I noticed something remarkable on a recent outing to the playground with my granddaughters. Four dads in a row were pushing their toddlers on swings-almost in sync. The playful dance thrilled me! Several other dads were there that warm, sunny morning: one was blowing bubbles, one was comforting a hurt child and wiping her tears, and some were talking with each other. That scene was strikingly different from playground scenes thirty years ago when my kids were young. In 1970, 24% of all households had the “traditional" arrangement of a breadwinning father married to a homemaking mother who was also the primary childcare provider. Today only 7% fit that model.
At that time gender roles ruled at the playground-and in the home. Although women (like myself) were in charge of the home front, it was understood that we were “just housewives" and “didn't work. " Caring for the children was considered women's work and was therefore undervalued by society. I remember hearing a dad boast that, even though he had five children, he had never changed a diaper. More and more men are now co-parenting and sharing housework.
What an enormous change in our families! According to family historian Stephanie Coontz, marriage has changed more in the last 30 years than in the previous 3,000. “Men's greater involvement at home is good for their relationships with their spouses, and also good for their children. Fathers who are more involved with their families raise sons who are more expressive and empathic and daughters who are more likely to do well in school-especially in math and science. "
This increased time and involvement with their children means that fathers are bonding with them-early and deeply. This is great news for the children, the dads, the moms, and society as a whole. Research tells us that the number one antidote to risky behavior in children is a strong relationship with a parent. This connection will protect kids throughout their childhood years and give them inner strength as they encounter the dangers of society.
The recent changes in family life have brought many benefits:
These changes also present a host of new challenges:
The grandparent-grandchild relationship is very special. Because my folks were immigrants, I never knew my own grandparents. I committed to doing whatever was necessary to ensure that my grandchildren had a different experience, so ten years ago I moved 1500 miles across the country to be close to them. The connections are sweeter than I had imagined, for all three generations. Solutions to the common disconnection between grandparents and grandchildren are offered in my book, The Winning Family; you can “adopt" grandparents, aunts, and uncles, and extend your family.
In addition, dads and moms need a new parenting style that is not based on dominance and submission, orders and obedience. Partner-parents need to learn the Democratic Leadership Style, which is based on mutual respect, communication, choice, and cooperation.
"Like father, like son" is an old expression that is currently being questioned and disproved. The fathers of the last generation were defined by their roles as sole breadwinners and strict disciplinarians. The phrase, “Wait until your father comes home. . . " struck fear in the hearts of many youngsters, and undermined a loving connection between fathers and their children.
The modern partner-dads who are designing a new vision place a premium on:
The family of origin has a huge influence. Our goal as parents should be to learn from the past-they way we were raised-and make a better future for our children
© 2008 Dr. Louise Hart is parent educator, author, grandmother, and a Community Psychologist.
Louise wrote two books packed with information about improving well-being, happiness and self-esteem. Jack Canfield (author of Chicken Soup for the Soul) praised On the Wings of Self-Esteem: “It's a wonderful book! If everyone in America read this book and did the recommended exercises, half of all the pain and suffering we now experience would disappear. "
The Winning Family: Increasing Self-Esteem in Your Children and Yourself, can help parents change negative patterns and create more connection and caring.
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