Let's Talk Tween

Information and insight about kids ages 8-12 (the "in between" years)

Moms are Containers & Dads are Super Heroes

Acknowledging out loud the roles parents play.

Dads often act as super heroes when moms have had enough
Dads often act as super heroes when moms have had enough
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Whenever a generalization is affirmed, there are always those who get annoyed, or even angered because the supposition being presented isn’t relevant or real for them. In deference to those individuals, let’s start with a disclaimer. What follows is an attempt to discern some of the complicated situations that parents face when raising their children.

Perhaps because females focus more on intimacy (this is based on research), moms tend to be the containers into which children dump their emotional reactions. These reactions range from happiness to despair remorse to rage.  Put succinctly, moms are expected to hold these emotional reactions until the cup runnith over. This is when dads are usually called to step in-hence they are donned the ‘super heroes’.

It is important to acknowledge the important role dads play in their children’s lives. The majority of dads are equally involved in raising their children. The dynamic being highlighted here however, is a phenomenon that most often occurs on the spot at moments when moms are simply maxed out. Dads can also reach their limit. Certainly moms are quick to takeover when this happens. It simply seems that most often the scenario entails a mom whose bucket is full with the emotional reflections of her children that she no longer feels equipped to absorb or deflect.

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Interestingly, in discussing this division of labor with same-sex couples, most agree that this type of split occurs in their household as well.

Moms tend to be the ones to whom their children express their emotions. A bad day at school can translate into being irritable and even berating mom. A good day can equal enthusiastic engagement or gentle joking.

When moms become overwhelmed with their children’s outpouring of emotion, especially negative responses, they turn to dads to takeover.

What kind of message does this send to kids? Well it certainly can result in a mom’s undoing. Put frankly moms are undermined and disempowered by this process. What child can take mom seriously when the minute dad steps in the game changes?

How can parents overcome this disparaging disposition of disequilibrium?

As in most tenuous situations, change starts with an acknowledgement that such a scenario is occurring. It is important to understand that families work like systems or machines. Once they run a certain way, they are prone to push to perform the same way. Put simply, change is hard for all the moveable parts aka family members. If parents agree with each other to change the way they respond to their children this does not mean that their children will accept this shift so easily. Behavior is generally predictable. Initially at least, the kids will continue to put both mom and dad in their respective roles. If parents are able to hold the line, then eventually their children will accept the shift. This will take time and energy.

Parents need to communicate clearly with each other about how they can parent as partners. Kids need an outlet for their emotions. It is not possible to tell them to stop expressing what they are feeling, nor would this be advisable. It is hard enough to get most kids to open up, especially as they get older. Instead parents should look for and offer opportunities for their children to talk about how they are feeling. Children learn much of their behavior by observing others, especially their parents. Parents, who talk openly about their own feelings, naturally encourage their children to follow suit. When children learn to routinely talk about how they are feeling, they are more likely to manage their emotions more effectively. This negates the need to express themselves in emotional outbursts. When children can talk about how they feel, they are less prone to take out their emotions on others. Moms therefore, are released from their roles as containers, and dads are no longer needed to act as superheroes. Flipping this particularly script maybe both a difficult and daunting task, but it is well worth the investment of time, energy and teaching.

 

Jennifer Powell-Lunder, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist and parenting expert specializing in work with tweens, teens, young adults, and their families.

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