Jun 16, 2017

Four Ways Women Can Support the Vocation of Fatherhood

By Anna Mussmann

Moms are the ones who get pregnant. Moms are the ones who most often stay at home with children. Yet dads, too, have a huge influence on the shaping of a child’s life--in fact, somewhat counterintuitively, the choices of a father are a much better statistical predictor of how children will live in adulthood than many of a mother’s decisions are. This is just as true for church attendance as it is for weight and fitness.

That shouldn’t be a surprise, should it? When God was designing the world, He didn’t just create a system whereby humans could procreate. He also gave us marriage between a man and a woman. Throughout Scripture, God uses the imagery of marriage and fatherhood as a way to help us understand who He is and how He relates to us. He designed dads to matter. What a tragedy--what a clever tactic of the devil--when a society’s understanding of fatherhood is blunted and warped.

I can’t help remembering the time when, a few years ago, a teacher explained to me that even though she has her students make Mother’s Day gifts, she no longer helps them prepare anything for their fathers. Too many of the students don’t have a dad. Those who do are not necessarily on good terms with him.

As Lutherans and Christians, we have a tremendous opportunity to serve our neighbors by bearing witness to the vocation of fatherhood. People who don’t know what a daddy really is need to see examples. People who are in the trenches of fatherhood benefit when we recognize the importance of what they do. How is this to be done? I am not a father, a theologian, or an expert; but I’d like to throw some suggestions into the conversation.

We Can Recognize the Difference Between a Dad and a Not-Mom

Doctor Who fans may recall the episode in which an infant (in his own baby language, as translated by the Doctor) refers contemptuously to his male parent as “Not-mom.” Sometimes even well-meaning Christian women fall into the same error. This happens when moms try to counter the stereotype of the incompetent father by arguing that dads are just as good at parenting as moms are because dads can do stereotypically feminine parenting tasks--“He coordinates her outfits more carefully than I do!” “He can play dolls and make dinner at the same time!” “He’s actually more organized than me!”

If your husband is awesome at styling pigtails, that’s fabulous. The thing is, though, no man’s skill at coiffure has anything to do with whether or not he is a “real” parent. We undermine our own message if we accept the assumption that the modern, suburban mother is the definition of faithful parenting. Men don’t always parent the way women do. That’s kind of the point of having both, isn’t it?

If we want to support the vocation of fatherhood, we women need to begin seeing the ways in which masculine traits bless the household just as much as feminine ones do. If we want to support dads, we need to admit that it’s a good thing when they challenge our perceptions of how things ought to be done or when they don’t care much about details that we consider important. Some dads aren’t very good at being mothering assistants. That’s OK--it’s more important that they be fathers instead.

A man who rough houses with his kids, applies a less emotional perspective to discipline, lets the kids get skinned knees at the playground, and works hard at his job in order to provide is being a “real parent.” This is not to say that we should restrict either moms or dads to an overly narrow cultural definition of masculinity or femininity. Yet we should recognize that God created us male and female. Simply by being male--simply by being a father--dads bring a balance to their households that is good.

We Can Recognize that Dads Have a Right to Find Their Own Way

I remember the panic on my husband’s face the first time I left him alone with our new baby. Yet by the time our second came along, he often volunteered to take both little ones out to the grocery store by himself. It’s only natural that a dad, who probably spends less time each day with the baby than mom does, is going to have a different (longer) learning curve.

I asked my husband recently how women can support the work of fathers. He said it’s important to give dads lots of chances to do the tasks they don’t do as well instead of always stepping in and either taking over the job or giving too much unsolicited advice. New dads need to find their own way just as much as new moms do.

This is also true of a father’s relationship with the kids. True example: When I am working with the kids, I prioritize keeping them happy a little more than my husband does. I work hard to phrase and arrange things so that the toddler doesn’t cry. “You can choose X or W!” “Look, here’s your bunny to sing you a song!” “OK, have it your way for two minutes and then it’s my turn!” Daddy isn’t unkind, but he’s a lot more likely to say things like, “No. Now go upstairs.”

Sometimes--especially if I am tired or stressed--Daddy’s way can seem less capable to me. It is tempting to try to get him to parent like I do. Yet he has a right to find his own way to be both nurturing and also firm with the kids. He also has a right to be a dad instead of a mom. In the end, the children benefit tremendously (and probably learn that it’s OK to feel a little sad because you didn’t get to have a second drink, because life goes on anyway). Probably because he is more decisive with the kids, my husband is actually better than I am at getting them to try something they find hard or scary.

(Note: I'm not saying parents shouldn't give each other help, suggestions, and feedback. Doing so is one of the benefits of having two brains and two sets of eyes on the job. The point, though, is to create mutual goals and respect each other's ways of reaching them).

We Can Recognize that Marriage is the Foundation of Faithful Parenting

Women are more likely to center their lives around their children than men are. Considering female biology--for instance, the fact that women experience hormonal changes when their babies cry--it’s no surprise that for many women, nurturing becomes priority number one. It’s a good thing. A lot fewer babies throughout history would have survived if this were not true. In contrast, though, even highly devoted dads are often more focused on the bigger picture and see children as just one piece of their lives. Often dads are the ones who help maintain the balance in a couple’s relationship by putting the marriage first. This, too, is a good thing.

From a feminine perspective, it might seem selfish if Dad wants more time, attention, and love-making; but this is actually one way in which male biology helps to balance female biology. That’s because a healthy marriage is the foundation of both fatherhood and motherhood. God did not create parenthood first and then say, “Oh, yeah, but first find someone to help you with those babies.” Instead, He created marriage and made children one of the blessings that flow from that estate. Supporting marriage in both our own homes and the public arena is a way to help children.

Besides, we moms shoot ourselves in the foot if we forget that these adorable little people of ours are going to grow up and leave, whereas our husband (we hope) will still be here with us in thirty years.

We Can Rejoice

We are Lutherans. We rejoice that even though we deserve death, our Savior comes to us and gives us life and salvation.

Even though we recognize how important the vocations of father and mother really are, parenting, too, is the work of flawed and sinful human beings who deserve death. No wonder parents mess up. No surprise that daddies disappoint and fail. Yet the God who “so loved the world” created the vocation of fatherhood and works through it to accomplish His good work. We don’t need to feel responsible for remaking the world through our own efforts, and we don’t need to despair at the tragedies and failings we see around us.

Instead, let us rejoice that we have been given the blessed opportunity to pray for the fathers around us. Let us thank God for creating dads. Most of the ones I know are pretty awesome.


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After graduating from Concordia Wisconsin, Anna taught in Lutheran schools for several years and became so enthusiastic about Classical Education that she will talk about it to whomever will listen. She is a big fan of Jane Austen, dark chocolate, and the Oxford comma. Anna and her husband live in Pennsylvania with their two small children. Anna's work can also be found in The Federalist and sometimes at Don't Forget the Avocados.

1 comment:

  1. I've noticed something as my kids get older. When my children were young, they most often immediately came to me for help. Now that they are getting older (pre-teen), I've noticed a shift from immediately coming to me to sometimes going to my husband for help or for guidance on how to deal with some kind of struggle in life. Dads are always important in different ways at different times!

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