New Research being conducted on the differences between mothering and fathering has found that children need to the complimentary parenting styles from both genders.
Jenet Erickson, research sociologist and author for the Deseret News, presented research that is being conducted, and not yet published, during the Wheatley Conference. She has given me permission to summarize this research in progress.
Last week, I discussed some scientific reasons why only women can mother. This week, I will discuss why only men can father.
Although mothers and fathers both experience an increase in Oxytocin levels as they become parents, these hormones exhibit important differences behaviorally in mothers and fathers. Each study finds that men parent similarly to each other and likewise women parent similarly, making women mothers and men fathers. The compatibility of the two sexes in parenting contributes to the complete and normal development of children. When one parent is missing, children suffer.
Even with the emergence of stay at home fathers, mothers engage with, care for, and provide routine care for their children 3 to 4 times more than fathers. Yet the father’s influence and different ways in which he is involves himself with his children is very meaningful.
A father in the home improves the emotional, social, economic, and sexual outcomes of children.
The unique way in which fathers play with and hold their infants and children affects their children’s behavior and ability to form relationships throughout their lives. Jenet Erickson explains:
“Mothers tend to exhibit unique capacities for emotional attentiveness and responsiveness, which facilitates the security necessary for the formation of healthy identity in children. Fathers’ involvement and closeness also appears to be related to almost every aspect of children’s social-emotional health, but fathers seem to distinctly influence children’s capacity for prosocial behaviors and healthy relationships. Play is a critical way through which children receive these important contributions from fathers. Consistent with the way mothers and fathers tend to hold their infants (cuddling vs. football hold), mothers seem to make distinct, even critical contributions to children’s identity formation, while fathers make distinct contributions to children’s capacity for healthy relationships with others.”
The way in which fathers interact with their children correlates well with the educational outcome of children. Children who have an involved father, do better in school and are much more likely to graduate high school, attend college, and graduate from college. In fact, a father’s interaction with his children has a more profound effect on education than mother’s interaction with her children.
There seems to be three main reasons this is the case.
- Father’s physical play stimulates and activates children. “This unique ‘destabilizing’ orientation corresponds with typical approaches in other father-child interactions that may play an important role in ‘stimulating children’s openness to the world’ by exciting, surprising, and destabilizing them (Palkovitz, 2012, p. 226). These unique characteristics have led researchers to describe a father’s relationship with his children as an ‘activation relationship’ primarily developed through play (Paquette, 2004).”
- Father’s interaction with children helps the children to develop independence. According to Jenet Erickson, “Daniel Paquette found from his research that fathers ‘tend to encourage children to take risks, while at the same time ensuring safety and security, thus permitting children to learn to be braver in unfamiliar situations, as well as to stand up for themselves.’” Fathers also tend to insist that children do things for themselves, while mothers will step in to help and explain.
- Fathers are more “cognitively demanding”. While helping with homework, for example, fathers will stand back and offer verbal cues without intervening, and mothers will actively help their children solve a problem and complete their tasks.
Fathers are an important part of sexual and gender development for both boys and girls. Maggie Gallagher summarized this well. She has said that:
“What a boy gets from experiencing the dependable love of a father is a deep personal experience of masculinity that is pro-social, pro-woman, pro-child…Without this personal experience of maleness, a boy (who like all human beings is deeply driven to seek some meaning for masculinity) is vulnerable to a variety of peer and market-driven alternative definitions of masculinity, often grounded in…aggression, physical strength, and sexual proclivities…
She continued, “The importance of a father in giving a boy a deeply pro-social sense of his own masculinity may be one reason why one large national study found that boys raised outside of intact marriages were two to three times more likely to commit a crime leading to imprisonment. Similarly a girl raised without a father does not come to adolescence with the same deep experience of what male love feels like when it is truly protective, not driven primarily by a desire for sexual gratification. At the same time, fatherless girls may experience a hunger for masculine love and attention that leaves her particularly vulnerable to use and abuse by young adult males. Girls raised without fathers are at high risk for unwed motherhood.”
Boys without a father in the home are more aggressive and are much more likely to engage in anti-social behavior. Girls without a father participate in early sexual activity. Fatherlessness is the number one indicator for teenage pregnancy.
Closeness to both a mother and a father provides the best outcome for children in all areas of their lives. Mothers do not provide what fathers do and fathers do not provide what mothers do. The physiology of the separate genders primes each for complimentary roles as mother and father. The unique ways in which men and women rear their children provide them with an essential balance they need to develop emotionally, socially, educationally, and sexually.
Jenet Erickson concludes:
“This review provides social science underpinnings for the intuitive sense and experience of those fathers. It is clear that there is much overlap in the capacities, skills and behaviors of mothers and fathers that enable children to develop and even thrive. But as this review demonstrates, mothers and fathers retain distinctive capacities, styles, and orientations that emerge as important, if not critical, contributors in children’s social-emotional, cognitive, and sexual development, as well as their safety and protection.”
Hart, C. H., Nelson,D. A., Robinson, C. C., Olsen S.F., McNeilly-Choque, M. K. (1998).Overt and relational aggression in Russian nursery-school-age children: Parenting style and marital linkages. Developmental Psychology, 34(4), 687-97.
Koestner, R., Franz, C., and Weinberger, J. (1990). The family origins of empathic concern: A 26-year longitudinal study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 709-717.
Parke, R. D. (2012). Gender differences and similarities in parental behavior. In W. B. Wilcox, & K. K. Kline (Eds.), Gender and Parenthood (pp. 120-163). New York: Columbia University Press.
Palkovitz, R. (2012). Gendered parenting’s implications for children’s well-being: Theory and research in applied perspective. . In W. B. Wilcox, & K. K. Kline (Eds.), Gender and Parenthood (pp. 215-248). New York: Columbia University Press.
Paquette, D. (2004). Theorizing the father-child relationship: Mechanisms and developmental outcomes. Human Development, 47, 193-219.