How you parent is largely determined by your gender. When Mom offers her son a magic kiss and Dad grumbles, “Shake it off, tough stuff,” there is another biological battle between genders taking place. What makes the situation more complex is that parenting styles shift between boys and girls. A gruff Daddy just might place a magic kiss on his daughter’s knee when no one else is looking.
1. A Biological Basis for Parenting Approaches
It should be no surprise that there are significant sex-based differences in parenting styles. Even the most enlightened parents are still controlled to some degree by their biological instincts. Generally, mothers tend to be nurturing communicators while fathers often alternate between being stern and playful. Your gender--and that of your child--has a significant effect on how you bond, communicate and discipline. While your individual approaches influence your relationship with your child, how well you blend those two parenting styles actually has the most impact on your child’s emotional and cognitive development.
Mothers largely provide the emotional nourishment that children need, especially during the first three years. As a result, Mom most often becomes the sought-after parent for doling out hugs when children get hurt or cranky. Women also tend to take the lead in bonding activities, such as reading a book, playing a board game or solving a puzzle, which all require close contact, as well as take ownership of educational and spiritual instruction. Because men usually prefer active, outdoor activities, bonding with Dad grows exponentially around the third birthday when preschoolers’ motor and verbal skills kick into overdrive. Although Dad might be less likely to offer comfort when he encounters excessive crying or whining, especially with his son, fathers are almost as likely as mothers to give their child a hug and say “I love you” every day. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 87 percent of moms and 73 percent of dads report showing their children affection daily.
Typically more comfortable verbalizing their feelings, moms most often answer those endless “But, why?” questions that spew out of little mouths as well as patiently provide explanations for rules and punishments. Moms also offer more positive nonverbal communication signals, such as smiles and snuggles. While Dad is more likely to utter the dreaded words, “Because I said so!” he has an enormous influence through his nonverbal communication--his actions. Fathers play a critical role in their children entering successful, happy relationships. Children learn what their parents model, so when a son sees Daddy cooking spaghetti in the kitchen on Wednesday evening or bringing Mommy a cup of coffee in bed on Sunday morning, he is learning how he should treat his future partner.
As communicators, mothers are more likely to be mediators and to adjust punishments to fit the crimes. Yet, as exacting taskmasters, moms have little patience when their rigid timelines are derailed by shuffling feet. A bit more overprotective, moms are prone to issue more warnings when their children are approaching an activity. Fathers are usually the stricter disciplinarians and the more permissive playmates. While he might react with a sterner warning or a harsher reprimand, Dad is also the parent who enthusiastically encourages tree climbing and roughhousing. He pushes his child to learn independence through exploration, although he often imposes firmer limits upon girls.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Charting Parenthood: A Statistical Portrait of Fathers and Mothers in America
- Zero to Three: How Men and Children Affect Each Other's Development; Kyle D. Pruett, M.D.
- MSNBC: Gender Wars: Men and Women on Parenting
- Early Childhood Research Quarterly; Correspondence Between Maternal and Paternal Parenting Styles in Early Childhood; Winsler et al.
- Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images