Doing It His Way
According to Kyle Pruett, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine and author of Fatherneed (Broadway, 2001), there's an easy explanation for this phe- nomenon. "Kids and dads are hardwired for a relationship that's different from -- yet just as important as -- that of kids and moms."
Dr. Pruett's extensive studies of stay-at-home fathers in Connecticut bolster his theory. Although dads from this small but growing group have proved to be able nurturers, learning quickly how to tell a hungry cry from a tired cry, they maintain a distinctive "fatherly" parenting style: They still have a more rough-and-tumble approach to playtime and tend to take on a stronger disciplinarian role as their children get older. Their working wives, meanwhile, are likely to take over the evening bathtime or bedtime rituals and do much of the baby's clothes shopping -- roles women seem culturally conditioned to perform, regardless of whether they work.
"Men and women approach babies differently because they approach life differently," says Donald Skog, M.D., an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, in New York City. "Men comfort physically, women emotionally. The resulting bonds are different, but that doesn't indicate that one is stronger."
Still, experts point out that much of what we consider "motherly" instincts may, in fact, simply be acquired traits. From playing with dolls to baby-sitting, girls are brought up to be nurturers, Dr. Parke notes. Boys, on the other hand, are taught to be physical and to suppress their emotions. And the contrasting socialization continues into adulthood. Women are far more likely to lean on a support network of family and friends to get through the challenges of pregnancy and parenthood. Men have fewer role models and often face obstacles if they choose to pursue a nurturing role.
At-home dads, for instance, face the stigma of doing "woman's work." John Glynn, 36, of Midlothian, Virginia, initially felt uncomfortable when he quit his job to take care of his daughter when his wife returned to work. His reservations weren't because he doubted his ability as a parent but rather because he was often the only guy at the playground and because some people seemed to frown on his lifestyle. "Whenever one of my neighbors saw me," Glynn recalls, "he'd ask, 'You got a job yet?' "