Tuesday, August 25, 2009

How Guys Parent Different Than the Ladies

            I think it’s safe to say that for most women, having children is the biggest accomplishment of their lives. I say this because Michelle was reading through the booklet from her twenty-year class reunion, and some people filled out updates about themselves under the contact info. Of course, some wrote many pages’ worth, and some only a snippet, but under the “Accomplishments” section, it was surprising just how many of her female high school friends listed “Children.”
            I don’t think guys work that way at all. Don’t get me wrong, we love children, and we love being fathers, but we’re not so relationship-focused as women. It’s like, for women, relationships are “it.” That’s all. That’s all that’s important in life.
            If you were to ask a woman “Who are you?” she might say, “The mother of two children, the wife of a great man, etc, etc.” Ask a guy, and you’d get an answer that revolved around their activities. Work. Sports. Hobbies. Religious orientation. Etc. We’d never even think to mention our relationships.
            All this to say, I think women put a lot more into parenting than men. And I’m not trying to defend myself of anything here, because I do my best to be the world’s best dad, but I definitely see that Michelle puts way more effort into it than I do. And in fact, I think most women do. Which can lead to both positives and negatives. Let me explain.
            I took Celia on a run yesterday after work. We jogged around Trout Lake a couple of times, and as we passed the playground she got excited so I stopped and let her roam around. I did pull-ups as she crawled up to the gym. I did pushups as she crawled onto a ramp and met other kids.
            A mother was walking her fifteen-month old daughter along the gym when Celia went crawling past. Celia didn’t quite make it up a ramp, fell down and almost cried. I could visibly see the mother tense up and want to pick her up, but it wasn’t her kid so she didn’t. I walked over and watched as Celia sputtered back onto her hands and knees and did it again, only to succeed this time. I went back to my exercises, then checked in again. The mother of the fifteen-month-old said, “She put a rock in her mouth.”
            “Thanks,” I said, and peered over at Celia. “Where’s the rock, sweetie?” I asked her.
            The woman was starting to get agitated. How could any self-respecting father allow his daughter to put sand and rocks into his baby’s mouth? I knew she was thinking this. But Celia just spat the rock out, and I patted her on the head and said, “Good girl.”
            Then, I turned to the woman and said, “She’s had her fair share of sand at the beach. She’s learned she doesn’t like it.”
            The woman said, “My daughter always tries to eat everything she’s not supposed to. Especially paper.”
            I looked at her and instantly knew, now here is a woman who doesn’t let her kid explore the world and figure things out for themselves. And already the child is rebellious. At fifteen months she’s already doing exactly the thing her mother doesn’t want her to.
            I can’t blame the mother, because it’s like I said earlier, women are all about relationships, and since most women see their children as their greatest accomplishment, I think it’s a struggle to not put too much stock into their kids. So, this woman, who’s trying her best, ends up overprotecting her kids.
            At least, that’s my lackadaisical father perspective. But look at the results… my kid has learned for herself that she doesn’t want to swallow rocks and sand. Her kid still thinks it’s something interesting and wants to constantly try it. Why? Because she’s never had the chance to do it for herself! All she knows is her mother says, “No,” and she doesn’t get to experience it. So what does it cultivate? Curiosity. Why not give her the chance to explore a bit more, fall on her head once or twice, and pick herself up again, all the stronger for it, rather than holding her hand through the small things? I’d save the hand-holding for the dangerous or truly important things, myself. It also gives me time to do my own thing (like exercise).
            Every parent of young kids always seems shocked when they find out how young Celia is, and just how mature she already seems to be. I just figure, heck, if you give them lots of chances to experience life, rather than being cooped up in a protective sphere, they’ll get out there and mature faster than ever.
            And that’s the fathers’ way. None of this over-protective rubbish. I’ve even caught myself thinking to say to my daughter, “Now don’t be such a Cry-Baby,” but then I realize, “Oh yeah, you are still a Cry-Baby,” and I let it go. But I think she’s getting tougher all the time.
            And she certainly loves me to bits. Every time she sees me she just breaks into the biggest grin and puts out her hand as if to say, “Get over here and give me a big kiss. You know the way I like it. Come on, Dad. Show me the love.”
             Which of course I am eager to do.

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