Chris Oaks spoke with Dr. Kyle Pruett, clinical professor at the Yale Child Study Center, a Sesame Workshop trustee, and co-author of “Partnership Parenting.”
Q: “Partnership Parenting” makes the case that a father’s role in the family dynamic is equally important, and importantly different, than a mother’s. What are the unique characteristics dads bring to the table?
A: Well, first of all, they aren’t mothers. And they don’t “mother,” although they may try because it may seem like the right thing to do.
And a recent Ad Council survey finds 86 percent of today’s dads want to be more engaged to their children than their fathers were with them.
We know from research that when dads are positively engaged in the lives of their children, child outcomes are significantly better, meaning kids do better in school, are better problem-solvers, have higher self-esteem, and are able to foster better relationships with others.
So dad brings a lot to the table when he’s there and he means it. But when they try to “mother,” they end up making a mess of it. Kids don’t buy it, and that’s not what they want anyway.
Q: So dads want to be more engaged and involved, but they’re not sure how. What’s the first step?
A: The first step actually begins with the mothers. That’s because society sets a low bar, often viewing fathers as wholly inept at dealing with children. Think of the dads you see on TV that are bumbling idiots when it comes to the kids.
So we need mom to break that perception by remembering that encouragement works better than criticism. If you want to have him in the kitchen and in the nursery, your support for his efforts is the biggest factor in determining whether or not he’s going to be positively engaged in the family dynamic in that way.
Q: But like you mentioned, dads often don’t know what to do and how to do it. So encouragement only gets you so far, right?
A: Sure. So, to fathers, I say learn how to bathe and feed the baby. Or, if we’re talking about older children, learn all you can about where they are developmentally. Find out what’s on their mind, who are his friends, what are the issues on her plate? Ask what they’re struggling with, and really listen.
Make time to be connected and you will gradually get good at it. Of course, it’s all easier the earlier on you do it, but it’s never too late.
Q: You also recently created an online video to demonstrate how good this can be for everyone involved when dads get it right.
A: It’s a short documentary produced through a partnership with Johnson & Johnson called “Distinctly Dad,” which can be viewed at seehowloveworks.com. It follows three different families and depicts visually this very powerful message about how children and fathers interact in unique ways, and how important that is for the kids, for dad and for mom.
Q: That’s a good point, that this not only provides a benefit to your kids, but for dad, too.
A: No question about it. When men become good fathers, they live longer, although it may not always seem like it while you’re doing it. Engaged fathers are healthier, with less stress.
And it also strengthens the marital relationship as well. When dad is involved and engaged, marriages are stronger and happier. So, it’s a win-win-win.
“Good Mornings!” with Chris Oaks airs from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. weekdays on WFIN, 1330 kHz. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 419-422-4545.
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