Can Fathers Nurture as Effectively as Mothers?

Who swings a kid better? Mom or dad? Or does it take two?
Who swings a kid better? Mom or dad? Or does it take two?

Earlier this summer, my husband did something that stunned friends, families and acquaintances: he stopped working.

Soon after, the one question my husband fielded over and over again was this: “So, what are you going to do?”

My husband answered such questions with quips like “well, later today I plan to ride my bike” and “I’m going to retire.” This inevitably led people to ask me the same question.

I always answered, “He’s going to be a father and a husband.”

Then, there came the nervous silence and a furrowed brow as my listener chewed on those words.

That was followed by wide eyes and a, “But…. don’t you need the money?”

I can only  assume that people thought we’d won the lottery.

People, yes, of course we need money. I am not independently wealthy. We have no trust fund, and I haven’t bought a lottery ticket since the late 90s.

How will we ever survive? My income. That’s how. In four out of ten families, the primary (and often sole) money earner is not dad, but actually mom. Many people seem to be in deep denial of this fact, especially when the mother is someone like me who works in an industry (in this case, journalism) that seems to pose near impossible odds of earning a living.

Since the day I met my husband, however, I’ve out earned him. The income disparity widened over the years and now, more than 14 years later, we realized something important: there were few good reasons for him to keep working, but there were many, many reasons for him to stay home. So on June 1, he gave up his career.

By the end of his first week at home, the fridge was stocked with freshly sliced pineapple and cantaloup, the dog smelled like flower petals, and we were eating meals that had never seen the inside of a microwave. Our son was also eating salads–without drenching them in dressing. The floor of this child’s room was no longer strewn with tiny little sharp plastic objects that shot an enormous jolt of pain up the barefoot of any stressed out adult who happened to try to wake the child up.

I was so thrilled with the transformation that I began calling my husband “Mr. Awesome,” and I began bragging about it all on Facebook.

That’s when I encountered a bit of negativity.

“Let’s see if this lasts 14 days,” one friend quipped.

“Yeah, let us know if he’s still so awesome by the end of the summer,” another said.

Such comments I might have expected from Erick Erickson, the conservative blogger from I didn’t expect them at all from other liberal working moms.

It made me realize that many working moms, including myself, have become attached to two wildly divergent and conflicting viewpoints.

View #1: We’re exhausted. We’re sick of scheduling every single well visit, keeping the family social calendar, shopping for each new pair of shoes, cleaning, cooking and working. It’s not fair, and we want our husbands to pitch in more—a lot more.

View #2: We’re naturally gifted at childcare. Our husbands? Not so much.

If we really want more help, we must abandon view #2. It’s not helpful, and it’s also downright baloney. Northwestern University researchers two years ago found that a man’s level of testosterone drops when he becomes a father, causing the researchers to conclude that men are biologically wired for nurturing.

Of course, women experience their own hormonal changes. Even so, no hormone can teach anyone how to be a father or a mother. Case in point: when a nurse handed me a newborn infant, I had no idea how I was supposed to hold the floppy headed thing without accidentally suffocating him or giving him brain damage. Nor did I know how to change a diaper. Getting that tiny little being into a car seat? It seemed more complex to me than solving a Rubik’s cube.

What did I do? I learned on the job.

Now, because I’ve spent the past 9 years doing the lion’s share of parenting, I have more on-the-job training than my husband does. Still, he’s learning quickly. As my husband proved one day as he held a mango in his hand and wanted to know the best way to slice it: what one doesn’t already know, one can teach oneself by watching You Tube tutorials.

And now, more than two months into this venture, my husband has accomplished some feats that I couldn’t seem to pull off over a period of many years. Just one example: the kid can now tie his shoes without begging for assistance. He also does chores: sorting laundry, for instance.

And he now knows the difference between a Ferrari and an Aston Martin. I don’t even know that.

As it turns out, as I’ve found this summer, you don’t need two X chromosomes to be a good parent. All you really need is this: the motivation to try.

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Article Posted 3 years Ago

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