(PRWEB) August 30, 2012
According to the New York Times, 176,000 men are stay-at-home dads who have opted to be the primary caregiver for their children; a number that has more than doubled (http://nyti.ms/NB01lb). Additionally, the Wall Street Journal reports 32% of fathers with working wives are helping to care for their kids under 15. (http://on.wsj.com/J1ljpN) Family therapist Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil is encouraged to see these trends shifting but, she says, "with dad as the new mom, it can affect a couple's relationship if they don't know how to best manage things."
This shift can be a positive thing for the whole family - kids get a father who's present, moms get some time off from the 30 hours per week they work inside the home in addition to their careers. Dr. Bonnie says having involved dads makes sense, since men would be better at parenting than at partnering. "Men aren't used to engaging in the level of communication that a relationship needs," says Dr. Bonnie, "so they become great dads - which is wonderful, but it shouldn't come at the detriment of their marriage."
Dr. Bonnie points out that single dads might face the parent vs partner problem in even worse ways than their attached counterparts! "They're trying to play catch up because they spend time away from their kids, so they parent with extra fervor!" While kids may benefit from this, it could also be the underlying reason why single dads stay single - they don't know how to be a partner because they're parents - it's a different set of skills. And they're already pressed for time and money, making it difficult to connect on a practical level as well: according to the Department of Health and Human Services, 24.5% of single custodial dads work more than 44 hours weekly; and 90.2% of fathers with joint custody pay all their child support each month.
Whether single or married, men also often find it biologically difficult to connect with their significant others - or to find a potential partner after a divorce. It stems from a time period early in a boy's life that Dr. Bonnie calls the abrupt schism: when a boy leaves mother abruptly while he's still dependent, in order to identify with his father and become more like him.
Boys don't make this transition gracefully and the wounds they incur affect their relationships with women for their entire lives. Some mothers have a hard time letting boys go - which means that later in life a man will disappear from a relationship if a woman makes him feel guilty about not meeting her needs; or he will feel that he is never good enough. This provides another glimpse into the reason why men are more reticent to open up - if they do so, they worry they will then need the woman with whom they open up.
Because of their roles in the culture, men often don't have to know how to be attentive, how to need someone; they are typically more independent. But Dr. Bonnie believes the skills needed for successful parenting and successful partnering can be taught through her Smart Heart Skills and Dialogue, which she developed because she believes most men are connectable by instruction (and discusses further in her book, Make Up Don't Break Up and the attached DVD Falling in Love and Staying in Love).
Although women are often the guardians of connection, says Dr. Bonnie, their husbands can learn to connect in their marriage and communicate successfully. They need the confidence from their wives to be better partners, which can spring from their parenting abilities. "Men already don't feel comfortable identifying their feelings and talking about them, so women have to make a safe place - don't shame or blame" encourages Dr. Bonnie. She suggests setting aside ten minutes per day for this type of safe connection, where women create a place that their husbands can express themselves.
But it shouldn't be either/or - people become better parents when they learn to be better partners, so learning to communicate safely and frequently in a relationship is healthiest for the whole family!