Men and Women Parent Differently (And That's a Good Thing)


My husband, Brian, and I are on the same page about everything. Politics, music, food, we’ve ridden the same wavelength for more than a decade. Even when we were ambivalent about having a baby, I always knew he’d be an awesome dad, and the idea of him feeding a newborn a bottle or rough-housing with a little kid helped push me into the “we can do this” column.

So when our daughter was born, I was blindsided — absolutely gobsmacked — by how differently we operated. Not better or worse, just different. He was OK with her crying (it cut through me like electricity); he wasn’t phobic about the TV being on (I was pretty confident it was scrambling her brain); he continued getting dinners made and light bulbs changed without feeling he was depriving her of adequate eye-contact or tummy time; pants and bibs are optional. He does not liberally dispense Puffs. And he has no problem saying when he isn’t having any fun.

Of course, these “infractions” are minor in the grand scheme of things. What I did not understand at first, though, is how useful they are.

"Women and men parent very differently — and this is a great thing," says Dr. Meg Meeker, author of the bestselling "Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters." "My husband and I raised four kids while sharing a medical practice and, even as pediatricians, we disagreed on how to do things. 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."

With sons, Meeker says, parents play distinct but key roles. “I tell parents that, for boys, life is all about mom during the first 10 years and dad during the second 10. It’s an oversimplification, but mothers bring boys a sense of comfort, stability and an emotional vocabulary. When boys hit puberty and the teen years, they need to spend time with their fathers to learn how to be good men.”

A father’s involvement matters even more to a daughter. Studies have shown that his physical affection is the best way to elevate her self-esteem, and that girls who spend more time with their dads go through puberty later than girls who don’t have a father at home. They’re also at a much lower risk for depression, anxiety, and high-risk behaviors like sex, drugs, drinking. Dads help raise women who are more likely to go on to college and grad school.

But that doesn’t make it easier when you’re in the moment, watching your husband make a parenting call that you don’t necessarily agree with. But the best thing to do is to let go.

It’s a thousand times better to have Brian helping out his way than not at all, as was the case even a generation ago, and two points of view are more instructive than one. “If a father pitches in on childcare, mothers should stay quiet about how dad dresses them, bathes them, and all the rest. Robbing a child of Dad’s quirkiness would rob him of some terrific memories and bonding. Adequate time with each parent is far more important than worrying about getting tasks done just right.”

"My advice to moms like me — worried, controlling and absolutely convinced that we know the best way to do things — is this: Let up on dads. They bring an element to child-rearing that we don’t. Just because we’re pickier about some things doesn’t mean we’re better," says Meeker.

As soon as that sting wears off, I’m going to pour myself a glass of red and let Brian do bedtime.