Dr. Rhoads on Parenting Differences

July 8, 2004

Dr. Rhoads appeared on the Today Show on June 25 to discuss gender differences in parenting. Below Dr. Rhoads expands on the interview. To watch a video clip of the interview click here.


Rhoads' parenting pet peeves:
Fathers tend to think that mothers worry too much about the children.
Guilt mothers always think they could be and thus should be doing more with their kids. And moms, since they are worriers and parent with more intensity, are taskmasters with husbands about what needs doing and how it should be done. They tend to make dad into an assistant mom. In two career families, this makes dad less than half in the grand scheme of things - he is only half a provider and less than half a parent. Fathers have their own style, which has its own virtues. On the playground jungle gym, worrying moms are more likely to say, "Watch out! Don't go too high." Dads are more likely to say, "See how high you can get."

Fathers frequently feel neglected by their wives who they think put their relationship with the kids ahead of their relationship with their husbands.
From the point of view of dads, moms - especially those with full-time careers - seem too tired and too consumed with the minutia of childcare and child development to be available for sex or much else with them.

Dads frequently think moms are too soft, for example, in comforting an older child who cries excessively when he falls down.But dads think this a larger problem as the kids get older and especially with teenage boys.
It's hard for a mom, used to being a nurturer, to become a disciplinarian, especially with a surly teenager who is now taller and looms over them. Mothers, loaded with estrogen and oxytocin, tend to be peacemakers. When dads try to discipline sons, the mother can be tempted to try to be a mediator rather than support the father. This can infuriate her husband.

Differences in parenting:
Understanding sex differences can bring a ceasefire in the gender wars. Once we can see that our romantic partners are fundamentally different on the inside as well as out, we will be less likely to expect them to be like all our same-sex friends. Husbands, for example, will see that women in general — not just "their crazy wife" — like to talk about problems that have no solution, and wives will see that most husbands — not just their's — don't care about the messes they leave in their wake and often don't see them.

Mothers are worriers.
They are, for example, lighter sleepers when they have their baby in the house. Fathers are less likely to hear a cry at night and more likely to be annoyed than concerned by it if they do.

The differences in parenting intensity are greatest with infants and toddlers.
Even in families where fathers take leave and express a desire to be the primary caretakers of their new infants, the traditional parenting differences emerge. For example, the "mothers display affectionate behavior, vocalize, smile, tend, hold, discipline and soothe the infant more than the fathers do."

Mothers are world-class nurturers of infants and toddlers, and they like to do every part of the care more.
This includes comforting, caring for the child when sick, buying food or toys, even changing diapers. Even women academics with egalitarian gender attitudes like all parts of care more than their husbands.

Infants and toddlers prefer moms to dads for every task as well.
There is a big preference for moms to do the comforting, but an infant even likes to play more with mom, who is more attentive to all its utterances, eye signals and the like.

Two common arguments between mothers and fathers about how they should parent:
Mothers and fathers quarrel when dad is not doing enough to help with the kids — both because moms need some time off and because moms think dads should spend more time with their children.
But moms also quarrel when they have full-time jobs and do not get enough time with their children. In two-career families where parents try hard to share childcare equally, husbands often push for more paid care so that they have fewer hours during which they are obliged to care for children. Mothers get angry and insist that they do it themselves. Fathers and mothers in such families acknowledge that wives are more emotionally involved with the children and find it harder to concentrate on other tasks when away from them. All in all, since mothers want to spend more time with their children, equal time by mothers and fathers in parenting, on the one hand, and work, on the other, is unlikely to bring them equal happiness. 

Sometimes mothers worry that by rough-housing and play-fighting dads may be over-stimulating their boys and making them more aggressive.
But, in fact, this type of rough play teaches not aggression but self-control and limits. Fathers teach boys not to bite and kick in rough play. The children whose aggressive behavior is out of control are those without fathers at home; these kids are unpopular with peers because they respond in a truly aggressive manner when other boys try to initiate rough-and-tumble play.

Click here to watch a video of the interview at the Today Show's website.

© 2004 Steven E. Rhoads
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