By Jill Nagle
I just talked with a new coworker whose pictures of his beautiful family were flashing over his screen. We talked about parenting, and kids. Here’s what he said about fatherhood:
“My wife and I have very separate busy lives, but because we are both active in our daughter’s life, our relationship grows stronger. Many times I wonder how I “turned out OK” because my father was the typical dad of his day, and I was on my own to “grow up.” Taking an active role in helping my daughter learn new things continues to teach me about myself in return! The ability to be a part of her life and development as a person is one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given.”
I knew what he was talking about. Media images from shows in the 50s and 60s (like “Leave it to Beaver” and “Father Knows Best” ) showed pretty segregated gender roles. Stereotypical Dads impregnated their wives, brought home the bacon, and meted out discipline when Junior didn’t obey. Nowadays, that’s the kind of scenario someone might bring to therapy to “recover” from.
Times sure have changed.
Though economic pressures weigh heavily on most families, and segregated roles still seem to be the only viable alternative in many two-parent families I talk to, many families find ways to mix things up regardless. Some have for generations!
Here are three of the biggest benefits I see that men get when they show up and decide to take on parenting as part of who they are:
1) Wholeness. The more time men spend with their families, the more perspective and balance they feel with their outside jobs (and yes, challenge to keep that balance). This results in greater ability to relax (it’s hard to be uptight with little ones jumping on you and giggling),more of an overall sense of well-being, and greater contact with the whole of their humanity, including the part that gets to relate to others. Yes, that great guy is more than a money-making machine-he’s a warm and wonderful DAD!
2) Greater closeness with partner. If a man is partnered, and he and his partner share child responsibilities, they share a significant part of their worlds. When two people have completely separate worlds, they have less to talk about and can become more entrenched in what’s necessary to inhabit the world they spend the most time in. This was most obvious in housewife-breadwinner “Leave it to Beaver” roles of the 1950’s, but still can exert influence on families today. When those roles are more fluid, there’s more common ground to share and bond around. Families who share responsibilities also have a chance to share more intimacy.
And here’s the best thing a “Show-Up” dad gets:
3) A real relationship with his children. We get the relationships we cultivate. When we show up and take an interest in what our kids are doing, listen to them, share in their worlds and share our worlds with them in appropriate and joyful ways, (funny, it works this way with adults, too!) we form the foundation for a rich and rewarding relationship for the rest of our lives.
Jill Nagle is a family mediator who co-writes Awake Parent Perspectives, an online weekly newsletter at http://www.awakeparent.com Frustrated with toddler tantrums? Not sure if you’re raising them right? Feeling disconnected from your partner? Subscribe to http://www.awakeparent.com today!