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Avoiding competitive parenting

Experts agree that moms and dads parent differently. For the most part, our similarities override our differences, but there are still some key ways mom could never be mistaken for dad (and vice versa!).

Here’s the good news: babies benefit from variety. Involved mothers and fathers both have plenty to offer our kids—even if we don’t always see eye-to-eye.

Mothers offer care more and fathers play more. The benefits of “feminine” caregiving are obvious, but play sometimes gets short shrift. It shouldn’t. Stereotypically “masculine” play (which often involves lifting or tossing baby in the air, or tussling on the floor) helps babies become more aware of their bodies, helps develop coordination and strength—and provides bonding time with dad.

Mothers and fathers speak differently. Moms repeat more, ask more questions and explain more. Dads verbalize less and can be more directive in their speech. Babies benefit from both styles of verbal interaction, especially as they get older and develop more language skills.

Mothers are more predictable, fathers are wackier! Babies learn that mom is nurturing, with a gentle touch, soft words and loving snuggle. And dad… well, dad can also provide those things, but he’s just as likely to make a funny face, tickle or engage in gentle roughhousing. Studies show fathers’ behaviour with their children tends to be less expected. This has the advantage of exposing babies to a variety of interactions and occasional unpredictability. This can help babies develop resiliency and better cope with change (such as journeys beyond the conventional routines, sights, smells and sounds of home).

Agreeing to differ. Ultimately, both typically maternal and typically paternal parenting styles have much to offer growing babies. Infants and kids alike benefit from exposure to different—yet equally loving—parenting styles.

As mothers and fathers, we should resist the urge to “correct” our partner’s parenting style, or attempt to make the other’s mirror our own. Enjoy the difference: Your baby probably does!