Parenting Basics: “Wait Until Your Father Gets Home”

Grandma was right! There is an easy way and a hard way to raise kids. By and large, today’s parents are choosing the hard way. This series of blogs will tackle familiar phrases that used to be commonplace but fell out of favor during the last few decades of the 20th century—and why parents should not be afraid to follow the sentiment expressed in the phrases.
What role does Dad have in your family’s life? Is he regulated to a supporting role, a parenting aide to Mom? Does he share in the discipline? Is he merely a buddy, someone to clown around with while Mom does the heavy lifting?
Part of the confusion today over the role of a father has its roots in the idealized view of the 1950s nuclear family. Dad brought home the bacon, Mom fried it up in a pan, and the kids were pretty much seen but not heard. As part of the backlash against what many saw as a distant, cold father figure, Dads have move out of the background and into the foreground—but not exactly into a co-parenting role.
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Most husbands and wives, when they become Mother and Father, move into a lopsided arrangement whereas the wives/mothers become the head of the child-rearing department and the husbands/fathers float into a buddy/pal relationship with the child. If today’s typical mother were to tell her kids, “Wait until your father gets home!,” in response to misbehavior, most kids would not worry one iota. In fact, they would look forward to Dad coming home to play with them.
This shift into turning Dad into a mere play-pal hasn’t done any favors to the average American marriage, either. Most parents forget that they should be spending more time in the role of husband and wife instead of mother/father. Our job is to help our spouse see his or her role is not to be the world’s greatest dad or mom, but to be the world’s greatest husband or wife.
By concentrating more on the marriage relationship, you will actually be a better mother and father. Might sound counterintuitive, but numerous studies have shown that children are happier and feel more secure when they know their parents’ marriage is strong. Instead of encouraging your husband or wife to be the world’s greatest dad or mom, say you want him or her to be the world’s greatest husband or wife.
Once you make that change—a more focus on husband/wife than mom/dad roles—moving Dad from the fringes of parenting should be easier. A father shouldn’t be a mere parenting aide, but a full participant in parenting decisions and discipline. A good rule of thumb is that the parent with the most hands-on interaction with the children should be the primary discipliner. But that doesn’t mean the Dad (in most cases) can’t mete out consequences when needed or to back up Mom by delivering punishments when requested by Mom.
In October, Sarah will be giving a series of talks on The Well-Behaved Child: Discipline that Really Works through the City of Fairfax Parks and Recreation Department. Coming in early 2014, Sarah and Mary Elizabeth Peritti will speak on Parenting With Love & Leadership in a four-part webinar series. Contact Sarah through her website for more information.

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