I’ve always been the “fun dad,” and I find that my fellow fathers often fall under that heading, too. Everyone knows that dads have a different parenting style than moms do: we tend to be more rough-and-tumble, messier, more impulse, less “rule”-driven. These differences can sometimes mean head-butting with mom–sometimes they think we take things too far, or not seriously enough. But research and common sense shows that different parenting styles are best for kids, and that there is no “wrong” way to parent. Here is why dad parenting styles work, and how you can make the most of being the fun dad, for yourself and your kids.
Let Them Take Risks.“Don’t let her go so fast!” “Don’t let him run, he could fall down and hurt himself!” Etc. These are the admonitions of concerned moms, often shouted while you’re having a blast with your child. Researchers theorize that the physical, protective bond formed between mother and child in utero, characterized by the mom giving up “risky” behaviors for the benefit of her baby, makes mothers more cautious parents. However, slightly risky activities serve a purpose in child development: without learning about risks and consequences, children can’t learn to make good decisions.
“If kids don’t experience somewhat risky physical fun, it might make them more cautious and less willing to try things they haven’t quite mastered yet,” Kyle Pruett, Ph.D., says. Dr. Pruett is a clinical professor of child psychiatry at Yale University and is the author of Fatherneed: Why Father Care Is as Essential as Mother Care for Your Child. “You have to fall down in order to learn to ice-skate. If you’re afraid of falling down, you won’t learn.”
Trust Your Instincts. Many moms dive headfirst into books and other resources, determined to be the “best” parent they can. Sometimes this translates into a form of “anal retentiveness” about taking expert advice. But dads? We are often fly by the seat of our pants type parents, who don’t mind doing things “wrong” occasionally, as long as the kids are happy and healthy. Sure, there are times and places to trust the experts, but we also have to learn how to trust our instincts. We know our kids and what they need, and a lot of what experts say is right or wrong is a matter of opinion. Ask yourself, is your child hurt by your decision to do or not do something? Is he or she happy and well? Then don’t sweat the small stuff.
Prepare Them for the Future. Many moms will drop whatever they are doing to rush to their child the moment there’s a hint of a sniffle, sneeze, or whatever. Dads, however, often wait longer, letting the child sort themselves out emotionally. This technique is actually very useful in child development: not only is self-soothing necessary, it also teaches the child boundaries and limits.
So when Mom gets frustrated at the differences in your parenting styles, point out the positive points that “dad-style” can bring.