Caring for a Child's Mother
"The most important...work you and I will ever do will be within the walls of our own homes."-Harold B. LeeContent
OverviewOne of the most important things any father can do is show his love and care for the mother of his children. Furstenberg stated that "a man's allegiance to his children is maintained in part by the bond he shares with the child's mother" (p.137). The ability of the husband to be nurturant and sensitive is a key to marital satisfaction, but is also the key to successful parenting (Doherty, 1997). Thus the happier the marriage, the more likely there will be a positive father-child relationship (Biller, 1993, p. 29, 47; see also Doherty, 1997). Children who have the benefit of being exposed to kind, cooperative, respectful, and considerate interactions between their parents are more liklely to have a positive solid basis for constructive male-female relationships (Biller, 1993, p. 190). In addition, when the father and mother are truly partners in parenting, parents will experience fewer disciplinary problems with their children and will be better able to handle developmental challenges and changes in their children accross the lifespan (Biller, 1993, p. 84, 26). Even if the father and mother are no longer together, a child's well-being is greatly enhanced when fathers respect and support the mother of that child (Palm, 1997). Below are stories and experiences about this very important aspect of fathering.
When fathers demonstrate to their children a positive marital relationship, this encourages the development of intimacy in their own child's life (Snarey, 1993, p. 18). This passing on of values is an important part of Mentoring work. A son related how he learned to respect his mother in this story.
"Growing up with my father was not always the easiest thing to do. I was the oldest boy and it seemed to me that I always had a lot of responsibility placed upon me. It seemed that I was always the one getting disciplined and being the one to show my other brothers and sisters what dad would and wouldn't allow. I remember one experience in particular of how my father taught me that I should respect his wife, also known as mom. I can't remember the exact details but I do remember that I told mom to shut up. Now I probably could have gotten away with it and mom would have felt bad and I would have said sorry and gone through the whole routine except for one miscalculation: dad was within hearing range. This is also where I can't remember a lot of details but I do remember feeling myself floating through the air with big hand clutching my collar and knowing that it was fruitless to kick or squirm, I waited for the worst to come. I knew I was in trouble first of all because we never said those words to anyone, especially not mother. I also had never heard my father talk to my mother like that, which gave me no justification or alibi. Thirdly, dad never waited to discipline me until the door was closed so I knew that this was going to be different than the other lessons I had previously learned. Well, my greatest fears were right on. To this day I don't think I have ever received such a lecture in all my life. He got through to me very clearly how I would treat my mother from then on and as much as I disliked the lesson I have since come to appreciate it and have learned from it. I still remember what he said, 'She's your mother but she's my wife!'"
One of the best ways a father can care for the mother of his children is by sharing the responsibilities of domestic work and child-rearing. Hawkins (1993), Hochschild (1989), and Ishii-Kuntz (1995) say that efforts in these areas can strengthen the husband-wife relationship and assist the father in his own development. This story, from the perspective of Sandy, is an example of how a father cared for his wife during physically challenging times, illustrating well the importance of Relationship work.
"I had surgery about three years ago and we had just adopted Nicole and it wasn't even three years ago because she is only two and a half, and she was only three months old and it was a major surgery. I could not do hardly any of the things that I needed to do and he [Tom] was right there. Tom took care of the house as much as he could. He made appointments too, you know, have people come in and bring food. He cooked, he shopped, he helped my mother with all types of things, he took care of the children. He made sure that he brought the children up to see me because he knew how much that meant to me. And, I remember he brought them in, you know, one by one and lifted them up and let me see the kids. So he took care of me really well then, and there are several other times, but I remember that."
When fathers constructively share parenting responsibilites with the mother, not only is the mother a happier parent and wife, but the children are also far more likely to develop a healthy gender identity, self-acceptance, and personal competence (Biller, 1993, p. 19, 57). This story, from the perspective of Sandy, shows how a father constructively shared parenting responsibilites with his wife.
"During my pregnancies I was extemely sick! Oh, it was horrible! Oh, it was awful! And so, he [Tom] was very understanding and very considerate about that. He would come home sometimes from work... actually, there was a time I think that I felt nurtured by my husband even more. I had a miscarriage and the first miscarriage was really difficult, but then I got pregnant again and we really wanted the baby and I had another miscarriage. During the time before I had miscarried, but when I was starting to show signs of it, I was on bed rest... and I was just so depressed and so down...and total bed rest...and we were in the military and we had two small children. Tom would bring the kids to me in the morning, bring everything they needed, go to work and then come home at lunch, fix me lunch, make sure everything was in order, lay them down for naps in the room with me, and go back to work and come home and take care of the house again. It was incredible. I couldn't reach out for anybody at that point, I was too devastated. That sounds silly, I mean, just a lot of people go through more than that, but at that point the baby was so wanted. It was more than I could handle. So, I couldn't reach out to anyone and say, "Gee mom, can you come and help, or anyone else." Tom understood that and so he took it all on himself for a couple of days. And then someone discovered and came over and started helping.. then it was okay."
In a story illustrating Ethical work, this husband tells of his pain at not being available for his wife at a time that she really needed him.
"How is my wife doing? I don't know right now. She's so understanding of my rough schedule, she gives me plenty of space to do it and just keeps on loving me quietly from a silent distance, waiting for Sunday to come. But there are those few times, I wish I had dropped everything I was doing to help my wife. I'm really good at rationalizing away my reasons for focusing completely on my work, and not on my wife's needs. One of those few times happened about a year ago. It was particularly rough trying to prepare for finals--I was taking a substantial number of credit hours, and working hard at a new job. My wife was so understanding, but she really wanted to talk to me about how she was feeling. I told her I needed her to take care of herself for awhile because my schedule was so tough, and I didn't want to get too stressed out and say something that would hurt her feelings. So she took care of herself for awhile (and me now that I think of it.) The dishes were always done, bathroom was always clean, and the bed was always made during that time. I could tell there was something she really wanted to talk about, but I just couldn't spare the time to ask about it. Then one Sunday morning, she began to feel a great deal of pain. At first, I thought it might be menstrual cramps, in my infinite wisdom of female health. But the pain grew steadily worse as the hours went on. She laid down on the bed and just held her abdomen. I tried to give her some pain killer, but it didn't seem to have much affect--these were really bad pains. She went into the bathroom, and came out crying, still in great pain. As it turned out, what she wanted to talk about was that she thought she was pregnant. It was exiciting news for her, and she wanted to tell me but didn't know for sure herself. Because I was so busy, she didn't want to burden me with another worry. But now, it was all over. She called her doctor, and he told her he wouldn't need to see her, but he was pretty sure the pain was an early miscarriage. The best thing to do is just try to stay in bed, take as much pain killer as you dare, and ride out the pain until its gone. While I was 'taking care of myself' my wife held the exciting news inside. She had to deal with the emotional attachment that comes with pregnancy by herself, and lose it by herself. I was not there to share her excitement; I could only offer my shoulder to cry on when it was all over. I never began to anticipate what our lives would be like with a new member of the family to take care of, until it was all over and all I could do is guess what it would be like. Looking back on that experience, I can just imagine how lonely she must have felt. I sometimes wish I could go back and change the past, all of the dumb mistakes I've made."
Allen and Connor (1997) state: "the relationship between a father and the mother of his chilren is potentially a major determinant of his ability to perform generative fathering" (p. 64). They maintain that if men desire to reach their full potential as generative fathers, they must develop healthy relationships with the mothers (see also Dohtery, 1997).
Learning and Application ActivitiesPlease complete one of the following: