Sunday, March 05, 2006

Do Men Change Diapers? - Are You Thinking What I'm Thinking? Apparently Not.

From Ash:

Crucial to this notion of "Honey Dads" is the gap between What Men Think and What They Actually Do. (I.e., they often think they're doing more than they actually are).

There are two studies I'm thinking about that really underscore the difference between perception and reality.

In one study (which I briefly referred to in a previous blog but it's worth considering further), sociologists around the world asked husbands how much housework they did and how much their wives did. Then they asked their wives the same questions. Almost without exception, around the world, the husbands thought they did significantly more housework than their wives thought their husbands did. Now, both of them were probably at least somewhat inaccurate, but it was striking that not only was there a consistent difference between the spouses' views, it was usually quite significant.

But the study that has really caught my attention is one I heard about last night.

That study was examining what sociologists call "distance regulation." In this context, we're not talking about physical distance, but emotional distance -- how family members are able to be emotionally intimate, but also how they are able to function independently. So, for example, it's testing if you're comfortable telling an embarrassing secret or crying in front of your kids, compared to your ability to trust your daughter to decide on a new boyfriend without demanding to give him the Third Degree.

If parents fail to strike the proper balance between emotional intimacy and allowing their children to be independent, particularly for adolescents, their children may suffer from a range of psychological disorders -- from alcoholism to eating disorders to depression -- and participate in more at-risk behaviors.

And so far, it's the fathers' distance regulation that seems to be the more important of the two parents: to the point that if the fathers are better at it, juvenile crime rates are supposed to go down.

Now, here's where this all gets scary. Just as the husbands had a very different view of their participation in housework, they apparently have a very different view of . . . well, the rest of what's going on the family.

In a study of distance regulation, fathers (who were actively involved with their families), mothers and their teenage children were all asked to describe what was going on in their family. The mothers and teenagers basically said the same things -- they essentially agreed on what was going on within their family.

Dads, however, had a completely different take on the family. Just how different were the dads' takes on how things were? Well, statistically, if the moms and teen daughters were on Venus, the dads weren't on Mars. They were in the next solar system.

Literally, the statistical models analyzing the families' comments came back with the finding that the fathers' views of their families were so different, so completely irreconcilable with the comments made by their wives and children, that the men shouldn't actually be the fathers of those families. Instead, they must have been someone else's dads and husbands.

It's like one of those Marie Claire articles. There are three columns -- moms, dads and kids. You're supposed to read each one's quotes and figure out who belongs in each family by matching the quotes. The moms and kids, you figure out with ease -- sure, they have different opinions on things, but you can tell they are at least talking about the same subject. But none of the fathers' quotes match the wives' quotes or the kids's. And it isn't that fathers disagree about the same thing (like the moms and kids do). No, they are not even talking about the same issues. And the only possible explanation is that (with apologies to MC) the magazine editors put the wrong fathers' quotes in the article.

So fathers' ability to maintain a balance between emotional intimacy and independence are the key to their children's development . . . but fathers have a completely different perspective than everyone else in the family as to what the issues and needs of the family are (and if you add the housework study I mentioned, how much they contribute to the family as well).

And what is the most troubling of this is that the fathers participating in this study were supposed to be those who were actively involved in their families -- presumably the "New Dads" we keep talking about.

You'd think that actively involved fathers should be more on the ball as to what's going on in the family -- more in tune with the concerns of their wives and children. But they weren't. Which means either: they are involved, but not in what is really important (they may do the carpool but not the family's emotional inner life); and/or they are somehow completely immune or just plain ignorant as to the family's concerns and feelings.

And -- if all that wasn't bad enough -- if that's what we can expect from the involved fathers, then we probably can expect even worse results from fathers who aren't involved.

(Although it's sort of hard to imagine worse results than being told you know so little about your son that, statistically, you can't be his father, which just goes back to maybe the involvement of "New Dads" is just a fiction, because it's just on such a superficial level.).

My head is spinning.

If you want more details, check out the report here.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scary. Particularly that I've just become a father today...

9:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm, I'm not sure if what you are gathering from these results is good or bad. I wonder if those same results could be interpretted in a different light. I have to wonder if there is a sort of "taking sides" going on here. I love my family and stay as actively involved as possible but also taking on the role of the sole bread winner. We have a big family and that is no small task. It actually takes quite a bit of my mind's energy to do what it is I do to take care of this family. I may or may not be part of the statistic but I think there is more to the story then what you present. Are their possibly other things that could be consuming the fathers mind or distracting the father's mind?

5:37 PM  

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