When that first child comes along, mothers learn that having a helpful father around can make her a better mother. The key word in that sentence, of course, is helpful! Wise mothers also recognize that a man benefits from her support in being a good father. My colleague, Erin Holmes, a professor at Brigham Young University, wrote a chapter in Why Fathers Count that provides key insights on how mothering is connected to good fathering, as well as the ways that mothers and fathers can collaborate in raising healthy children. I thought that chapter offered some excellent ideas that outline the valuable connections between fathering and mothering.
Dr. Holmes and I first met as students during our years in graduate school, and have shared ideas and projects over the years since entering the field of family studies. She has been studying both mothering and fathering since her graduate school days in Delaware and Texas. According to Dr. Holmes, fathering cannot be defined in isolation from mothering or the expectations of mothers.
“Fathers feel more competent and capable when mothers believe that men can be as good at parenting as women can,” notes Holmes. In other words, womens ideas about mens skills affect the way that men think about themselves as fathers. For women, she suggests, the take-away message is to “tell men what they do well, tell them that you want them to be involved, and patiently allow them to improve their skills.”
Men do not enter the arena of parenthood in quite the same manner as women do. They may have had less experience with giving direct care to children, they are often used to seeing women take the lead in parenting efforts, and they dont usually have the same support systems in becoming a parent. For example, baby showers, while common among networks of women, are not a typical social event that new fathers experience. In essence, then, the way that women invite men into the lives of children and give support to their efforts is critical to the way that men themselves see their own opportunities and abilities as fathers.
In addition to womens views of men, Erin Holmes also cites a variety of statistics that show men are less likely to be involved or financially supportive if the relationship with a childs mother is poor. “Maintaining a good relationship with the mother is one valuable way that fathers build relationships with their children,” states Holmes. There are a variety of circumstances that can challenge that relationship between a father and mother, ranging from divorce to incarceration. Whatever the circumstances that exist, fathers and mothers who forge a working relationship in parenting their children go a long way toward increasing a fathers motivation and involvement.
In writing about how mothers and fathers can work together for their children, Dr. Holmes provides a variety of practical suggestions:
- Maintain a positive emotional atmosphere at home. Be affectionate, supportive, and kind to each other.
- Let children know and see that you appreciate each others efforts as parents. A note or a “thank you” helps to demonstrate this.
- Offer instruction to each other when needed, and be willing to accept help when it is offered. Parenting involves teamwork, which means both sharing information and accepting it.
- Make parenting decisions together. Avoid criticizing a partner or undermining each others authority in front of children.
- Share personal feelings with each other. Remind each other that you are working together to strengthen family ties.
What she wishes parents to realize, Erin Holmes says, is that “good mothering and good fathering are connected.” At times there are conditions that severely limit the type of relationship that parents can share together. Fathers who wish to fulfill their opportunities with children, however, will do all that they can to cultivate a caring, positive relationship with the childs mother.
What are some of the practical ways for fathers to engage the support of mothers and give support also? Erin Holmes offers a variety of practical suggestions for fathers when it comes to supporting mothers:
- Relieve Moms load. Give her a chance to take time on her own to recharge her batteries. A “Girls Night Out” can be a fathers investment in supporting a childs mother, among many other activities.
- Do a few household chores without being asked. Mothers are often the “managers” of household chores, even if work gets shared or delegated to other family members. Lifting the need to manage certain tasks in the home can be a positive way to give support.
- Counsel together and give support to her mothering choices. No parent likes to be contradicted with regard to parenting choices and efforts. If you feel a need to discuss certain choices or have a difference of opinion, seek to discuss and work out these issues privately and not as a drama in front of children.
- Provide for your familys financial needs. Financial support is an important part of fathering and helps to provide security. However, do not define your fathering efforts by your financial contributions. While important, this is not the most important aspect of fathering, and connecting with and caring for children directly always takes priority and costs nothing but time and effort.
- Treat your childrens mother with love and respect. It has been said that the greatest thing a man can do for his children is to love and respect their mother. Show this to children in the way you talk about, praise, and give support to their mother.
“Good mothering, at its heart, acknowledges the important influence of fathers and provides a steady, consistent foundation for fathers to truly count in the lives of their children,” says Erin Holmes.
I echo this wise observation. Fathers and mothers can, and hopefully will, see the great possibilities available to them in working together to care for children and nurture the best efforts of each other in the task of parenting the next generation.