Dads & Daughters, Mothers & Sons: How Does Gender Shape Parenting?
How do dads differ from moms when it comes to raising kids? Lisa unpacks the research on the different roles each parent plays while pointing out that there are no hard and fast gender lines in parenting and that you don't have to be a parent to play a powerful role in a child's life. Lisa and Reena talk about the dynamics that often unfold between dads and daughters and mothers and sons, especially in the context of adolescence. What do all kids want? They want to feel valued and admired. For Children Everywhere - Jumpstart is a national early education organization giving kids help with literacy and social-emotional programming for preschool children from under-resourced communities. It promotes quality early learning for all children: https://www.jstart.org/
November 10, 2020 | 27 min
Transcript | Dads & Daughters, Mothers & Sons: How Does Gender Shape Parenting?
Ask Lisa Podcast, Ep. 14: Dads & Daughters. Mothers & Sons: How Does Gender Shape Parenting?
The Ask Lisa Podcast does not constitute medical advice and is not a substitute for professional mental health advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being, consult a physician or mental health professional.
REENA: So big week for you, Lisa. I was not going to let you forget this one. Roll the music. Roll the music.
*”In Da Club* by 50 Cent plays*
REENA: Happy birthday, Lisa.
LISA: Thank you. Thank you, Reena.
REENA: It’s a big one.
LISA: It is. The big five-oh, and I have to say I am so excited to be 50. For some reason it feels like now I can do anything I want.
REENA: Tell me more because I love hearing this, absolutely love hearing this. And you know you, you talk about doing more, it just reminds me, I think a lot of our viewers don’t know how this podcast started. It was you back in the beginning of the summer calling me saying, I’m really worried about where we’re going to be with our country and with parenting and schools in the fall, and here you are. We’ve created this podcast, which Good Housekeeping just named one of the top parenting podcasts.
LISA: I know that was fun. That was fun to see that.
REENA: I am so grateful for you and for your life.
LISA: Oh, Reena. I feel the same way. You took that call. You said yes. And I hate that we have found ourselves in conditions that inspired this. I am so grateful for our listeners and the phenomenal questions they’re sending in. So thank you for the birthday wishes. All right, let’s get down to business.
REENA: Right, okay. So we had a little bit of a scare this week. My son was sent home because he was potentially part of a group of people who could have been exposed to COVID. Turns out it wasn’t. My school handled it beautifully, beautifully. I’m really proud of them. They contacted the parents immediately, isolated, did contact tracing. It’s a scary time right now, Lisa for so many people. It’s intense, and it’s interesting as I’m connecting with schools around the country, I’m hearing more of that, where my kid is coming to school who’s been diagnosed positive, and they’re having to quarantine whole sections, or quarantine whole grades. You know it it feels like it’s moving from looking at the pictures of the growing chart of COVID cases to people really, you know, increasingly that I’m aware of, people I’m in contact with having it, you don’t show up in a material way in their lives. And then this is on top of just being exhausted from the pandemic. I think everybody found the election to be exhausting. Yeah it’s funny I’ve lived in the Midwest for most of my life, and one of the things I love about midwesterners is they’re really good at understatement, and so if I think about like how we’re talking right now about COVID and the election and it’s going on and on, what people are saying is, it’s a lot. Just cracks me up. So, Reena, it’s a lot.
REENA: Yeah. It’s a lot. They’ve got to make t-shirts that just say, it’s a lot. You know it’s hard to laugh these days. What’s your advice? What are parents supposed to do right now?
LISA: Well I actually kinda love the Midwestern take on this, like it’s a lot, and that for me kind of brings me down a little bit, brings me down in a good way, like kind of centers me, and what I would say might have actually been trying to hold myself to, over this last sort of you know big intense week for all of us in the country, is something we talked about earlier in the podcast, which is be a steady presence, like that’s sort of what I held on to over these last sort of you know ten days or so because I was really watching the election in the closely, and then my kids were I was watching the election really close and then they have their feelings about it, and so I just thought whatever else just be kind of calm and available and that I can do, so that’s what I would say, you know whatever’s coming at parents, and I think there’s a lot coming at parents right now, do what you can to just be a steady presence, and sometimes you can’t, but if you can get there, that’s for me what I can focus on.
REENA: Being a steady presence. Relationships also really matter. More so than ever, you know, relationships with grandparents and parents, there are people in your lives that you’re close to that you can’t see right now. Many of us have formed pods, you know when my son, when I got this note from the school saying to come pick him up immediately, I was worried about my internal pod that I’ve quarantined with because we’re getting ready to I think hunker down again, and the relationship, somebody sent us this email which I thought was quite appropriate. It says: ‘Hello, Dr. Lisa. I love and rely on your books and podcasts. Thank you so much for providing your knowledge in these difficult times. I’ve learned so much. I’m guessing that most of your listeners are mothers, please forgive me if I’m mistaken. Yet as I listen I’m often thinking I hope there are lots of fathers listening and learning from this too. I wonder if you would consider focusing on fathers and daughters in a future podcast episode. My suggested question is simply this: What is a good enough father-daughter relationship, and what two fathers need to know to build one?’
LISA: I love that.
REENA: Isn’t that a great question?
LISA: Yeah. It’s a great question. It’s a great question.
REEN: When you’re talking about in this moment the influences of different relationships, but the father-daughter one I thought was something that from me also was just so important.
LISA: Yeah, I know, it can be a really powerful relationship, you know, in positive and also negative ways.
REENA: I guess I kind of want to start off, and I’m wondering how do dads differ from moms when it comes to raising girls?
LISA: So we have some research, and actually I can unpack it for us, but I think the most important thing to say off the top, and I have observed this and I know it to be true, any parent can do anything. I have watched dads, single parent dads, raise daughters and fill every role that needs to be filled by a parent. I’ve watched moms do that with daughters and sons. So the first and most important thing to say really in all of this is that there are no hard and fast gender lines in parenting. Any parent can do anything. But if we go with a heterosexual family with a mom and a dad, and in this case a daughter, we do have research about where dads fit into all of this, and they play a different role sometimes than moms. And one of the things we see is that especially as girls move into adolescence, but I want to talk about the time before adolescence as well, the relationship between dads and daughters is less close and intense sometimes than between moms and daughters, and this is sort of a good and bad thing because on the one hand it’s not unusual for girls to share more with their mom to, you know, tell more sort of intimate things to their mothers. On the other hand the relationship between moms and daughters tends to be more combustible than the relationship between daughters and dads. And so though dads may sometimes long for the closeness, it’s a double edged closeness. Both in terms of warmth and also in terms of heat.
REENA: It’s interesting, I love what you said that there are no hard and fast gender lines. What if you don’t have a dad? What if you don’t have a male presence?
LISA: Well that’s in a place where all the time I watch moms do all the parts, you know they play all the roles and they do an incredible job, is there a way in which it takes a village to raise a kid? Absolutely, right? So if you’re talking about a single parent situation, which I feel like we should do a whole episode on being a single parent because I think it is the most heroic I have ever watched humans do.
LISA: But let’s work with the assumption that a single parent is going to need additional support around them because raising children alone is an incredibly difficult thing, and then let’s work with the assumption that there should be a variety of grownups who are invested in that kid. And there might be gender variety and the grownups who are invested in that kid, and that can be a great thing, not strictly necessary, but it does matter for kids to feel that they are cared for and admired by people who come from a lot of different perspectives, and I think there are some places, you know if we think back to sort of a more conventional family where dads can do and say things that are particularly useful to daughters that may not work as well coming from a mom.
REENA: You know you talk about the village and if you don’t have a dad or a male presence that hearing from lots of other people is really important. I’m also wondering when that village starts to raise a child that is hitting adolescence, how does that change the male-female dynamic there? Dads and daughters? The male figurehead and daughters?
LISA: Well so one way of plays out is, if we go back to this idea that it can be a little bit hotter between moms and daughters sometimes, a dynamic I often hear about, let’s say by the time girls hit like 13, I’ve decided and we might even do a whole episode on 13, I think is a hugely hard age, that a dynamic that is totally familiar to me, and I hear about from families, is where the mom you know will say to the dad, you need to go tell her that she needs to clean up her room. Or, you could tell her to hurry up because we’re leaving. So sort of using the dad’s neutrality, the kind of less combustible qualities of the dad-daughter relationship, in a very strategic way to get support for, you know, basic parenting functions. And so that’s a place where, especially for single parents if they don’t have another more neutral parent, you know if a mom doesn’t have a dad to send into tell the daughter you know she needs to hurry up, that’s a good example of where it’s just hard sometimes to be the only one, you know in the house and on point. And so it is sort of funny to me that on the one hand I know dads can feel really kinda cut out, or like they don’t quite connect with her adolescent daughter in the way they did when she was younger, but I also know a lot of dads quickly realize they can do things their wives or partners cannot do successfully because they are in a more neutral place with the girl.
REENA: So I wonder if the reverse is true, like my son is nine and we have a great relationship, and a girlfriend once told me you know I found it really helps at night when I just sort of lay down with him in bed everything’s being processed and I hear from him. When you talk about gender roles in parenting, where do you think that moms and sons have an advantage and where do dads and daughters have the advantage, and what’s the reverse of that?
LISA: Okay this is a great question. So what happens between moms and sons that might be uniquely special? I mean there’s so much, but one of the things we consistently see in the research is that boys and men are not socialized in our culture to be fluent in discussing feelings. You know they are very much taught by our culture not to talk about feelings. It is associated with weakness. It is associated with femininity, unfortunately, which especially among you know middle school boys can be chalked up to weakness. And a critical role I think especially that moms can play, but if dad could do it would be even better, but moms might be socialized to be more fluent in this, is to actually get boys talking about their feelings and keep boys talking about their feelings, and so when I think about you laying with your son at night, you know, to the degree that that unguarded time right? That’s such an unguarded time with kids, they’re so forthcoming, to the degree that he’s using that to tell you about things that are close to his heart and you are cultivating that language and that fluency with him, that seems to me so powerful and so important.
REENA: Finding that time, you know, when you think about adolescence as well, finding that time, being able to connect, you might feel like, okay I’m ready to have that unguarded time is you call it, but their emotions, their hormones are raging, like how do you think having that father presence kind of makes a difference? A male presence make a difference with girls?
LISA: Well it’s funny because I actually think a lot of dads feel like they stop understanding their daughter when she becomes a teenager, and one of the thing, Reena, I’ve noticed, Untangled, my first book, has been out for a while now, it’s been out since 2016, and I will tell you, I mean people are very kind to me about that book my most ardent fans are dads, like there’s no question.
LISA: Yeah, and I started to notice this, and here’s what I think the deal is with that book and dads, because what the book does is it basically starts to explain what’s happening internally for teenagers, but especially adolescent girls starting at about age eleven, and so what I’ve come to believe over time as I’ve talked to dads about it or had dads you know send me like the nicest notes I’ve ever received in my life, is that you know dad’s adore their daughters. They love their kids like crazy, and I think, you know, I think about sometimes like if we imagine a child who’s the biological child of a mom and a dad, I think sometimes it’s got to be so hard for dads when their wives are pregnant. You know like they’re as invested in that kid is the mother is, but there’s a bit of a remove, you know, just from not being the pregnant one. And then I think the baby’s born and you just watch dads, like they are just fantastic and totally into that kid and they often have a really powerful relationship with their daughter and I think there’s so many dads out there who are like, I’m committed to this. I’m going to be present for you, we’re going to be best buddies forever, and the girl is completely into it and it’s going great, and then she turns eleven. And eleven is when adolescence begins and starts to hold everybody at arm’s length, it’s not just the dad, but my hunch is often in that dynamic the mom kind of remembers this, kind of gets it, kind of saw it coming, doesn’t take it so personally, and my sense about dads in that moment is that they feel like, I am more scared for you than I have ever been because you’re becoming a teenager and I thought all of that investment I put in would position me well right now and instead you just kicked me to the curb and they are terrified for their relationship, and for their girl, and so I think one of the benefits of Untangled is that it’s pretty neutral, and it just explains why girls do what they do, and what I hear from dads it feels like it gives them inroads back into that relationship. But like I had a mom in California, she’s like I have to tell you this this is kind of weird, but my husband keeps a case of Untangled in his car and if he meets a dad who has a daughter, he’s like, dude you need this book. It’s hysterical, but I think what I think to me with that dad’s or so devoted to their girls, and they just don’t always know how to click in when they become teenagers, then there’s this thing, right? I don’t know when boys get into the picture, right? And there was, Charles Barkley, like always cracked me up.
REENA: The basketball player?
LISA: Yeah the basketball player, like I always thought it was so funny, like he just says it, and I guess when they moved to Phoenix, I’m gonna get some of the dates and times wrong I’m sure, his daughter was twelve years old and some reporter was like, Charles like what are you gonna do when boys try to date your daughter? And he’s like, oh you kill the first kid and then you’re done with it. And I think he speaks for a lot of dads who are like, you were my most precious thing and now you’re not talking to me.
LISA: And now I feel like you’re starting to move into the world of boys, and that makes me scared.
REENA: That is fantastic. It’s just such a funny perspective but true, ike how they’re freaked out over this I could see it.
LISA: Totally. They’re often totally freaked out about it. What about you and your dad? Like how did that play and how did your adolescence play?
REENA: I think it is one of the most crucial looking back relationships are my mom is everything, you know I call her every day, the relationships of mothers and daughters are fascinating as well, but I think my dad help me understand, he got me a credit card when I was 12, he would charge something once a year to establish a financial history, you know, he is very much the person who is supportive of being entrepreneurial and kind of gave me a lot of confidence, you know, having his influence there. But I also think about what life would be like if I didn’t have that male presence, and for so many people in this country they don’t have that, you know, they’re raised by single moms or maybe even a single dad, you know, and I wonder as our concept of what a nuclear family is has changed drastically from when I was growing up in the eighties. What really matters, Lisa? Like that was important to me, and I see my my husband and my daughter and and they just love each other so much, and I love seeing that relationship blossom, but it’s different, as you have taught me from the beginning is every family is different, you shouldn’t judge them based on what they’re doing, but what really matters when you’re building a relationship with people around you?
LISA: Well so, you know, if we think about what do kids really need and what can parents provide, and if we think you know where gender comes into this, what really really matters, and if we think about daughters in particular, is this sense of feeling valued, right? And you’re talking about that with your dad of, hey I’m gonna help you establish a financial history and then you can go be entrepreneurial yourself, I mean there’s so much of a communication of you got this and you can do anything you want, and you’re worthy and worthwhile, and so you know we want that communicated to kids, there’s 100 ways to communicate that to kids. There’s not this idea that dads have the market cornered on being able to communicate to kids that they are valued. They can also do the extreme opposite, they can do a terrible job and make kids feel really bad, so it’s not that does have the market cornered. I do know, if we go back to that kind of traditional idea, or the Charles Barkley thing, right like, there is a placem you know, if we have a very traditional you know conventional family, there can be a place I think if the daughter’s heterosexual and leaning towards spending lots of times with boys, where dads can actually without threatening to murder, you know, young men, they can say things that even though girls may roll their eyes, girls should be hearing, and girls can hear this from their moms, I wish this weren’t true, I kinda think it may have a little more traction coming from dads, but I do think that we should be saying to our daughters, now you deserve to be treated with the utmost respect. Expect nothing less than that. That is how you should always be treated. Now, we should also be saying this to our sons, right you should be treated with the utmost respect, expect nothing less from your friends or your romances. But I know in our culture we worry and not without reason that boys don’t always treat girls as well as they should, and boys have more power in some ways than girls do physically or culturally, and so it’s important that we are attentive to that. So in terms of, you know, just this question that the we started with about like where might dad’s coming in particular, I think if we think about young women learning how to kind of carry themselves in the world, and if we teach them at home how they should expect to be treated, part of how that gets taught is how we treat our kids at home, boys and girls, and maybe in terms of how girls expect to be treated by boys. A huge part of how that gets taught is how the standards are held at home in terms of their treatment from both mom and dad.
REENA: It’s interesting. I think the takeaway is whether it’s a father-daughter relationship, mom-son, is knowing that you’re cared for, teaching them you’ve got to be respectful and demand respect, and expect that, that these are important in building these relationships as they eventually leave the nest.
LISA: Absolutely. Absolutely. What I want as the kind of bottom line on this, is that for girls and boys, what we can do in our homes is lay down what we want to be familiar and known, which is really decent treatment, really respectful treatment, a sense of kindness and fairness, that when we live that way with our kids, they leave us and they’re put off by anything short of that. And I think that’s the goal, if we just take all gender out of it, and I think that’s often what’s behind the question about where do dads and daughters fit in, I think it just takes us to this bigger piece around our goal as parents is to teach our children how they should expect to be treated by others.
REENA: That’s really powerful, and I guess when you’re parenting every day and trying to keep your head above water, you don’t think about how important that is.
LISA: I think in the day to day you can lose sight of it, but I think so many parents are doing this just naturally, and can step back and enjoy that they have held high standards for themselves with their kids, and they can watch their kids go out and hold those high standards in their relationships outside the family.
REENA: I love that. So much uncertainty, but I love that you break down exactly what’s important right now, and you give people hope. That’s what I really love is that got to take this one day at a time really.
LISA: Yep. Yep, and we’ve got our little homes, and we’ve got our two-foot world and we can turn out really well-loved people.
REENA: It’s great advice. Happy birthday, my dear friend. I think we love hearing that you love 50 and you are just such a shining example of the best is yet to come. I love it.
LISA: Well thank you. Thank you.
REENA: And I want to plug today our charity of the week, For Children Everywhere as we call it, is Jumpstart. It’s a national early education organization that helps preschool and kids in elementary school really learn how to read and write, particularly for underserved communities. We hope you might head over to our show notes and give them a consideration if you’re considering making a donation.
LISA: Love it. Love it.
REENA: And Lisa, what’s your parenting to-go?
LISA: So my parenting to go this week is something I picked up from my other work wife, I cheat on you with another woman. It’s Dr. Tori Cordiano, who I mentioned when we are talking about the work we do at Laurel School. So Tori and I, Tori’s also a psychologist, we share our private practice suite, we share a waiting room and then each have our own offices, and she is a brilliant psychologist. And we were talking about hot moments at home, like when there’s disagreements and fights or when a kiddo is kind of having a meltdown, and Tori shared this thing that I just was so smart, a bit of a mantra for when she feels herself accelerating in those moments, and what she does is she breathes in and she thinks to herself, I am safe, she brings out and she thinks, this is safe, and she uses that reset to hold herself as a steady presence when she’s in a moment with a child that is intense and can go sideways. And I thought it was so beautiful that I wanted to share it.
REENA: Why does that make such a difference when you do that?
LISA: It takes us out of the moment. I think that’s what she’s accomplishing, that she’s actually giving herself away to stand back and ground herself a little bit so that she doesn’t, or that we don’t in taking her good advice, act in ways that we wish we hadn’t.
REENA: Acting in ways that we wish we hadn’t. Gonna leave it right there. Thank you so much, Lisa.
LISA: You bet, see you next week.
REENA: Bye bye.