Saturday, December 19, 2009

National Fatherhood Initiative's finding on raising teens

[This week's Haveil Havalim is here!]

A friend pointed me to the National Fatherhood Initiative’s “Mama Says” Survey, which studied mothers’ beliefs about fathers. Among the findings:

* 93% of moms believe there is a father absence crisis.
* Closeness to children and work-family balance were the biggest predictors of mom's happiness with dad (after living arrangement).
* Moms said that "work responsibilities" were the biggest obstacle to dad's success in fathering.
* Strong religious values are beneficial to helping dads be better fathers.
* Moms think communities of faith are the top place for dads to get fathering help.

One particular finding caught my eye: Dads of young children got better marks than teens.

I can see that (assuming they meant Dads of young children got better marks than dads of teens...).

For me, one of the main challenges of fatherhood is recognizing that resistance from the kids isn’t always about me. I am so naturally competitive that I tend to take resistance personally, even though the conflict may be about a real problem, or about tension over a test that day, or about the fact that the sun rose that morning. The result is that I frequently need to take a mental step back and make sure I am responding to the right stimulus, in order to parent properly.

For example: If my daughter refuses to put on a coat before going outside in the Toronto winter, I could respond competitively, using warnings and the like to ‘win’ by getting her to put on her coat. But I’m far better off asking myself why she is refusing, and dealing with the problem at its root.

I know it’s dangerous to stereotype by gender, but I’ll do it now anyway: I think men are generally more competitive than women, and certainly than mothers. And I think men are more likely to allow themselves to compete with their children.

And to take the next step, I think this probably becomes more challenging when dealing with teenage children, specifically. Younger children usually live in their own world and tend to be stubborn rather than competitive. I’ve noticed with my older children, though, that as they are nearing adolescence they are becoming more competitive with their parents, in ways both evident and subtle. Managing that competition, especially as the kids become more legitimate as competition, is becoming more of a challenge for me.

In other words: Competitive fathers have an easier time with younger children, who are less capable of competition and less interested in competition. That changes as the kids get older, and fathers either learn to deal with it or they and their children have a very rough time.

And here’s a possibly-somewhat-relevant thought, building on something I saw the other day on-line, I forget where: Among the founders of the Jewish people, our ancestors all spent serious time away from their parents when embarking upon their major biblical careers. Avraham and Sarah leave altogether. Yitzchak spends some serious time out of the house after the Akeidah (binding), before his father decides to seek a wife for him. Rivkah leaves her family, as do Rachel and Leah. Yaakov spends more than twenty years away from home. And then, of course, we have Yosef.



  1. One way to look it at is that older children are competitive with their parents. Another way to view it is that as a child gets older the child pulls away from being an extention of a parent to becoming a self-standing individual. As part of that push to individualism there is going to be a natural conflict between what a parent wants/says/does and what the child wants/says/does. It is a competition in the sense that both parent and child want to be #1 in the child's life.

    It is also disconcerting to a parent to discover that things that the parent holds dear, that the parent considers as of the ultimate importance may not be held as dear or may not be seen as of such importance by the child. Some parents see this as rejection, and it doesn't sit well with them, hence the competition to get back in the driver's seat.

  2. Agreed. Do you think these indirect aspects of competition (desires, values) are of different importance, or are handled differently, by mothers and fathers?

  3. I can't speak for all mothers and fathers but my personal experience and what I have observed among my close family and friends is that mothers find compromise easier to deal with than fathers do. Dads tend to see things more as black and white. Mothers tend to be more invested in the relation aspects of a family, being willing to adjust personal desires and beliefs if the end result is to keep the family intact and functioning.