The XX Factor

The Power of Dad

For every father who has ever been scolded by his partner for telling a kid who fell off the slide to “shake it off,” admonished not to “rile the kids up before bedtime,” or been pushed aside by a mother rushing to give help or nurturing that he’d chosen not to offer, the WSJ offers comfort, justification and, possibly, payback. The different ways dads tend to interact with kids : wrestling with them, pushing them into trying new things, or distracting them from a bump or setback rather than talking it through, have “long-term benefits.” Mothering is great, but mothers don’t have a monopoly on good parenting. Fathering (and here you should just draw the most stereotypical conclusions possible about which forms of parent-child interaction fall into which category) is great, too.

Like many young mothers, I tended to use a “good mother” standard to judge all of our parenting efforts when our first child was born 10 years ago. We had the typical “why don’t you do more” argument, with doing “more” often serving as shorthand for “do more my way .” But-as is clear from the Journal ‘s examples-for anyone short of Carol Brady, constant mothering can prove exhausting. Being a good father offers a little more breathing room. Dads “correct” a tantrum with “a few blunt, directive words and a glare.” Doesn’t that sound less time-consuming than trying to “reason with the child, explaining why the behavior is inappropriate and what to do instead?” Dads distract a child from a minor injury. Moms “comfort and soothe the child and encourage her to talk about what she is feeling.” Kid can’t work a toy? Dads say (presumably from the confort of their recliner, looking over the edge of the paper) “Stick with it!” Moms head over to “quietly rearrange the toy so the child can put it together more easily.”

I’m all for celebrating the role society traditionally assigns to dads (and many dads readily adopt), particularly if it teaches kids to “whine less and be more independent.” But over the past decade, I’ve fallen headlong into that pattern, and I’m tired of striving for the good mother role. It isn’t that I think my husband is necessarily a better parent, it’s that I think that he, with a more detached style well worthy of inclusion in this celebratory Father’s Day piece, takes the whole parenting thing more easily than I have managed to do while achieving equal success. I’m sure that, as the WSJ concludes, mothering and fathering styles are “complementary.” But it strikes me that maybe what we (or at least I) need in our house is a little more “dad.”