NC Family president John Rustin talks with Glenn Stanton, Ph.D., director of family formation studies at Focus on the Family, about the key differences between moms and dads and why those differences matter to child wellbeing.
INTRODUCTION: Glenn Stanton is Director of Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family. Glenn is the author of several books, including Secure Daughters, Confident Sons, and most recently, Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor.
Glenn recently wrote an article for Focus on the Family entitled, “Why Dads Matter and Why Moms Don’t Toss Babies,” and we are going to be talking with Glenn about some of the important issues he raises in that article about the key differences between moms and dads, and why those differences matter to raising children.
JOHN RUSTIN: In this article, you talk about a scene you witnessed in an airport, where a dad was tossing his baby into the air, much to the child’s terror and delight. I know we’re all familiar with those types of situations. And you point out that this is actually typically dad behavior. Why is this simple act by dads so important, and why don’t we typically see a mother for example engaging in this kind of play with a child?
GLEN STANTON: It’s a universal thing that we recognize. I’ve been all over the world. One Saturday morning I was in a park in Beijing, China, and there’s a grandfather throwing his little granddaughter up in the air, and we don’t think too much about that. But that is actually a very important child development experience for children. You see the little baby going up in the air, and the first time they have this look on their face, literally they are breathless, and everybody knows the look, and mom is typically freaking out, “No, don’t do that.” But gravity acts upon the child, and the child comes back down into daddy’s arms, and what happens, they will giggle. If they’re verbal at that stage, they will say everybody knows, “Again, Again!” [because] they love that. What is happening there, though, is again, a child development experience that fathers provide. The child is going up in the air and thinking, “Oh my goodness, the world is a scary place.” And then, when they start to come down they’re still scared, but back into dad’s arms they’re like, “Ah, the world is a safe place.” And what dads do, and just in this one example of throwing babies in the air, is they teach kids to take calculated chances, and that there is a reward in doing that. When the kids get older, who is more likely to say you know when they’re climbing a tree, “Climb a little higher you can go to that next limb, I’ll talk you through it.” Moms typically don’t do that. Moms, very important, are interested in safety, and it’s not that dads are not interested in safety, but dads will take the idea of safety, but say, “Now you can safely push the limits here.” And so dads create a bit of confidence in the children, whereas mom provides and creates a sense of comfort within the children. Which one is more important? The answer to that is, “Yes,” both of them are most important.
JOHN RUSTIN: Glenn, you also explain that mom and dad each teach self control to children, but in unique and different ways. Explain the different ways parents teach self-control to children and why both ways are necessary for kids to thrive.
GLENN STANTON: First of all, mothers are more likely to hold their children close. The orientation is with the child. Fathers are more likely to get their children to look out to the world. The way I like to explain that is, mothers are concerned about those things that could hurt their child and protecting their children from those things. Now dads are not uninterested in that, but they are more likely to prepare. See moms protect, dads prepare their kids for the dangers out there in the world. You know, it’s not a good idea to go out in lightening storms, but if you do find yourself in a lightening storm, these are the top three things you need to do. Moms are just, “You know what, don’t go out in a lightening storm,” but dad is more likely to [say], “Be aware of your surroundings.” And those are the two ways that moms and dads teach self-control. Self-control in moms, okay, hold it within yourself, the other for the dad is self-control of being aware of others. It’s interesting, years ago our kids go to Chucky Cheese to parties, and kids are jumping into the ball pit. Kids love to do that. It’s interesting that I’ve noticed, you see kids that aren’t well-fathered, or don’t have fathers, they are more likely just to not be able to control themselves, and just jump right into the pit on top of other kids. Now see that’s because dads are like, “Hey be aware of your atmosphere, be aware of what’s happening. Be huge, be expressive physically, jump into those balls and go for it, but you’ve got to watch out for other people.” Moms, it’s not that they fail to do that, they’re just not as inclined to do that kind of thing. So, they teach sort of self-awareness, and self-control in very different ways, and children need both of those. If they don’t have mom’s ways, they’re shortchanged, and if they don’t have dad’s ways, they’re shortchanged.
JOHN RUSTIN: Now is that what you’ve referred to as pro-social behavior? I know that is a term that you talk about that is an important universal virtue that dads teach boys. Is that what you’re talking about or is there more to that concept than what you’ve just described?
GLENN STANTON: It’s a bit of that, I mean in the ball pit that’s pro-social behavior, but that works itself out. “You know what, there’s other people in the world that I need to be considerate of.” Some of the other pro-social behaviors, boys particularly who are well fathered and affirmed by their fathers, they just simply do not go into gangs. They are not violent, and they don’t desire to hurt people because fathers have taken that male energy of their boys and turned it in a pro-social way. You should be strong, you should be assertive, but strong and assertive in a way to serve and help other people. Just like you have a good football coach. He teaches you that. That’s what fathers do is they teach their little boys to serve others. And even in strong and masculine sort of way, you know that was way back when, “women and babies first,” that’s what men do is they sacrifice themselves for other people. Kids in gangs are not doing that; they’re trying to assert their manhood in very violent ways. They’re basically saying, “My dad never affirmed me, but I want you to respect me, and I will use, guns and violence to make you respect me.”
The other is girls are not as likely to be engaged in early pre-marital sexual activity and far less to get pregnant because they are not as likely to fall to the deceptive wiles of enterprising young men. A guy comes along, and he’s fancy and snazzy and jazzy, and a girl who is well fathered, she’s just not going to fall for that. She knows what a good man is, she has lived under the love and the affirmation and the appreciation of a good man. A girl who hasn’t gotten that, she is going to seek that out in any way she can, and usually that’s going to be at the manipulation, if you will, of enterprising teen boys who don’t have those girls’ best interests in mind.
JOHN RUSTIN: I know that both parents also have a big influence on a child’s language development? Talk about the unique ways that mom and dad interact verbally with their children. We’ve talked a good bit about how they interact physically, but how do they interact verbally with children, and in doing so help them to develop different language skills?
GLENN STANTON: Yes, this is very interesting, and I noticed this when our kids were young, I’d read it in books, and then I’d see it at home when my wife and I are both communicating with our children. Here’s the deal is mothers are more likely to moderate their language for the understanding of the child. That facilitates quick communication. They’re more likely to use words like, “Oh looks like you’ve got a boo-boo,” or things like that. It’s not that dads don’t, but dads are more likely to use bigger words, “Oh, it looks like you’ve got a nasty contusion there,” and the kids like, “What is a contusion?” Exactly. But what that does is, and the scholars talk about this, is it initiates vocabulary lessons, and they find out that kids who spend a lot of time around their dad grow up into their later elementary, middle school years, high school years with a better vocabulary, and vocabulary is the building-block of reading ability and things like that. Fathers are not as clued in to speak down to the level of the child, but that there’s actually an upside of that, it teaches them new words. And it’s not at all because mom’s not smart by any stretch, but it’s that she knows how to connect with the child more directly, but dad is not as keen in that area. Again it creates a larger variety of the words, more sophisticated words, bigger words than mom is more likely to use. Again, children need both of those.
JOHN RUSTIN: That’s very interesting, and Glenn I think that it’s particularly important for us to consider these things because we know that we are living in a world where we’re told that kids don’t need both a mom and a dad to thrive. But you call this thinking “delusional” noting that, and I quote “Both a man and a woman are required for the creation of a new child, and both are equally indispensable for the rearing of that child.” In a culture that is pushing a gender-neutral viewpoint on our children, including when it comes to marriage and parenting, how do we as Christians respond in both grace and Truth?
GLENN STANTON: The grace and Truth things are very important. But John, what I want to say as Christians even before that is we need to understand the spiritual nature behind these things. God says on the very first page of our Bibles, “Let us create man in our image, according to our likeness.” God is going to create something that shows forth His image and likeness. And then, in Genesis chapter one, verse 26 and 27, He says, “In the image of God he created them, male and female He created them.” It’s male and female that show forth the image of God in the world, and at the fall, now we know that satan got Adam and Eve to doubt the word of God. Now we are being called to doubt the very image of God in the world. And this doesn’t mean that people behind this in our neighborhoods and communities are satanic, but we need to know, satan deceives every one of us, and satan is deceiving us that “Oh my goodness, male and female, the image of God in humanity doesn’t really matter.” And that’s how we can treat this issue in Truth and grace. But understand that really very few people that are trying to de-gender culture have evil intents, but they mistakenly think this is the best thing for our children. We need to convince them, but we need to not see them as enemies, but see them as “not getting it quite right,” and seek to persuade them. This is what I like to say is you always treat the individual that you are engaging with love and kindness and grace, without compromise, but you always deal with the issue itself, the issue at hand, with absolute uncompromising Truth. And so I think that is a quick rule of thumb basically how to love individuals but not compromise on the issue itself. And too often we think loving the individual requires us to compromise on the issue, and that’s just absolutely not true.
JOHN RUSTIN: Glenn I think that’s a great place for us to end our conversation today. Unfortunately we are out of time, but before we go, I want to give you an opportunity to let our listeners know where they can go to get a copy of your new article, “Why Dads Matter, and Why Moms Don’t Toss Babies,” and learn more about Focus on the Family?
GLENN STANTON: They can go to focusonthefamily.com and they can type in “focus findings,” and all that is found in various placed on focusonthefamily.com.
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