Awhile ago, I was at a party and one of my neighbors was talking about how her 15 –year –old son called home day and asked if he and his friends could stop at Taco Mac. It was 6:35 and they were supposed to be leaving to go somewhere as a family at 6:45. She was kind of going back and forth with the 15 –year- old for a few minutes when her husband just looked at his watch, calculated how far away the Taco Mac was and the time, took the phone out of her hands and said “6:45” and hung up. And we all laughed because is that not the difference sometimes between mothering and fathering? I have heard a Master Waldorf person say (maybe Betty Staley??) in an audio tape boys only want to know 3 things – who is in charge, what are the rules, and what happens if I break the rules and girls want to know about quality of their relationships – they will cheat on a test, for example, to keep a friend. So perhaps these difference persist throughout the years.
So I guess I use these examples to say, yes, I think there is a place for mothering and fathering. There is a place for a mother to model how you do things with your child, for your husband to see, but there is also a place for your husband to develop his own relationship with his own child. That being said, I know the Gesell Institute books say many children will not have much to do with dad until they are 5 or so. I think this depends on the family and the child’s personality as well as if the mother works and dad takes care of the kids without mom around – they sort of have to develop some kind of relationship then. I have seen many families where the mother stays at home and the father NEVER has the children without the mother on any kind of a regular basis, so when the mother does leave the children with the father without her, all parties have a harder time. I have also seen many mothers who made their husbands feel incompetent when he attempted to take care of the children, and basically did not “let” the dad take care of the children . Therefore, the children almost looked at dad as he was or certainly must be incompetent. This is not ideal, because there is a place for mothering and fathering, and there is also a need of the child to see the adults in the household having Authentic Leadership. If you need help as to what Authentic Leadership may look like, please refer to this post I wrote: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/10/16/gentle-discipl…tic-leadershipgentle-discipline-as-authentic-leadership/
“Lifeways” has a chapter on “The Father as Full Parent” – in this case, a dad who is a single dad and raising his child. He talks about how parental love surrounds the child with a protective cloak of caring (an image you hear a lot about in Waldorf) to provide soul-warmth for a child (also an image you hear a lot about) and how this protection turns into mediation –“standing between the child and the world in such a way as to strengthen him in facing its joys and hardships” and how this is different than over-protection. He says that to “find that right combination of firmness and gentleness is surely a struggle for every parent.” I hear many mothers say that with their partners instead of providing guidance through a side-ways approach to a situation that involves fantasy and movement for a child under the age of 7, it can turn into words that are harsher and more direct. However, tunless physical or emotional abuse is happening, perhaps this is not the place for a mother and wife to nag; it may instead be a place to model, to demonstrate and to let the dads work on softening themselves and their relationship with their small child. This is truly work. Sometimes different things trigger different things in people, so knowing what really upsets your partner in parenting can also be a large assistance. Sometimes I personally do need my husband to step in as he can cut to the chase many times better than me – and sometimes he can show that great skill in fathering in a redirecting way that does involve fantasy and movement, which is great to see. And sometimes I need to balance him out the way he balances me out! The joy of partnership!
But I digress – back to the Lifeways book – the chapter goes on to talk about the anecdote to this sort of problem, and also the base of relationship with children, would be to “have tremendous fun” together. What is the tone in your home right now? What are you all doing for fun as a family together? Do you do fun things every week together? Do you love one another and have joy in your household? This is important, because everyone has a need to feel easy within their own home, to feel relaxed, to feel loved, and to feel as if family is a refuge from the outside world.
In the beginning, I recounted a story from my neighbor and her husband, and after the above story, he said to me, “The boys and I have a lot of fun together and that helps carry the times when I do need to be stricter and they need to tow the line.” Fun and love is what carries it, especially for children under the age of 7. The author of the fathering chapter in the “Lifeways” book says, “I am learning that parenthood is a path of service and sacrifice, but is also a powerful stimulus to one’s own self-development. It continually shatters my complacency; and for that I am continually grateful.” Isn’t this such a powerful statement about parenting? It changes your life.
Another thought for mothers would be to be very direct and specific as to what you want, when you and your husband sit down to talk without your small children present. My husband tells me all the time, “Even after almost 17 years of marriage I cannot read your mind, please tell me what you want me to do around the house and I will do it, but do not expect me to know.” Ah, true words.
Men who work outside the home often have a frustrating and fast-paced life to deal with. In this vein, it was not always a good day at work when I worked outside the home, and neither is every day at home. To me, though, being home is about the process of finding yourself, finding your Authentic Leadership, being able to create peace in your home. It beats working outside the home any day to just have the opportunity to create a sacred space for my family.
Just a few thoughts from my little world.