A View From The Ridge, Part 8

There have been moments in the life of this project when I’ve encountered what I now call a view from the ridge.  These are instances in which you get a sense that you’ve emerged from the thickets of daily family life – appointments, events, stuff – and find yourself at a juncture where you can suddenly assess where you’re at and where you’re going.  This late August morning is such a time.  When the first View note – linked above – was written seven years ago, Eldest was entering high school, Middle was entering his last year of elementary school and Youngest was finishing first grade and discovering a love for baseball.

This morning’s instance was the awakening to the fact that Eldest is now officially out of the household.  I awoke early and padded down the hallway, entering a closed door to a room that was now empty except for a single bed.  All of the remaining furniture and clothing was gone, packed up and moved out several days previously.  Such a process is slowly occurring in Middle’s room, now in college; it’s become clear that this past summer was his last at home as his own studies and professional development will require that he pursue opportunities in major urban areas.  All of the furniture is still there, but that which gives it personality – that which makes you understand that it’s Middle’s room – is partially gone to his new college digs.  Youngest’s room is still clustered there with his siblings’ rooms but he is now entering high school himself and gearing up for a Fall/Winter run at making the school baseball team, a far cry from the T-ball year when I started writing. 

In the other direction, the elder generation is finally settled after a lengthy period in which I sometimes wondered whether the sandwich in the term sandwich generation was actually a panini, hard pressed.  There are still rough patches ahead as age and disease process continue, but a look backwards is revealing for the thicketed woods through which we’ve come. What hasn’t changed through this is the presence of my Better Half, a person about whom I’ve largely been silent in the writings.  BH is my companion and love, a person with gifts at which I still marvel and without whom the thickets would be far more difficult.  And perhaps that’s the one of the biggest surprises as I sit here mulling what to write…that as the kids grow and move out into the world, you again find the time and energy to rediscover that one person with whom you began to travel the road.  Make the effort to step back from the day-to-day occasionally to apprise where you are and take stock of what you’ve come through, where you’re going and most importantly, who you’re with.

Throw Momma Under the Bus

It’s interesting to watch and listen to groups of people, especially in terms of male/female relationships.  Such was the case this weekend as Youngest helped me run a cub-scout rocket launch – yes, he’s still in elementary school but I trust the kid implicitly to run a launch pad for younger kids (with another father overseeing from the sidelines) – that was attended by scouts, siblings and families.  What was striking was the response of multiple fathers when something with the rocket didn’t work properly, whether the fins fell off the rocket pre-launch or it burned on the launch pad.  Each of these guys threw Momma under the bus.

Don’t look at me, I helped paint it,  You helped glue the fins on.

Hey, you helped build it, not me.

There was a third comment, but I frankly didn’t hear it clearly since I was helping to pack wadding and load engines into the Estes Viking rocket of kids that came to the engine table. 

The point was that in each case of malfunction, some father somewhere threw the mother under the bus.  It was one of those eyebrow-raising, head-cocking events that left me quietly abashed at the behavior of my father-peers.  Understand that there are multiple principles that I’ve come to adopt about dealing with family and kids.  The second rule – and I don’t have anywhere near as many as Jethro Gibbs since my memory isn’t that great in the first place – is that I should uphold the mother when I’m dealing with the kids.  That doesn’t mean to praise her unstintingly; as the kids grow, there will likely be conversations where you have to help explain why things might have happened a certain way, and you can only hope that the mother returns the favor for you as well.  But it does mean that you treat her with the respect that you would hope you would be treated by her in your absence.  Or as happened the other day, in your presence.  Each of these separate fathers simply sloughed off the blame and threw their mate under the bus so as to avoid embarrassment.

There are several points to consider here.  It’s clear that American society is continuing to undergo a significant change in terms of parental gender roles for multiple reasons.

  1. More young men are reflecting on their own upbringing in the past twenty years and deciding that they’d like to have a greater role in their kids’ lives than their own fathers had in their own childhood.
  2. More women are taking a much greater role in the workforce, removing them from the home requiring that their mate step up accordingly.
  3. Job losses and a poor economy – notwithstanding the easy credit addiction of the crackheads on Wall Street causing a new Dow/Nasdaq highs – are keeping more men at home

Despite the fact that men are now doing far more of the grocery shopping and cooking than their predecessors did, there are still some gender roles that the women don’t want to see changed.  How do I know?  Because more than one mother has commented such to me through the years, especially when it comes to boy-related activities.  The divorce rate through the past several decades has been in the vicinity of 50% and more than a few of the fathers fell out of the picture, leaving Mom to have to cover the activities that were historically designed for the men to handle.  This involved the handiwork activities such as building with tools as well as camping.  They themselves had grown up in a largely intact environment where Dad was around to handle such activities for the boys; they themselves were not terribly exposed to such things.  This went as well with the men; a fair portion were raised without the men to demonstrate and teach so that they didn’t have the exposure to the more male-oriented activities and skills.  The result is that there’s a significant percentage of a parental generation without the exposure to these male-oriented activities.  When it’s just the Mom involved in the parenting, then she has no option but to step up and make the effort for her son. 

But what of the Dad?  I can speak from experience that any Dad wants to be respected by his kids and in an environment that prizes wise-assery and irreverence, it can seem hard to keep.  My own father would never do the outdoor activities with me because of a promise that he made himself after returning from the Korean War – Son, I spent a year sleeping outside with a half-million Chinese trying to kill me so I’ll be goddamned if I ever sleep outside again – yet one of my kids thrives on the outdoor stuff.  I’ve got no option but to suck up and try to learn as I go in order to provide such an experience.  The same goes for building rockets and pinewood derby cars; outside my realm of experience but something that must be worked through to provide for the child.  My wife leaves that to my responsibility with the understanding that while I’m not an expert, I’ll do my best and leave it at that. 

The kids aren’t stupid and they’ll figure out sooner than later that Dad isn’t perfect.  What matters to them however, isn’t that Dad is the expert on all things male.  What matters to them is that Dad is active in their lives and doing everything that he can.  If you aren’t familiar with something, then do your research beforehand and if necessary, practice out of their presence.  Practice with them and if something doesn’t work right, walk through the problem so that they learn that not everything does go right the first time.  Sometimes, it doesn’t go right the second, third or fourth time either but if they don’t see that, they won’t learn otherwise.  When it goes right, celebrate.  What the kids want is your presence and attention and learning together is something that provides both in spades.  If you’re truly not comfortable with something, then tell them why and don’t feel guilty about it.  Youngest already knows that I will never take him hunting and not for reasons of conscience.  That is an activity for which I can simply not acquire sufficient expertise in time without endangering him or others.  But he does know that when his mother and I deem him old enough, we’ll assure that he goes out with another father who is sufficiently competent and experienced to take a young hunter. 

Part of the old code of manhood was the ability to suck it up and shoulder your load without complaint or fault-finding.  So do your best and shoulder the load.  Understand that despite the changing, shifting of the household and workplace roles, there are still some things that your mate expects that you do with the kids.  And if, after doing your best, fins fall off and rockets explode on the launch pad, nosecones fail to pop so that the rocket sails with a thwack into wet ground of the parking lot pavement, then that’s simply life.  Not to mention that participating in such controlled chaos is honestly cool to experience.

Because things go wrong despite best efforts and the kids aren’t learning much of a lesson with Dad throwing Momma under the bus.

The Missus

The Big Bang Theory is loaded with subplots as the characters grow and one of the funnier ones is Howard’s developing relationship with Bernadette.  Howard – the only one of the four nerds without a doctorate – has met, fallen in love with, and become engaged to Bernadette.  In the present story-line, she’s now going to receive her own doctorate and is being lucratively headhunted by a major pharmaceutical firm.  It reflects the gender-bending of our reality as women are now able to earn more than men and men are considering their own role with the family; some of the humor is also derived from the reactions and commentary of the peers to this development.  This is based upon reality as people do have to come to terms with the concept that the man is filling the role of the Missus – the one who stays home to keep things in order and run the household. 

As a "stay-at-home-dad" – and I really dislike the term – I’ve had multiple encounters through the years with society’s efforts to work through the gender-bending implications.

  • My wife is a physician and we’ve received mail addressed to Dr. and Mrs. with her name following. 
  • I’ve been introduced as the wife on more than one occasion, once in front of a group of more than 20 people. 
  • When the kids were very small, playdates were sometimes a problem as many mothers were uncomfortable with the concept of having a father in a traditionally maternal domain.
  • A medical spouse group – which existed to support one another and perform charity work for selected projects – invited me to join them with the hookline if nothing else, you’ll get to meet some very attractive middle aged women.  For the record, I didn’t attend.
  • There have been multiple jokes in the distant past from other guys about knitting and crocheting, but the last one was about two years ago and even that last remark came from a man who worked as a nurse.

The needs and dynamics of the family have changed dramatically over the past several decades and for several reasons.  The first is because of the social change wrought by women who were looking for greater opportunities and freedom than what had been offered to their mothers and the chance to define themselves as more than just a mother.  The second is the change in the institution of marriage; the acceptability and ease of obtaining a divorce while more choose to live together outside of marriage.  The third is economic as families find that incomes aren’t keeping up and traditionally male-dominated industries – construction and manufacturing – suffered disproportionately because of the most recent recession and globalization.  Instead of by choice, necessity is now forcing mothers to step up to the economic plate.

But society’s views haven’t kept pace with the parental and family changes and it’s this discrepancy that provides fodder for The Big Bang Theory.  As men take a larger role in child-rearing and the family’s life, the laughs will become harder to mine.  Viewers will watch a particular scenario play out and find it less humorous because they can actually identify with something that’s purportedly novel and question why it’s supposedly funny enough to be filling airtime.  Reality is forcing us to adapt in ways that weren’t considered by our grandparents and society’s labels are slower to change to those adaptations.  I don’t see that terms such as father, mother, husband and wife will ever change.  But the truth is that as men take over greater household and family responsibilities, we’ll render the Missus obsolete. 

Upgrading Dad’s Hard-Drive

In today’s world, I can’t help but think of computers when I consider the differences between the male and female brains. One of the criticisms of men in family relationships is that "things aren’t what they were" and that’s largely because the hard drive atop a woman’s shoulders is crunching data and work functions almost continuously to the exclusion of the game processes.  But even if men are standing up and doing more, there’s an additional difference and that becomes glaringly obvious at Christmas – we’re running completely completely different operating systems at different speeds.  Women are at the higher speeds on a Windows 7 while we’re hammering along with XE on a three year old laptop.

I fully believe that men can do as well at raising kids as women, maternal intuition notwithstanding.  But I do believe that women are simply better able to multitask than men and especially in the case of details.   In this household, things move along well until late October and then we shift into the seasonal holiday mode in which my wife’s ability to remember the smallest details simply puts me to shame.  Youngest is old enough to get a real tie and if we get this, he can wear it with the following outfits…Eldest has a sweater that would go great with this necklace…Let’s face it, I’m the one managing the clothing and laundry and I haven’t the foggiest notion of what they’ve got in terms of colors and style.  In case you wonder if I’m just style-impaired, consider the following.

Remember when we got my father that sweater four years ago?  Nope.

Would best friend be able to use this purse?  Haven’t a clue.

Do you know if Middle needs new dark socks since his feet have grown?  Nuh – uh.

The modern Christmas season has become a complex dance with intricate moves along a multi-dimensional dance floor.  This is partially due to the influence of the consumer model in which we equate a quality Christmas with the number of gifts given and partially because of the way that the families are now geographically dispersed throughout the country.  There’s simply more to do and cover for people to have what is considered a good season.  The other influence is probably due to the simple difference between men and women; I believe that women are hard-wired to be more empathethic and concerned with the feelings of others than men, so they place a greater emphasis on these details than their mates.

But the reality is that if you hooked up a wife and mother’s brain to a computer diagnostic, you’d probably find more processes running than that of their mate.  I suspect that if the men made more of an effort to upgrade their processes, they’d probably find that their mate would correspondingly let the processes slow down.  There’s still be a qualitative difference however, and I don’t think that that leap is going to be easily made.

 

(huh)Whipped

If you’re like me, you sometimes think if I had said that to my old man, he’d have had me against a wall.  Such was the sense the other evening as an encounter with my teens and a few of their peers blossomed into a surreal fencing match over Seth McFarlane’s Family Guy.  The point of the conversation was whether I was (huh)whipped, and if you watch Stewie, you get the reference.

For the record, I find Family Guy to be screamingly funny even if it does occasionally veer into the realm of the insensitive; McFarlane’s parody song about Terry Schiavo is a case in point.  My wife however, finds it utterly distasteful.  Consequently, I – and the older kids – have watched it in her absence but make it a point to keep it off when she’s around out of some respect for her opinion.  Years ago, I even purchased Season One on DVD but after realizing how much she hated it, I put it away in a secure place and have never actually watched it, again, out of respect for her real dislike of the program.  I’ve never actually gotten rid of it because I’d forgotten about it.

The situation occurred when the two teens, along with several of their peers, asked if they could watch the DVD collection and I refused to get it for them.  They persisted – no self-respecting teen stops at the first shot – and when I held my ground and explained that I’d put the set away out of respect, was informed that I was whipped.  The sparring continued and in reference to the fact that it was Family Guy, I corrected them by stating that I wasn’t whipped, but actually (huh)whipped (for the uninformed, when a word starts with "wh", Stewie pronounces it by saying "huh" in front of the "w" and hence the joke).  My initial thought was that the comment was truly disrespectful and I admit to almost losing my temper, but decided in the moment to pursue the discussion.  My goal was to make them think about adult relationships and the question of what a couple owes one another.  This multi-level, multi-player conversation continued on one level, funny, and on another, deadly serious as different scenarios were explored.  What does it mean to be "whipped"?  Several of you have boyfriends or girlfriends – if you refuse to do something out of respect for them, does that make you whipped?  How do you feel if your significant other does something, knowing that you really detest it? 

The encounter lasted for several minutes, about what you’d expect from a pack of teens looking for a few yucks, with the result being that they settled on another movie and they then disappeared downstairs. 

The points are these. 

  •  Parenting is going to take you outside of your comfort zone as you’re challenged by kids who are pushing the boundaries in their testing of independence.  It’s much easier to somehow simply slough off the topic but it’s our obligation as parents to swallow our bile and stick through the unpleasantry just so that the words are out there.  The kids might not like it, but I guarantee you that they’re listening and processing if you’re willing to proceed.
  • The kids will learn about how to manage their relationships by watching you and how you consider your mate.  Each adult relationship has its dysfunctionality and the kids will pick up on that, but they’ll also pick up on the good things that you do and how you choose to honor your mate.  In that moment, to allow myself to be manipulated by a pack of teens so as to not appear (huh)whipped by my spouse would have taught horrendous unspoken lessons.

And for the record, I’m throwing out the Season One DVD set when I can remember where I put it.

PracticalDad:  Fatherhood and Testosterone (Take Two)

Author’s Note:  This is why I generally try to write while the kids aren’t around.  I get distracted and hit the ‘Submit’ button instead of ‘Save’.  Let’s try this again…

According to recent research from the National Academy of Sciences, there’s a statistically significant link – the probability is less than .001 that it’s a complete fluke- between the time that a guy spends caring for his child(ren) and his testosterone level.  It’s hit all of the media outlets from Yahoo to television and by next week, will probably be a movie of the week on Lifetime.  The hypothesis is that significant involvement with childcare, defined as greater than 3 hours daily, causes significant decline in the testosterone level as the male shifts from a need to propagate his line to one of actually raising it.  The apparent company line is that children in their sweet tenderness naturally soften the savage male heart, bringing the father ever so nearere to the bosom of his hearth and home.  Reading some of the media reports makes me see everything in a soft, gauzy glow akin to a Christmas hearth from a Hallmark card.

Let me speak from experience for a moment.  When you’re responsible for cleaning up – and after – kids, feeding and caring for them, you have absolutely no time and little desire and energy to father any more.  As wonderful as children are, the daily life of raising a small child can be a grind.  Toss in a dose of sleep deprivation and there you have it.

Is there a linkage between time spent in childcare and lower testosterone levels?  According to this, yep, and I don’t dispute it in the least.  But some of the company line of why smacks of a preconceived notion or an agenda.  Testosterone levels can be linked to causes as disparate as chemo and radiation treatment for cancer and the tightness of one’s underwear (women think that briefs are sexier, but they can cause a guy to shoot blanks).  Testosterone is produced by the male’s testes but if you follow the production process backwards from the testes, the testes production is stimulated by chemicals produced by the pituitary gland.  The Pituitary gland receives it’s marching orders from the hypothalamus, which is a lower level segment of the brain that controls hormone and other autonomic functions.  The hypothalamus itself receives it’s own set of orders from the cerebral cortex, which is one of the most advanced segments of the brain.  Typically, feelings of success, arousal and confidence will spur the cortex to kick the hypothalamus into gear, literally saying hey, go get me some more of that stuff!  Yowza!

My own sense is that any cause is more related to the issues in the cortex than anything else.  Raising kids is a challenge on multiple levels and a guy can feel wholly overwhelmed in the early periods.  Why is she crying?  What does she need – diaper, food or is this colic?  How do I handle it when I can’t get him to go down for his nap?  Damn, who do I cover first when one is crying from an ear infection and the other has just vomited on the sofa?  How can I feel good about myself when I’ve only had four hours of sleep and haven’t showered in two days?  It’s sometimes a situation of reacting to one situation or another with a recurrent fear that something’s been done wrong and that you’re a damned lousy parent. 

So much for feelings of success and confidence.

There is something that I’d like to see with this study since it does have real value.  The sample consisted of young Filipino men in their early and mid twenties; what is the effect on testosterone several years in the future, after the kids are through the stage of requiring such hands-on, intense attention? 

We’re only one generation of fathers in a lineage of untold generations of fathers and somehow, with some perseverance and considerable attention, we’ll do just fine.  But we are different in that we’re the first generation of men in a long while to really begin to hit the trenches of childcare and childrearing and we’re discovering what women have known for the longest time, that children require a level of attention that impacts almost all other areas of our lives. 

 

 

Dealing With It – That’s What Dads Are For

There are definitive differences in how fathers and mothers relate to children’s moods and response to new situations.  Because they have no wealth of experience with which to compare how things are versus how they could be, children can be cranky and unpleasant when confronted with new situations, sensations or circumstances that they don’t like.  From my experiences watching mothers, many will attempt to reason with the child or explain things, or get the child to verbalize what it is that they’re feeling and that is, all in all, a worthwhile approach.

This isn’t usually the case with fathers since men are generally neither as verbal nor patient as women.  While some men can chat happily about a multitude of topics, get us onto issues of emotion and feelings and we’re about as communicative as a mute with a lisp.  Even if we can verbalize what’s on our minds, we’re too impatient with children who will meander through any number of issues before finally – maybe – stumbling onto the item that’s really bothering them.  Get to the point, get to the point, get to the point…

I admire mothers who are willing to expend the time necessary in these situations.  But there is also real value to the male approach of getting to the point and helping the child learn how to simply deal with it and move on. 

This Christmas holiday was a case in point.  We took the kids to New York City by train to sightsee, take in a Broadway show and experience firsthand a certifiable city-closing blizzard.  The practical upshot was that there was absolutely no opportunity for the kids to whine about taking a cab and we were able to happily walk all over Midtown Manhattan.  The amount of snow and slush was deep enough in spots to overflow the tops of the snow boots that the kids wore and feet and socks got wet as we trudged up West 49th.  Youngest did get wet feet and as he complained about his feet, we noted that Saks Fifth Avenue was nearby.  The thing about whining children is that they really are the gift that keeps on giving, continuing and cycling even when the original cause has been rectified.  Since it hadn’t occurred to me to actually put a spare pair of dry socks in my coat pocket, my wife and I agreed that getting a dry pair of socks was reasonable.  The fact that it was Saks Fifth Avenue made it – in the eyes of my wife and daughter – a certifiable slam dunk, can’t miss two-fer.  Unfortunately, this was meaningless to Youngest, who’s a male and looks at department store shopping with the same sense as awaiting a root canal.  Even when we explained why we were going in, his attitude darkened further and the whining ratcheted upwards.

We exited at the sixth floor – Youngest’s feet are big enough that he was in men’s shoes before he could spell men – and wandered back to the sock area.  We found a pair of cotton athletic socks and I took it to a cashier in a different department since our local salespeople were contending with millionaires pondering their AARP discounts.  Honestly, if you’re able to afford a handmade pair of English wingtips, you’re embarrassing yourself to wonder aloud whether you could get a discount on it.  The salesman was a dapper, distinguished looking African American gentleman who wore his gray hair far better than I wear mine.  His eyebrow cocked slightly at my single pair of socks and when I told him to forget the bag, I explained it’s immediate use for a little boy with wet feet.  We talked for a brief period and when I stated that Youngest would simply have to wear them and get on with it, he nodded and broke into a wide grin, exclaiming that’s what Dads are for.  

When I returned to our area, Youngest was still surly and my wife was still trying to get him to explain what it was that was bothering him.  The entire time that I was away, my wife had attempted to talk him through which was admirable but useless.  I knelt next to him and my thoroughly annoyed point to him was that he now had two options.  The first was to put the dry socks on his feet and we’d continue on to see our sights and have a wonderful afternoon.  The other option was to leave the wet socks on and continue on to see our sights since I refused to return eight blocks to the hotel for a dry pair of socks.  Since we were here purely to help him, he’d have to accept the help or have to deal with the discomfort and complete lack of sympathy from his father. 

What’s my other option?

There is no other option.  Take the dry socks or suck it up and deal with it – and I’ll have no sympathy.

Youngest accepted the first option and donned the dry socks as I deposited the wet ones in my coat pocket (he wore them the next day when his socks got wet again).  He wasn’t happy with the options but the stark presentation broke the cycle since he was now able to focus his anger on me instead of on the discomfort.  The attention turned from an internalized unhappiness to something that existed beyond himself and when he worked through it in several minutes, his original complaint was rectified and then forgotten. 

It’s easier to learn to deal with it – whatever it is – when you’re older because with age generally comes an awareness of others as well as a sense of proportion.  But it’s also better learned when you recognize that it’s not going to be neither tolerated nor encouraged.  So my wife and I will continue the ongoing balancing act as we attempt to help the kids learn to verbalize their thoughts and feelings while still learning how to deal with things so that they don’t take over completely.

And if you’re ever in the position of buying a pair of $1200 handmade English wingtips, just buy the damned things and stop kvetching.

What Do You Give A New Dad?

I was pleased to find out today that a young friend is now officially a father for the first time.  I’ve known that it was coming and had the mother’s present ready but didn’t really know what to give the new father.  What is a good gift for a new father?

Depending upon their circumstances, new parents can find themselves utterly awash in goods and items.  There will be showers and various other gifting opportunities and a young couple can really stock up, but these are generally items for the family situation – blankets, towels, devices, supplies.  Women will always be able to figure out something that’s for the new mother since many of them have either been through the pain of childbirth or have actually paid attention when their friends went through it.  But what do you get for a guy? 

Many products for guys are recreation oriented and while that’s nice, the reality is that such gifts help to draw the guy’s attention out of the household and away from the family.  Golf clubs?  They’re a great gift but that guarantees several hours at a time away from the home and family.  Tools?  Better, since they can serve a purpose that at least keeps the guy around the house.  But some men just aren’t all that handy or into tools for the sake of tools.  Except Bill, but he’s an exception.  Today’s reality is that women are stretched between work and home and the kids desperately need love and attention more than anything so gifts that pull a father’s focus from the household is actually counterproductive.  At the same time, men simply don’t have the same sensibilities as women and would look askance at the great majority of items that might please the mother.

So what to do? 

As I ran errands the other weekend, the choice occurred to me as I passed a Tobaccionist’s shop and I stopped and purchased both a Cohiba and an Arturo Fuente for the new father.  While I only occasionally smoke a cigar, it is true that a really good cigar is a different taste and experience; as the old saying goes a woman is a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke.  But I’ve had to wonder, what it is about cigars that has made them a time-tested fatherhood gift?  Some psychologist somewhere might make a comment about phalluses and fatherhood but I do think that it’s different than that.  Smoking a cigar is truly an aqcuired taste and one that requires a certain amount of practice and time to truly appreciate.  It’s a truism that in previous times, fathers who wanted to break their kids of smoking would start them on a cigar. Certainly there are women who appreciate a good cigar but I simply think that a cigar is best appreciated by men and giving such an item is a nod to a guy’s finally taking that final step to the fullest aspect of manhood, being a father.

Come to think of it, perhaps I’ll send the Fuente and smoke the Cohiba myself.

 

PracticalDad:  Are Small Children a Mother’s Job?

I recently had a series of conversations and the gist was the question of whether fathers had a serious role in raising smaller children or whether small kids are the mother’s purview.  The sense of one person was that the father should let the mother be primarily responsible for the younger kids until they’re older, at which point the father steps in.  Others disagreed and to be honest, I was surprised.  Why shouldn’t the father be involved from the earliest days?

Mothers historically are viewed as the nurturing parent and that’s partially the result of the physical act of having to nurse the child.  Both nurture and nurse are from the latin nutrire, of which one definition is to nourish.  Prior to formula, and followed later by the breast pump, women had to stay home since they were the only ones capable of actually feeding an infant that wasn’t yet able to take in solid food.  And historically, the fathers were out working in order to put the bread on the table and the roof over the head.  With these clear job delineations, men looked askance at women as they entered the workplace.  I can attest from firsthand experience that when men started to take up the household and childcare duties, more than a few women likewise looked askance as well.

But is that parental job division still valid?  Are kids better off with mothers when they’re younger or are men equally as capable?

I’ll have to be honest and acknowledge that at some level, there will be some gender generalizations made.  In my experience, women seem naturally more capable of multi-tasking than men and I can’t determine if that’s hard-wired into their brains or just a skill acquired from watching their own mothers as they grew up.  Multiple men have commented that their wives are better at handling several things simultaneously but I can attest that there are some learned skills that make the juggling of various tasks at the same time.  The more that you handle housework, the more you learn about how to accomplish various tasks while the dishwasher or dryer is running.  Most women have also had the opportunity to watch their mothers work with the children and combined with the plethora of additional resources available and are less surprised by the various ways that a child can throw a monkey wrench into the workings of the average day.  Men haven’t had the benefit of seeing their fathers in this role before and couple this with the lack of resources and many men are far more unprepared than their mates for the task.  Likewise, women tend to be far more detail oriented than men and one of the female’s standard complaints is that the male just isn’t paying attention.

Point taken.  But the flip side is that it’s hard to keep track of details when you’ve got no clue what the details even are.  Birthday parties, vaccinations and clothing shopping are generally off of the father’s radar but once he’s aware, he can also learn to make sure that they’re covered.

But apart from the inexperience and unfamiliarity factors, fathers are also capable of taking over the childcare and household responsibilities.  It’s liable to be a bumpy ride at first, but men can learn the tips, tricks and routines that go into the daily life of the child.  What are the child’s sleep and nutritional requirements?  Why are they acting as they are and if it’s a problem, what can I do about it?  These are issues that don’t lend themselves to any particular gender and with some experience and attention, fathers should be able to handle them as well. 

There are some areas of childrearing in which fathers do have an advantage over the women.  The communication skills of children with active fathers is significantly higher than those without an active father.  Likewise, kids with active fathers are more self-confident in their dealings with new situations and are more willing to explore than if the father isn’t involved or present.  It’s the men who interact in the world and take the time to model that behavior for their children that really are watching what they do. 

There’s another aspect to fathers in the home that deals less with the child’s well-being than the father’s.  Perhaps because so many now grow up in fatherless homes that those men who had no active fathers want to take a strong role in the household and childrearing so that their children don’t experience what they did.  I’ve had multiple conversations with men over the years and the common thread of these fatherless guys is that they want the kids to not experience their own difficulties.  They also want to enjoy their time with the kids, far more than their predecessors did.  Solid parent-child relationships are built on more than just weekend trips to the zoo or other activities and it’s in the day-to-day life that many lessons are passed along.

But for all intents and purposes, it’s become a more academic question than it was one or two decades ago.  The old gender lines are blurring and as they continue, because of economics and choice, it will be less of a concern to the simple question of who’s making sure that the kids are cared for and raised.

 

 

 

Inside Your Wife’s Head:  Defragging the Hard Drive

She’s not as playful as before the kids’ arrival.  Perhaps she’s more curt and distracted and it seems harder to engage in the same conversations that you had when it was just the two of you.  You look at her and wonder, what’s going on inside her head?  If you want to understand, think of her brain as the dependable family PC.  The game processing speed is diminishing as more practical work packages are added to the hard drive to handle the increasing family demands.

Dads today are doing more with kids than previous generations.  A 2008 study found that today’s fathers are managing twice the housework and triple the childcare as our grandfathers.  But that doubling still only takes it to 30% of the housework.  Working and managing family obligations are filling the maternal hard drive.

You can separate these obligations into two categories – relationships and operations management.  Running these two areas means that she’s had to further develop multi-tasking subroutines.

It’s the women who usually take care of the relationship aspects of the family.  What’s happening with the kids?  Who are their friends and  how are they developing socially?  The mothers arrange the playdates and are more sensitive to the kids’ issues.  There’s also maintaining extended family relationships as well, arranging gatherings, passing important news and remembering important dates.  We are also sandwiched between two generations who are on opposing ends of the self-care Bell Curve.  Kids absolutely require time and attention.  Grandparents can still be very competent but the physical and mental cracks begin to appear as they age.  Unlike the Chinese, who prize their sons for eldercare, the care of aging American parents normally falls to the daughters; your wife is probably more aware of her father’s prostate than you are of your own.

Managing the household operations occupy a significant portion of the drive.  Kids prosper when they have a routine and general schedule in their daily lives.  But the reality is that kids leave confusion in their wake; they sicken, forget things, get cranky and demanding.  So the mothers, as primary caregivers, are trying to reconcile flexibility with maintaining some kind of daily routine.

It can be maddening and even infuriating when others who aren’t aware of the competing demands question why more wasn’t accomplished in the course of a day.  The kids’ chronic interruptions also mean that she’s being constantly diverted from the original task and getting back on track requires additional time and mental effort.

There’s a cycle to maintaining even a relatively clean house – cleaning, cooking and laundry – and these require additional subroutines that add more multi-tasking layers.  Toss a load of laundry in the washer and return to the kitchen to load  the dishwasher.

While these run, cut up food for the crockpot and then help Junior find the prized possession that he’s mislaid for the twelfth time.  Then it’s back to shift laundry to the dryer and onwards to something else that needs to be done.  Weave that into the mix of work and childcare and you have a woman who’s maintaining a high level of efficiency at the expense of game speed.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that distance automatically equals a lack of love.  It’s likely that she still loves you and wants those moments to play the games.  But the games are best enjoyed when more of the computing processes and subroutines are removed from her hard drive.  Just remember that the family family needs these subroutines to survive, so they have to move to a different hard drive.