Written by Rosemary Strembicki
As a woman, I can easily identify with the stories I so often hear from moms who are experiencing the overwhelming feelings that come with the life changes of being a parent. Whether they spend their days at home or in a workplace the responsibilities of managing children; their needs, schedules and routines usually become the primary responsibility of Mom.
But what about Dad?
I know that more and more dads are more involved than they ever were with the "care and feeding" of their children. They cook for them, pick them up from daycare, get up and comfort them in the middle of the night and keep them safe. They often bathe them, dress them and entertain them in their partnership as a parent. But how often do they truly take over the management of running the household?
When children are born, mothers easily bond with them after sharing their bodies for nine months. They naturally become the primary caregivers for those first few months and the relationship usually grows effortlessly. Much of it is biological; mammals instinctively care for their young with hormones like oxytocin aiding in the bonding and pheromones, the chemicals we secrete to attract a partner, strengthening the connection. This makes the transition to nurturer a more natural progression for moms.
As our children grow it's very easy for mom's to take on the role of primary nurturer. The connection grows; we learn more about how they express their needs and the best ways to fulfill them. It just seems to become effortless for Mom to take over and decide what is best as Dad fades into the background. The less dads are involved the less confident they feel and they get accustomed to their children finding comfort in the arms of their mother. They become the backup parent who has to be asked to get involved.
It seems to happen so quickly and once it's recognized, the resentment can build. Mom feels taken advantage of and Dad feels like an outsider with no power; Mom becomes "the boss" and Dad spends less time at home; an outing with Dad becomes a treat instead of the norm. But with a little bit of intention the trap can be avoided.
Start the relationship right at birth with skin-to-skin contact between father and child to maintain high oxytocin by cuddling him on your bare chest. Spend time with your newborn touching her, looking at her and changing her diaper. Yes, changing her diaper. Research has shown that dads who help with diapering have stronger, better and longer-lasting marriages and the skin to skin contact remains important as your baby grows.
Stay connected by knowing your children; what are their likes and dislikes, what do they prefer in their lunch boxes, what are their favorite toys, books and games, how do your teenagers prefer to spend their time? Play with your kids, dads are the best at rough and tumble play that teach kids proprioception, how their bodies work in relation to movement and balance.
And a special note to moms: Let go of the control. Dads do things differently and sometimes not as efficiently as we've learned to do them through experience. They sometimes struggle at first as we did when we were first learning. Their methods may be different and it will teach our children how to be flexible and to adjust when things are unpredictable. What is most important is that we discuss and agree on the outcomes of how we want to raise our children and the overall values that we want to model.
As our society changes it can be hard to adjust to newly defined parental roles. Family structures are changing; moms and dads, dads and dads and moms and moms are all trying to figure out how best to parent their children. Intention, love and connection are keys. Ask questions, explore your options be open to learning and integrate what you've learned to your value system, but most important, act together in the best interest of your children.
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