Partnership Parenting: How Men and Women Parent DifferentlyÃ¢â‚¬â€Why It Helps Your Kids and Can Strengthen Your Marriage. By Kyle Pruett, M.D. and Marsha Kline Pruett, Ph.D. Foreword by T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Da Capo Press, 2009. 219 pages. $15.95. www.dacapopress.com. Review by J. Steven Svoboda
Kyle Pruett, M.D., a Yale Child Study Center psychiatrist and author of such outstanding books as Fatherneed: Why Father Care is as Essential as Mother Care for Your Child and The Nurturing Father: Journey toward the Complete Man, and his wife Marsha Kline Pruett, Ph.D., a Smith College Social Work professor, have co-authored an engaging and excellent book on gender differences in parenting. The Pruetts devote the first half of their book to promoting the marital partnership, devoting separate chapters to the pithy topics of becoming parents together, Ã¢â‚¬Å“cuddling vs. the football holdÃ¢â‚¬Â or why parenting differences are not deficiencies, building a partnership that works, managing conflict and fighting fair, valuing your spouseÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s contribution, and assumptions and actions. In the second half of the book, such critical aspects of parenting are addressed as discipline, Ã¢â‚¬Å“care and feeding,Ã¢â‚¬Â co-parenting and sleeping children, safety, and education. A brief, pithy epilogue provides pointers on divorce prevention.
The sub-title partially captures the bookÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s thesis, in that the Pruetts analyze the typically quite distinct parenting styles of mothers and fathers, finding each extremely helpful to childrenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s development but more importantly, discovering the wonderful synergy that can often evolve from two different individualsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ approaches to supporting the education, growth and happiness of the children they love. However, in the authorsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ view, it is critical that parents maintain an external alliance with each other in their interactions with their children, reserving debates over parenting approaches for private discussions. As a second, somewhat unusual and arguably even surprising thread, Partnership Parenting shows that realization of the sexesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ complementary strengths can help foster a deep appreciation of the other parent, which can only serve to fortify the fabric of a partnership. In the authorsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ own words:
Learning to identify gendered parenting differences and sort out which are problematic and which are emblematic of two parents acting in concert is what this book is about. We hope to help you recognize that the problem is really the solution; that the difference is the pathway to happily-ever-after and to co-parenting as true partners.
But the PruettsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ book is not a book of sweeping generalities. As they say, the devil is in the details, and the authors are very good indeed on details as well as on tracking the larger picture created by assembling those small tidbits of information. So we learn in detail about how and why fathersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ bodies go through hormonal changes starting in the last months of pregnancy and extending into the first three months of a babyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s life, with testosterone levels dropping and prolactin levels rising. Intriguingly, a fatherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s average weight gain during a pregnancy usually comes within ounces of the babyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s birth weight!
The authors address the potentially endless warfare over which partner does more for the family, ultimately showing that there can be only losers in such a discussion and that all good parents do whatever it takes to accomplish tasks within their respective bailiwicks. Probably no generalization about the sexes is always true, but as a rule, fathers tend to provide excitement, to be less predictable in their interactions with their children, to rev their kids up, and to enjoy higher popularity during fun times, while mothers are generally more predictable, tend to calm and nurture their children, and tend to be sought out when itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s time for bed or when love is needed after an injury. Dads may tolerate more risk-taking by their children as they play and may be more open to having their body used as a jungle gym or a wrestling opponent, whereas mothers may feel that after carrying the baby, giving birth, and nursing, their bodies have been well used up by the children already. Ã¢â‚¬Å“For fathers, feeling physically close to their children is a novelty to be explored.Ã¢â‚¬Â Mothers can frankly both admire and be jealous of the fatherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s different role with their kids. Also, mothers Ã¢â‚¬Å“can be more ambivalent than they expected about having a very involved father. Although they appreciate the support, on some level they may not want to share this beloved babyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s heavenly attentions with anybodyÃ¢â‚¬â€even himÃ¢â‚¬Â¦Ã¢â‚¬Â This can lead to gatekeeping behavior by the mother, a topic the authors look at in great detail, even including a Ã¢â‚¬Å“Gatekeeper Quiz for Moms.Ã¢â‚¬Â Fathers are also called to account and asked to search their souls and ascertain if they are truly, fully carrying out the commitments they undertake. (For what itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s worth, every single one of the authorsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ assertions listed in this paragraph happen to be true of myself and my wife.)
The Pruetts allude to fathersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ relative invisibility in studies of child development, which Ã¢â‚¬Å“have focused exclusively on the mother-child pairÃ¢â‚¬Â with dads, if considered at all, being seen as Ã¢â‚¬Å“assistantsÃ¢â‚¬â€able or otherwise.Ã¢â‚¬Â Kyle PruettÃ¢â‚¬â€for although individual sections of the book are not signed by the co-authors with one name, I think we can assume he was instrumental to this sectionÃ¢â‚¬â€reminds us loudly and clearly that fathers should not feel compelled to strive to be imitation mothers, but rather to find their own style of parenting. Interestingly, one study showed that Ã¢â‚¬Å“father engagement was linked to fewer behavioral problems in sons, better psychological health and cognitive outcomes for daughters, less delinquency, and a higher standard of living for families with lower incomes.Ã¢â‚¬Â We are also convincingly shown that most children with involved fathers Ã¢â‚¬Å“do not think their fathers are second-class parents.Ã¢â‚¬Â Involved fathers lead to stronger verbal skills for both boys and girls and alsoÃ¢â‚¬â€fascinatingly–mathematical skills for girls are higher even when the fathers are not themselves particularly good at math. Even more powerfully, a longitudinal study whose subjects initially were five-year-old children and that re-evaluated its subjects more than two decades later as adults found that Ã¢â‚¬Å“the single most powerful predictor of whether those children wee empathetic adults was their fathersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ involvement in their childhood.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The authors intersperse several enlightening exercises throughout the book, including a Ã¢â‚¬Å“Parenting ProfileÃ¢â‚¬Â that addresses five separate issuesÃ¢â‚¬â€parental views on development, expectations, spoiling, discipline, and relationships. Also, Appendix A includes a thorough questionnaire containing no fewer than 83 (!) questions regarding Ã¢â‚¬Å“Ideas about Parenting,Ã¢â‚¬Â designed to be taken by both father and mother, who can then compare their different answers. The Appendix then can become a concrete learning tool about similarities and differences in beliefs about marriage.
The Pruetts are to be congratulating for taking on the thorny issue of discipline, on which there are of course widely differing views among different parents across the US (and sometimes even within couples). They recommend what they call authoritative parenting, rather than the less effective options of authoritarian and permissive parenting: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Stick to your guns but recognize your childÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s feelings may be different from your decision, give a brief explanation for your rationale if appropriate, and maintain our loving, affectionate stance. Do not equate being firm with being cold, tough, or harsh.Ã¢â‚¬Â The authors frown on what they call Ã¢â‚¬Å“bribery,Ã¢â‚¬Â because Ã¢â‚¬Å“once you add theÃ‚Â M&Ms as dessert or reward for eating broccoli, a childÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s motivation to eat his greensÃ¢â‚¬â€minus the goodieÃ¢â‚¬â€is dead in the water.Ã¢â‚¬Â Instead, Ã¢â‚¬Å“One way to encourage children to behave in a positive, pro-social manner is to use positive reinforcements.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Readers are also given some cheerleading and some sage advice on arguing fairly with oneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s spouse rather than fighting with him or her. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Give a good, honest reason for why you see things differently. If she doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t buy it, find a better one. Also, make sure he feels that he too can win some of the timeÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ Choosing your arguments is every bit as important as choosing your battles.Ã¢â‚¬Â And when your child is down, fall back on Ã¢â‚¬Å“your parental magic trio, the three things that always helpÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ humorÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ musicÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ and the vastly underappreciated back rub.Ã¢â‚¬Â
We also get some useful, specific advice. Ã¢â‚¬Å“When your children are around eight years old, both parents should have a serious conversation with them about playing with fire, followed up by a trip to the fire station.Ã¢â‚¬Â This might seem obvious to some parents but will definitely not occur to everyone. (Our son is eight and a good friend is a fireman and yet this thought never occurred to us.) I agree with the authorsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ enthusiasm for team sports. Ã¢â‚¬Å“[O]ften the most valuable thing kids learn from team sports is how to manage failure, loss, and erratic rule enforcement in a social contextÃ¢â‚¬â€pretty good preparation for life, eh?Ã¢â‚¬Â While the topic has become a common one, still I appreciated the authorsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ attention to the issue of television. They mince no words in showing that TV Ã¢â‚¬Å“teaches kids to care progressively less and less about the consequences of interpersonal violenceÃ¢â‚¬Â and also diminishes childrenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s interest in reading and in creative and imaginary play.
I encountered just one slightly disappointing moment, when the authors puzzlingly suggest without citation or explanation that a Ã¢â‚¬Å“bad marriage is particularly toxic for women.Ã¢â‚¬Â There are in fact reasons to suspect the precise opposite of this statement is true. In any event, this superlative book will amply repay the readerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s attention by educating and supporting his or her efforts to accomplish two goals that all too often are not addressed together: 1) to build a sustainable, productive partnership and 2) to raise healthy, happy, productive, well-adjusted children. The authors clearly care deeply about supporting parentsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ and childrenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s well-being. DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t miss this fabulous work!