To hear some people tell the story, children get everything they really need from their mothers. Having men in their lives is a luxury; nice to have, but totally unnecessary.

But I beg to disagree. At every step along the way, children get something different from men than they get from the women in their lives. In families where there is no dad present, a loving male presence is a boon to children’s healthy development.

During infancy, babies often seek the comfort of mothers for feeding and other caring routines. But researchers have discovered an interesting difference, even in these early months. Mothers carry their infants on their shoulders, facing backwards. The implicit message in this protective posture is that they will go first and protect their babies from whatever lies ahead.

Men, however, typically hold their babies differently. They hold them out front, facing forward, as if to say, “Let me introduce you to the world, and I’ll be with you every step of the way.”

During toddlerhood, children are interested in learning about how to go away and come back again to their parents for love and support as they explore boundaries in this big world.

They can’t help but notice that Dads seem to know about coming and going in a natural, easy way. Men separate more easily than women, who sometimes make a big deal out of saying goodbye and hello. Toddlers turn to Dad to learn about saying goodbye safely, as if they can learn it from his example.

Kyle Pruitt of Yale has spent a career learning about fatherhood and what it means for children. He has come to appreciate the richness that children get from their dads and from men in general.

Pruitt has noted many ways in which parents of both genders respond alike to their children. For one thing, he has found that men produce female hormones in a pattern similar to their wives during the months of pregnancy, childbirth and raising infants.

Pruitt reckons this “feminizing” of men during child rearing is probably nature’s way of protecting children from harm and encouraging gentler treatment of babies at the hands of their fathers. Fathers are capable of great tenderness toward their babies.

But as children grow, hormone levels in men return to their “pre-pregnancy” levels, and their childrearing takes a turn in a direction very different from women’s ways.

One example is in the area of parent-child communication. Pruitt has identified that toddlers learning to speak use clearer communication with fathers than they do with mothers.

Pruitt’s investigations made quick explanation of this phenomenon. He observed that a toddler would walk into a kitchen and grunt. Mom would say “Oh, you want some juice?”

But Dad wouldn’t even notice. The child would try to open the refrigerator. Dad still wouldn’t notice. The tot would pull on Dad’s pant leg. Dad still wouldn’t notice.

Finally, the toddler would yell, “Duce!” At last, Dad would say, “Oh, you want some juice?”

Dads are forthcoming with help, but they demand more effort on the part of the child, a pattern that continues for years to come. While mothers facilitate children’s efforts, fathers tend to challenge them for higher achievement.

The approaches of men and women complement each other in parenting. A child who has both influences in his life will gain balance and harmony.

More than a luxury, men build solid futures for their children.

Source: Herald & Review, IL