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Parenting Partners: How to Encourage Dads to Participate in the Daily Lives of Their Children

Parenting Partners: How to Encourage Dads to Participate in the Daily Lives of Their Children

by Robert Frank
Within nearly two decades of experience as a family therapist, Dr. Robert Frank teaches us how to achieve fair-share parenting, covering some of the most common conundrums of child care:
* The challenging "second shift," including mealtime, bathtime, and bedtime routines
* Negotiating with your spouse for downtime
* Sharing the "on call" role for


Within nearly two decades of experience as a family therapist, Dr. Robert Frank teaches us how to achieve fair-share parenting, covering some of the most common conundrums of child care:
* The challenging "second shift," including mealtime, bathtime, and bedtime routines
* Negotiating with your spouse for downtime
* Sharing the "on call" role for emergencies
* Communicating needs without arguing
* Reconstructing stressful schedules to work for you and your kids
* Planning weekend activities

Parenting Partners is full of warmth, reassurance, and an abundance of practical, family-tested solutions. Dr. Frank provides an indispensable primer on how to give your children the involvement they deserve while improving your marriage in the process. We can and must find solutions to the imbalance in our family lives: solutions that make everyone happy-moms, dads, and kids.

Author Bio: Robert Frank, Ph.D., is one of the nation's leading researchers on fatherhood, parenting, and child-care issues. He lives with his wife, son, and daughter in Glenview, Illinois.

Kathryn E. Livingston has been writing on parenting issues for the past sixteen years. She lives in Bergen County, New Jersey, with her husband and three sons.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Cynics might easily accuse Frank, a family therapist and a stay-at-home dad, as playing up to stressed-out moms. After all, mothers tend to be the managers of the fabled "second shift" (the full-time job of raising children that follows a full-time job) and probably are the most likely to browse for parenting books. At times Frank does, indeed, seem interested in providing women with a truckload of ammunition to use against their hapless men. However, blame is not his purpose, and ultimately his vision of families where fathers and mothers are on equal footing parentingwise is tremendously appealing. Frank argues that children benefit when their dads are part of their lives--and vice versa (children gain greater self-esteem and grow emotionally, while fathers gain more confidence as parents). In fact, everyone benefits, claims Frank, when men and women parent as partners, and he offers a road map for "every season" of children's development, as well as specific tips on how dads (and stepdads) can get involved every step of the way. Frank is generally evenhanded and realistic in his suggestions, recognizing that more women than men still stay at home full-time. (Oct.) FYI: This book first appeared as a 1999 Golden Books hardcover, The Involved Father. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.54(w) x 8.28(h) x 0.77(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

How Did We Get
to This Point?

As an educational psychologist, family counselor, andleader of parenting seminars, I've seen hundreds of couplesstruggle to balance their lives as parents. Frequently, it's the womanwho is most frustrated and torn by the demands of juggling herroles as a mother, wife, and, very often, breadwinner. Even thoughshe's married, she feels she's doing it all herself. Sometimes it's thedad who can't seem to figure out how to prioritize the needs of hischildren, his wife, and his own career aspirations and personalgoals. I think one of the greatest challenges of parenting is reachingand then maintaining a sense of balance between parents—but Ialso know that it is possible. In my practice I've watched manycouples evolve from two disparate, resentful, angry partners tocommunicative, caring individuals in a balanced, "fair share" parentingrelationship.

    The norm, in so many families, is that the responsibility forthe children and for the running of the house remains dramaticallyout of kilter. A common scene looks like this: Janet, a workingmother who is employed full-time as a civil engineer, and herhusband, an investment banker, have two children who are in daycare. The differences show up at the end of the day. When Billcomes home from work at night, he takes a hot shower and a napbefore coming down to dinner. Janet, on the other hand, picks thekids up at day care, rushes home to make dinner, gives the childrentheir baths, reads to them, puts them to bed, and then catches up onthe laundry and housework. Virtually on her own, Janet handleswhat author ArlieHochschild calls "the second shift." While Billmay pitch in here and there, his sense of responsibility for home andchildren is nowhere near as deeply ingrained as Janet's. Like manywomen who work outside the home all day, Janet feels compelled to"make up for lost time" when she gets home. As a result, she neverhas time for herself and carries deep feelings of resentment andanger toward her mate.

    When both parents work, mothers typically take over thedomestic responsibilities when they get home, while fathers helpout as much as they can—or want. When a mother is home with thechildren all day, a father may be even less eager or willing to beinvolved with the children at the end of his workday. "After all,"these dads may be thinking, "it's my job to make the money andhers to care for the kids." With this type of attitude, stay-at-homemoms get even less help from their mates than moms who workoutside the home because their husbands feel that their role as themain breadwinner excuses them from sharing equally in child care. Ihaven't met a mom yet, working or not working, who wouldn't likeher husband to more willingly and equally join in the parenting.

    This imbalance of parenting responsibility is detrimental notonly to mothers—who feel tired, stressed, frustrated, and quiteoften angry—but also to fathers who are missing out on the rewardsof active involvement with their children and an undoubtedlyhappier marriage. And uppermost in my mind is the fact that thechildren in so many of these families where the balance is skewedaren't getting the best of both worlds—daily interaction with theirmom and dad.

    In addition to my work as a counselor and educator, I also haveanother unique perspective on this issue. From the time mychildren, Kevin, age eleven, and Alexandra (whom we call A.J.), ageten, were born, I have served as the primary caregiver, as a stay-at-homedad, while my wife works full-time as a hospital administrator.After completing my dissertation, I continued to conductresearch on topics related to fatherhood and parenting, to seepatients in my private practice, and to teach university courses inchild development and psychology. My wife loves her work, and weare happy with the way we have made it a priority to achieve a goodmodel of balanced parenting. Coming from this multifaceted vantagepoint, in many ways I feel I can "see it all": I relate to stay-at-homemoms (because I'm home most of the day!), working moms(I'm married to one), and dads (after all, I'm a dad, too!).

    Over the years I've met hundreds of couples from many walksof life and all types of households coping with the common struggleof how to deal with their parenting responsibilities in a fair andrewarding way. What I see happening is that most are applying anoutdated set of expectations to today's realities. Yesterday's cookie-cutterfamily-structure stereotype of "dad's the breadwinner andmom takes care of the kids" does not reflect current trends in theworkforce or current child development research. Even womentoday who choose to stay at home with their children for a couple ofyears or until the children grow up are not looking for a husbandwho is only the breadwinner; they are looking for a partner who isinvolved on a daily basis.

    The bottom line is, the parenting model of yesterday simplydoesn't work anymore. In fact, did it ever really work well forwomen and children? On the surface it may have appeared thatfamilies back in the fifties, say, were running smoothly. But howmany of those children really knew their fathers well? How manywomen were able to pursue their own careers and interests? Howmany fathers from those days have memories of long hours spentcradling their newborns or afternoons in the park with theirtoddlers?

    Things were different then: Society didn't expect men to beinvolved in the daily care of their children. But today, new researchreveals and confirms how very important fathers are to the emotional,social, and cognitive (intellectual) development of children whenthey are involved in their lives on a consistent, if not daily, basis.Moreover, as we discover how kids benefit from involved fathers,we are also discovering the crucial difference that involved dads canmake in maintaining a healthy, equitable marriage.

    I think today's society puts an enormous amount of pressureon women to shoulder the bulk of child care and householdresponsibilities, regardless of whether they work in or out of thehome or have chosen to be a stay-at-home parent. It is no wonderthat mothers are often overwhelmed, to say nothing of beingphysically and emotionally exhausted, a great deal of the time.While society has finally given the nod that it is acceptable formoms to also be breadwinners, they are still expected to spend agreat deal of time with their children. On the other hand, fathers cancontinue to be breadwinners, society seems to be saying, and spenda little time with their kids, and that's okay. Therefore, the bulk ofthe pressure is really on mothers: They are expected to plan whatthe family is having for dinner, schedule the kids' doctors appointments,arrange all the play dates, and basically run the show, oftenin addition to a job. No wonder many women feel that their lives areout of balance and that their husbands just aren't doing their share.

    Looking at the other side, many men who want to be moreinvolved find that their desire to be a good father and husbanddoesn't always mesh with the demands of the workplace. Or theyfeel confused because they're consciously or unconsciously fightingagainst the more stereotypical parental roles they themselves grewup with. Or their inclination is to hang back because their wivesseem so good at it and they think their help isn't needed. Some mensee no reason to expand beyond the work arena where they feel incontrol—or, if they feel out of control in the work arena, they oftenfeel just as lost at home. Others who want to be involved with theirchildren may not know how to go about it, so they stick with the old"comfortable" roles. Others worry that their efforts will be criticizedor ridiculed either by their peers or sometimes even theirspouses. If you think about it, parents—mothers and fathers—rarelyhave any training for parenting, but men tend to feel more hesitantthan women in this "traditionally female" circle. (Many men wouldbe amazed to know just how much their help, input, and ideaswould be welcomed by their spouses, who may feel equally shaky inthe child care arena—especially when a newborn cries inconsolablyor a teenager clams up.) Still other men fear, even with all the mediafocus on men becoming more comfortable with their emotions, thatas nurturers they will somehow be emasculated.

    Here are just a few of the scenarios that are common as I listento parents coping with their changing roles:

* Annalise, a stay-at-home mother of three, is frustrated because her husband doesn't expect to have to help with the child care. If a woman makes the choice to stay home with her child, deciding either not to pursue a career or to put her career temporarily on hold, does that mean that Dad is excused from domestic detail? For Annalise and many women like her, that's exactly the case. She is married to a man who, like the guys back in the fifties, expects dinner on the table, his shirts pressed, and Mom to care for the kids since, after all, he's the breadwinner. The fact is, whether Mom works outside the home or works solely in her role as a mother, she is also an adult—and a working adult at that—who needs time to herself and who deserves a supportive parenting partner who will do his fair share.

* Denise, a real estate agent, has flexible hours and is a busy volunteer at her church and her kids' school. As the mother of two girls and a community member, it seems that she can do no wrong. But her husband, Colin, who manages a chain store, never seems to meet her expectations. While she claims she wants him to be an involved, active father, Colin perceives that Denise criticizes his every choice with respect to caring for their daughters, including how he gives them a bath, how he dresses them, what activities he chooses to do with them, and even what picture books he reads to them. He is afraid she thinks she is the "expert" when it comes to the children and that her way is the only way. Their marriage is fraught with tension; it seems that no matter what Colin does with his daughters, it's never the right thing or good enough. When Colin confronted her about the criticism one evening, Denise said, "You know, I didn't even realize I was doing that. That's not how I really want things to be between us."

* Jeb, a graphic artist, takes a great deal of pride in his work, and when he gets home, he wants to be the best he can be as a father. His twins, now four, are his responsibility from dinner until bedtime; his wife, a nurse, works the evening shift in a city hospital. Unlike his own father, a traveling salesman who was virtually absent while Jeb was growing up, Jeb wants to be a positive, dependable part of his children's lives. But while his intentions are good, Jeb is plagued by self-doubt. How, he wonders, can he be a good father when his own role model was absent? The weight of the responsibility and the fear that he will somehow fail are constant sources of self-doubt in his life. Yet he is determined to let his children know he'll be there for them, as his father was not.

* Eric has just become a new father, and he's proud of his wife and daughter. What he can't figure out is why he feels so distant from his family. While Julie was preparing for childbirth, reading every book she could get her hands on, Eric began to feel like an observer. Even though he attended the birth, he now feels somehow disconnected, as though he has lost the sense of equilibrium he had when it was just he and his wife. Now their family has become a trio instead of a duo, and he is surprised at how distant and unincluded he feels. Sometimes he feels like just "checking out," at least on an emotional level.

    What do these families, along with Janet and Bill at thebeginning of the chapter, have in common? A balancing problemand, in many cases, a communication problem. Each and everycouple must devise a method or system that will work for thembased on the unique variables of their household. Both men andwomen are experiencing a great deal a pressure as we enter the nextcentury, and as gender roles and working roles change and evolve,so must our parenting roles and responsibilities.

    For the past ten years I have been helping families find theanswers to these questions:

* How can we as parents arrive at positive, fair solutions to child rearing?

* How can we learn to respect one another as parents and adults, and thus as equal partners, in the care of our children?

* How can we be sure that the needs of our children are being met, that the needs of our marriages are being fulfilled, and that our personal goals and aspirations are being addressed?

* How can we motivate and support fathers to pitch in and help (not as water boys but as key players) and really take an active role in the daily lives of their children?

* How can women encourage their spouses to become the involved, essential fathers that both they and their kids want them to be without encountering a negative reaction?

* How can men more effectively manage the conflicts of work and home, and break out of traditional fathering roles?

* How exactly can we end up with those happier, healthier children that research shows are the outcome when fathers play a positive role?

* In short, how can we learn to balance our lives in a world that pulls us—both men and women—in so many directions?

    These are the questions I will confront head-on in this book inorder to help you as a family arrive at a solution that will bringbalance and fairness to your lives. Whether you're a working mom, astay-at-home mom, a mom whose husband travels a lot, a new father,or a dad with teenage kids, this book will help you identify, practice,and implement balancing skills that will make your careers morefulfilling, your time home more rewarding, and your marriages morecommunicative. Though I sympathize greatly with fathers (after all,I'm a father myself), I feel that women in our society have beenwrongly called upon to "do it all," and therefore my message maysometimes seem skewed in their direction. According to the Bureauof Labor Statistics, in 1997 approximately 72 percent of workingmothers had children who were either infants or between the ages ofone and seventeen. I see as well that women who stay home to raisetheir children need equal partners, as do women with careers. Notonly do I want to help women get the involvement and support theyneed from their spouses and men to get the encouragement they needfrom their wives, but I also want this generation of children to reapthe benefits of having two actively involved parents.

    Just as we've been striving to increase fairness and balancedopportunities for women in the workplace, we must bring a sense offairness and equality to men's roles in parenting and home life. I havespent my career studying fathers and the evolving roles and definitionsof fatherhood—and, of course, I've experienced firsthand whatit is like to be a father in this day and age. This is an exciting, pivotaltime to be a father, a time in which society is poised to accept andencourage men's increased involvement in their children's lives. Justas I see the frustration and the anxiety that our changing roles haveproduced, I also see clearly the hope and potential for a new kind ofparenting order. It's my belief that we can make things more fair andmore successful as we go along, that we can make things better forour children, for our marriages, and for our personal goals andcareers. I believe we can do this by replacing the habits and roles ofthe past with more appropriate solutions. At last, it seems, both menand women are ready for this change.

The Rules Are Changing

The rules of the parenting game are changing. You could even saythere aren't rules anymore. More and more, as even the averageAmerican family becomes increasingly difficult to define, families arerecognizing that it's okay to set their own rules and priorities. Onething is certain: More and more women continue to play a vital role inthe workforce and to contribute substantially to the family income. Incontrast, however, fathers as a whole don't seem to be pitching inwhen it comes to child care and housework with nearly the samelevel of zeal. In fact, too many men have been dragging their feetwhen it comes to embracing their equal share of child rearing andhousework. (I know, of course, that there are many men who areexceptions to this rule, and I'm happy to say I'm one of them.) Thefirst step in changing the rules is to recognize that in most familiesparenting is not shared equally. Once we've acknowledged theexistence of that disparity, we can move toward a solution.

    To start, it is important to understand the many ways in whichstereotypical parenting roles evolved and why many fathers are stilluninvolved or insufficiently involved. How did we get to this point,anyway?

Child Care Has Little to Do with Biology

Keep in mind that mothering and fathering are largely activitiescreated and defined by culture and society, based on gender andbiology. Long ago, in the days of the hunter-gatherer society, themen, who were physically larger and stronger than the women, werethe ones who wrestled and killed large animals for food. That's notquite the same kind of work as being a systems analyst or bank telleror lab technician; in the majority of today's occupations, physicalprowess is not a key qualification. As the centuries passed intoagrarian and then industrial societies, women were stuck in thenurturer-only role, and their intellect, creativity, inventiveness,resourcefulness, or other special skills or knowledge were neverseen as qualifiers for employment in the work world. Society justperpetuated the stereotypes—first physical, then intellectual—andcontinued to issue the message that fathers should work andmothers should stay home with the children.

    But beyond childbirth and breastfeeding, many of the roles weplay as parents have virtually nothing to do with our biologicalmakeup. Anyone can give a child a bath or a bottle, change a diaper,read a story, take him or her to the park or a children's museum,cook a meal, choose a theme for a birthday party, or take a highschool junior on a road trip to look at colleges. There is absolutelyno ongoing caregiving responsibility that a man can't physically do.There may be emotional, psychological, or societal barriers, but,trust me, those can be overcome. I've worked with thousands offamilies who started out in a very imbalanced situation and took theinitiative to try something new.

    I'm reminded of a man who went clothes shopping at a largedepartment store with his three young sons. While there, he ran intoseveral women—mothers of his children's friends—who openlyexpressed their shock and disapproval that this dad, rather than hiswife, was fitting the boys for their back-to-school clothes. What lawstates, after all, that a dad can't be the one to take his kids to shop forclothes or shoes? The dad in this story was an involved dad; his wifewasn't slapping any stereotypes on him, and she was probably gettingsome important work done at home or in the office or, hopefully,relaxing with her feet up or playing tennis with three other moms!

We Need to Stop Blaming Mothers for Everything

Unfortunately, it is all too common for the mother to be blamed whena child has problems, when a child grows up insecure or displaysdelinquent behavior. To me that's just another distorted aspect of howsociety puts exorbitant pressure on moms. The psychologist DianeEyer critiques what is referred to as attachment theory, which she saysplaces too much emphasis on the mother-child bond. (Other critics ofthe attachment theory include Jerome Kagan, a Harvard child psychologist,who asserts that inborn temperament has as much if not more todo with how a child turns out as the maternal relationship.) Whilenobody questions that infants learn trust and self-comfort throughtrusting and comforting primary relationships, Eyer argues that attachmenttheory detracts from society's shared responsibility for itsinfluence on shaping happy, healthy children. While Eyer focuses onthe many facets of the outside world that influence children—includingfood, music, TV, and school—I think that a logical starting point isto look at attachment theory as a shared responsibility between motherand father toward the child. If the "village" gets positively involved,too, so much the better.

    Before we do anything, we need to remove blame from thepicture and see families as working systems to which all memberscontribute positive and not-so-positive qualities. Working mothers,stay-at-home mothers, mothers whose children are in preschool orday care, divorced mothers, mothers whose children have a nanny,or single mothers who are raising their children alone are all toooften the object of blame (and behind blame rears the ugly head ofguilt). It is important that we let go of blame and move on to learnhow to balance the responsibilities of children's development moreequally between mothers and fathers.

Look at Your Own Childhood

Think back to your own upbringing. If you grew up in the fifties, thesixties, or even the seventies, how involved was your father in yourdaily life? Was he nearly as involved as your mother? Can you nameany activities he did with you on a daily basis? What particularmemories do you have of him in a fathering role?


Excerpted from Parenting Partners by Robert Frank, Ph.D. with Kathryn E. Livingston. Copyright © 1999 by The Philip Lief Group, Inc.. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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