Dr. Spock on the Father as Parent

Parenting advice from one of America's favorite experts.

Dr. Benjamin Spock has been giving parents advice about raising their children for decades. In this excerpt from his landmark work, Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care, he shares one of the 19 points he believes are most important for parents to keep in mind about their role in their child's life.

A father's capability and responsibility

Men, especially the husbands of women with outside jobs, have been participating increasingly in all aspects of home and child care. There is no reason why fathers shouldn't be able to do these jobs as well as mothers, and contribute equally to the children's security and development. But the benefit may be lost if this work is done as a favor to the wife, since that implies that raising the child is not really the father's work but that he's merely being extraordinarily generous.

There are increasing numbers of fathers married to women with full-time out-of-home jobs, and these men assume the major share of care for the children and home while their children are small. At its best, parenting occurs in the spirit of equal partnership.

I think that a father with a full-time job, even if the mother is staying at home, will do best by his children, his wife, and himself if he takes on half or more of the management of the children (and also participates in the housework) when he is home from work and on weekends. The mother's leadership and patience will probably have worn thin by the end of the day -- as would the father's if he were alone with the children all day! On the other hand, some mothers find it difficult to allow fathers to assume control, perhaps because they are worried that if they are not the "official" family nurturer, then what exactly is their role in life? Children will profit from experiencing a variety of styles of leadership and control by both parents -- styles that neither exclude nor demean, but enrich and complement the other.

In child care, fathers can certainly give bottles, feed solid foods, change diapers (for too long fathers have gotten away with the clever ruse that they lacked the intelligence, manual dexterity, and visual-motor skills to be capable of changing a smelly diaper), select clothes, wipe away tears, blow noses, bathe, put to bed, read stories, fix toys, break up quarrels, help with questions about homework, explain rules, and assign duties. Fathers can participate in the whole gamut of domestic work: shopping, food preparation, cooking and serving, dishwashing, bed making, housecleaning, and laundry. My mother taught me these jobs beginning when I was around age 7.

When a father does his share of the work at home as a matter of course, he does much more than simply lighten his wife's work load and give her companionship. It shows that he believes this work is crucial to the welfare of the family, that it calls for judgment and skill, and that it's his responsibility as much as hers when he is at home. This is what sons and daughters need to see in action if they are to grow up with equal respect for the abilities and roles of men and women.

Pay and prestige have traditionally been men's prime values in 20th-century America. From my point of view, this emphasis has played a major role in misleading many men into excessive competitiveness, excessive materialism, frequent neglect of relationships with wives and children, neglect of friendships, neglect of community relationships and of cultural interests, and stress-related health problems. I don't mean to deny that a sufficient income is absolutely essential -- for the two-parent family and even more important for the single-parent family. What I am concerned about is that our obsession with getting ahead at work often puts an intolerable strain on family life and makes many women as well as men view the outside job as their central responsibility in life.

I believe that both boys and girls should be raised with a deep conviction that the family is the richest and most enduring source of satisfaction in life. Then women could feel less pressure to accept men's traditional values, and men, freed from their narrow obsession with work and status, could begin to practice women's many skills and try to adopt their values. It will be a great day when fathers and mothers consider the care of their children as important to them as their jobs and careers, and when all career decisions are balanced with careful consideration of their effect on family life.

You know, I've talked to a lot of parents. As their children became adults and moved out of the home, not one mother or father has ever said to me that they regretted spending too much time with their families. But I can't tell you how many have regretted that they didn't carve out more time to spend with their families when they had the chance.

Excerpted with permission from Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care, Revised Seventh Edition, Pocket Books, 1998.

Copyright 1945, 1946, © 1957, 1968, 1976, 1985, 1992 by Benjamin Spock, MD. Copyright renewed © 1973, 1974, 1985, 1996 by Benjamin Spock, MD. Revised and updated material copyright © by The Benjamin Spock Trust

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

American Baby

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