Gender Roles in Parenting


Gender Roles in Parenting

This article is taken from the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada ( and is reprinted with permission. 
It’s what Grandma knew and science now proves, says marriage and cohabitation researcher Brad Wilcox, PhD.

His research shows children do best when Mom and Dad are both around, because each parent brings unique talents to the parenting enterprise. Dr. Wilcox says it’s a counter-cultural and sometimes controversial finding, given the variety of modern family structures.

Dr. Wilcox’s work indicates a mother’s strengths are in communicating. She understands her children intrinsically, instinctively interpreting tone and context, and is less likely than Dad to forget past conversations.

Her biology –higher levels of estrogen and oxytocin – makes her more nurturing, so when children need a reassuring hug or when they’re afraid, she’s the one they prefer.

So what do we need Dad for? A lot.

Fathers are motivated by marriage and children to take on more hours at work in response to accepting a greater role as a provider.  But while men who are fathers work more than other men, a dad’s role in playing with children is also important.“Kids who play more often with their dads … are better prepared for the game of life,” Dr. Wilcox says.Fathers engage in more vigorous, exciting games and play than mothers, and this helps children learn self-control and how to deal with aggression without resorting to violence.

The statistics support the research. Dr. Wilcox reports that boys raised in single parent homes about twice as likely to spend some time in prison and jail before turning 32, controlling for factors like education, income and race. “Boys who do not regularly experience the love, discipline and modeling of a good father are more likely to engage in what we call compensatory masculinity, where they reject and denigrate all that’s feminine, and instead seek to prove their masculinity by engaging in … violent and promiscuous behaviour,” Dr. Wilcox says. He added this is not always the case, pointing out he himself was raised by a single mother, but that in the aggregate, the statistics are clear.

The presence of a father also has a significant impact on daughters.   “There’s a very strong association between Dad being in the home and a girl having a much lower risk of having a teenage pregnancy,” Dr. Wilcox says.

The research shows about five percent of American girls living in intact nuclear families become pregnant as teens. Comparatively, when the father leaves the home between the ages of six and 18, the risk of teenage pregnancy doubles to ten per cent, and if dad leaves before the girl turns six, it increases the risk by seven times to 35 per cent.

Dad in the dynamic also provides a source of challenge for the children to engage in life outside the family, and encourages them to take calculated risks in sports, school and work. Dr. Wilcox explains that fathers balance out mother’s more nurturing capacities by pushing children to explore, go farther and learn independence.

Dr. Wilcox points out that a man’s most significant role in his family might just be that of loving his wife. When the woman has a loving and supporting husband, she channels that love to the children in a virtuous cycle, with children reciprocating the affection.

Being exposed to loving parental dynamics models respect in relationships. It teaches boys to treat women well. Girls likewise learn to treat men well, while expecting that men should reciprocate by treating them with respect.

Dr. Wilcox is the Director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia, and a member of the James Madison Society at Princeton University. His research has been featured in The Washington Post, USA Today, The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times, CBS News and numerous NPR stations.

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