To be honest, I can be pretty critical of my kid’s dad. As a mom, sometimes I’d rather just do things myself because naturally, I do it best, and somehow, he does it all wrong. Like, why can’t he remember to block the pee fountain when he changes the baby’s diaper? Why doesn’t he cut the carrots in the shape our 2-year-old likes? Now I have to clean up the pee and cut new carrots. Aargh! It would just be easier if I did it all myself.
But would it? Maybe in the short term. But in the long run, no. It’s better to have an involved and empowered dad, better for kids (you know I’m about to back that up with evidence) and better for you moms. And I’m willing to wager that for Father’s Day, all he really wants is to feel appreciated for what he can do, and given a little confidence to do more.
What we do when we mistrust fathers and control all the little things is called “maternal gatekeeping.” Most of us do it for well-intentioned protective reasons (we want the best for our kids) and for personal reasons (we feel pressure to be seen as good moms). But it stops dads from taking ownership of their role as a parent and can make them insecure. Last year CNN summarized 20 years of research about maternal gatekeeping: “The more gatekeeping from mom, the less parental involvement from dad.” For Mother’s Day, I wrote about why dads should step up and do their part of the mental load — now for Father’s Day, mamas, let me tell you, you need to get out of his way and let him do it. You know why? Because your kids need him to.
Involved dads lead to successful kids
If you have a daughter, her dad has a big influence on her future self-esteem and ability to deal with stressful situations. Several studies have found that women who had a good relationship with their dad as children have higher self-esteem and life satisfaction. Another fascinating study tested women’s stress hormones and nervous-system responses to social interactions. Women who felt they had a better relationship with their fathers had better physical responses to stress and social interactions.
For both boys and girls, involved dads have a big influence on achievements. Kyle Pruett who literally wrote the book on the importance of dads (“Fatherneed : Why Father Care is as Essential as Mother Care for Your Child”), summarized piles of academic research that show that “children who feel closeness to their father are twice as likely as those who do not to enter college or find stable employment after high school.” He also explains that those children are 80 percent less likely to end up in jail.
For boys, an involved father can make a world of difference in social and emotional development. Pruett sites another study in which boys with involved fathers scored high on empathy scores. And other research links involved fathers to overall social competence, maturity, and capacity for relatedness with others.
Dad’s do things their own way, and that’s ok
Guess what else: All these benefits come from dads who make mistakes. Researchers had a pretty low bar for involvement. Dads who occasionally watched the kids while mom went out, qualified as “involved” in some studies and that alone was enough to show a statistical difference in kids’ wellbeing. (That doesn’t mean give dad a free pass — he should do his share of the childcare and the mental load). It means he might do things his own way, not mom’s way. Involved, loving, supportive dads are all our kids need.
So this Father’s Day, let’s give dads a little credit, not just a flask that says “Daddy’s juice.” Have a real conversation with the dad in your life about how important he is for your children. Open that maternal gate. Commit to being more supportive and less critical. It doesn’t matter if he cuts the crusts off their sandwiches, or if he puts their diapers on backward. The kids will get over that, but if you’re closing the gates on dad, they may not get over it.