Fathers and mothers each bring different qualities to parenting. Fathers can’t mother, and mothers can’t father. That is why both parents are so important to a healthy upbringing.
Being a parent is all about working towards redundancy. In other words, there will come a time when your children will be able to stand on their own two feet. Eagles do it with their chicks that don’t want to leave the nest.
I can still remember my dad telling me the story when I was a little boy. The parent eagle, trying to coax the younger eaglets to fly, finds that their precious darlings don’t always like the idea of leaving the comfort of the nest. Sometimes the parent has to push them out of the nest, letting them fall for up to 30 metres before swooping down and catching the little one on its back, over and over again, until the eaglet learns how to fly on its own.
Dr Ken Canfield, one of the world’s best fatherhood researchers, tells us how dads help children explore the outside world, just like the eagle.
We say, ‘It’s a man’s world’. To some, it may mean that men chauvinistically control all the power, But in terms of fathering, we say, ‘It’s a man’s world’ because ‘out in the world’ is where men traditionally operate. I mean to take nothing away from at-home dads or mothers who provide the primary income for their families, but in general terms, it is commonly the father who ‘goes out into the world’ every morning.
Think about what a child sees. Each day, Dad showers, shaves and puts on official ‘going to work’ clothes. Dad grabs his briefcase and/or lunch and gets in the car and … he goes. He goes off into the strange, unknown world called ‘the plant’ or ‘the office’.
Erma Bombeck recalls playing ‘house’ with her dolls as a little girl. She always knew what to do with the mother doll and the kid dolls, but the daddy doll was a puzzler, She decided to handle her confusion by dressing him up and having him announce, ‘I’m off to work now’. Then she would toss the daddy doll under the bed for the rest of the day.
A child’s model for going off into the unknown world is largely the father. Even in families where the father works at home or cares for his children full time, a boy or girl looks to Dad to see how exploration of the world is done.
According to Yale Child Study Centre psychiatrist Kyle Pruett, “It is through the father that the baby first learns about comings and goings, transitions, separations and non-mother nurturing.” An involved father initiates his children into ‘a world of objects, activities and people outside the mother’s sphere … [which] expands the child’s horizons and stimulates his thinking processes”.
Let’s say you see your kids staring out the window on a rainy Saturday. You announce, “Hey kids, let’s go outside for a walk.” If your wife overhears this, she’ll probably say, “Are you crazy? They’ll get wet.” Now understand that she isn’t being a spoilsport, she’s simply responding to her natural comforting, sheltering instincts. Where Mum sees wet clothes and sniffles, Dad sees an adventure – the thrill of tasting raindrops, jumping in mud puddles and rescuing worms off the sidewalk.
So you compromise. You tell your wife, “Don’t worry. We’ll put on our raincoats and I’ll make sure we come in before we get cold.”
The kids hear that and, knowing that both mum and dad are alert to their needs, they can go forth in confidence. Isn’t getting your kids to that point – when they can go forth confidently – the whole purpose in parenting?
Your children need you to be a man and help them take risks. Your children need you to lead them on a journey of discovery to explore the outside world just like the eagle does for its young. So take up the challenge and be a man, because that’s what your children need.
Yours for more eagles,