm just doesn’t sit right with me – having said that – I have two children, who knows how I might have felt if things were different. This is a tangent issue to a gay couple raising a child. I think it important to recognize where our feelings are coming from, often they are not based on fact but rather on our own fears and prejudices. Unfortunately at the moment the statistics are not conclusive – and I will make a loose accusation – it appears that Christians are willing to manipulate statistics and studies to push an agenda.

    That is what I fear about this post – it is a nice post talking about good things about parenting but I feel the agenda is to teach us that Gay people can’t be as good at parenting as straight people – and I disagree here,

    • There are selfish, negligent parents who are heterosexual, homosexual, and single parents. There are also loving, involved, selfless, responsible heterosexual, homosexual, and single parents. So let’s work from a level playing field. What I am saying is, all things being equal (let’s assume that everyone involved is parenting well), gender adds a significant and valuable aspect of child development. Both in how the child understands her world:
      https://askthebigot.com/2012/08/20/parentgender-is-relevant/

      and in how she sees herself:
      https://askthebigot.com/2012/08/20/gender-identity/

      Statistically, biology also plays a role in the life of the child:
      https://askthebigot.com/2012/08/20/biology-matters/

    • I have no doubt that gay parents and/or single parents can be just as “good at parenting” (heck, better in many ways I’m sure!) than I am. After the day I’ve had in the mothering department, I think it’s actually a sure bet. 😉 I am keenly aware of the ways in which I fail my children on a regular basis, and this is the focus of much of my personal prayer and confession. The point is that there is loss for the child of something that inherently belongs to him/her when a biological parent (or both) is missing. Our third child was adopted. And while considering the alternative – an institutional upbringing – she is thriving in our family, her special needs are being addressed, and her future is bright – the loss of her birth family is no less real. She has lost a connection to the people who brought her into the world – and as grateful as we are to have her as our daughter, and as much as we cannot imagine our family without her, if I could somehow change the past and undo that loss for her sake I would in a heartbeat. And I do think it matters that, at the very least, my husband and I are a reflection of what brought her into being – what (hopefully) was a loving relationship between a man and a woman – and as this post discussed, heterosexual spouses also bring complementary tendencies to the vocation of child rearing.

      Can children raised by gay and/or single parents turn out fine? Most definitely. But as parents we’re doing something more than just trying to turn out a good product here. I’m not sure any study can ever quantify all the benefits of being raised by one’s biological parents who are married to each other. And, of course, as “The Bigot” says, in order to make any comparisons you have to level the playing field and assume that the actual tasks of parenting are being done well. Bottom line for me – a child’s biological parents “belong” to him/her, and nobody has the right to purposely take that relationship away just to satisfy the desires of the adults – just as nobody has the right to take someone’s child from them without just cause. These are natural rights, not just expressions of feelings, fears or prejudices. It seems to me that we (as a society) have become entirely focused on the civil rights of adults to the exclusion of the natural rights of children.

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