"I'd like to be more involved with my kids."
"I'm afraid of holding the baby and that bothers me. You know, I wouldn't even mind changing his diaper once in a while!"
"I want my kids to feel closer to me than I felt towards my father."
Well, as psychologists involved in child development, all we can say is - Great! Both mothers and fathers can provide rich experiences for their children and each can use his or her unique personality and style to enhance each child's development.
Psychologists are still debating whether women and men have different biological instincts. One study found that in our society and culture most girls, from an early age, have many more experiences of "parenting" than boys.
For whatever reason, girls spend more time with dolls, and with playing "house" and with "Mommy and baby" than boys do.
Similarly, boys are seldom chosen as babysitters, so that form of early "parenting" is also experienced more by girls.
Of course there are exceptions, but most boys suppress these emotions already at an early age.
Psychologist Buck Park, Ph.D. at the University of Connecticut conducted research that concluded that while all children start out being emotionally responsive, boys have learned by the age of six to actively suppress their emotions.
Thus, it appears that both boys and girls, and women and men, have a potentially large repertoire of emotions that lie within them. Accessing those emotions may be difficult for some men, but they can do it if they want to. And nowadays more men seem to want just that.
You can have the qualities that create a good parent - such as responsiveness, sensitivity, empathy and good judgment - no matter what gender you are, and it's only common sense that our kids should receive these elements from both of you.
So close, yet so far...
For too many years now, in too many families, fathers have been distant from their kids and minimally involved. I've had tens of kids tell me in my practice that they have no emotional connection with their father after I heard from the father how great things were between them.
One mother showed me a thank-you card her six-year-old had made for his parents as part of a school assignment. It thanked them for his clothes, food, toys, and love. After the word "love," he wrote in parentheses: "Mommy." The father was shocked. He appears to have a loving, intense involvement with the family, spends more time with his children than most fathers and is as active a homemaker as the mother.
Fathers recognizing this discrepancy of perception are taking another look at the level of connectedness they have with their children. They are making a conscious effort to listen more intently to their kids and to spend time with them alone, not only "doing things," but also trying to hook up with the child's world in an attempt to understand and to connect.
Another indication of this trend on the part of the fathers is the growth of courses on fatherhood throughout the U.S. and Canada. From the Fatherhood Project in New York to the Fatherhood Course at Boston and Harvard Universities and Massachusetts Institute of Technology to the Making Room for Daddies Course, men are working at being better able to relate to their children and wives and to handle family conflicts as they arise.
Based on our work and clinical experiences, it would seem to us that women and men are equal but different. For example, it is often cited that men and women parent differently in that women are supposed to help the family connect (called "encouraging affiliation") while fathers encourage their children's autonomy.
William Pollack Ph.D. conducted research that challenges this traditional view. He found that both genders have qualities of autonomy and affiliation but they differ in how they perceive the two qualities: Men said they affiliated with their children by playing with them or by teaching them while women do so through hugging and holding.
In Pollack's book, In a Time of Father Heroes: The Re-Creation of Masculinity (Guildford Press, 1993), co-authored with R. William Belcher, Ph.D., M.D., they write: "We need to recognize that there is a his autonomy and a her autonomy, a his intimacy and a her intimacy." As we said, equal but different. And our kids need each of them - both mom and dad parenting positively - in his or her own style. The more of that we have, the better off our kids will be.