Dear Mr. Dad. My husband and I have two-year-old twins—a girl and a boy—and we both love spending time with them. But I’ve noticed that he and I have very different styles, in several ways. We do different activities with the kids. And I’ve also noticed that I do a better job of treating the kids the same, while he treats our son very differently than our daughter. What’s the best way to play with a toddler? And isn’t it better to play with the two kids in exactly the same way?
A: The short answers to your questions are (a) there’s no such thing as a “best” way or a “right” way to play with children, and (b) it’s impossible to treat two children in identical ways—whether they’re the same sex or not. To start with, moms and dads typically have very different play styles, with dads leaning toward louder, physical activities, moms toward quieter, less-physical ones. Neither approach is better than the other. For the first few years of life, kids learn almost everything about the world through play. And they’re learning different—but equally valuable—lessons from each of you. So the “best” approach is for your kids to have both.
Moms and dads differ in other ways as well. For example, dads generally encourage independence, allowing their children to take more risks and learn from the consequences. Moms tend to be more cautious and protective and encourage their children to take fewer risks, perhaps in an effort to spare them the pain that comes with failure. (Of course, not all moms and dads fall into these patterns, but most do.) Again, the best approach is both.
Here’s how this might play out. Imagine that you’re in a park and your kids are climbing a jungle gym. You may find yourself standing closer to the bottom, ready to catch a falling child, warning them to be careful, and suggesting that they’ve gone high enough. Your husband will most likely be standing a bit further away, encouraging them to climb higher. Of, if you’re walking with your kids and one of them falls, your husband will probably wait a few seconds longer than you before helping.
As you noticed, dads and moms often don’t treat their sons and daughters the same way, with moms being more egalitarian, and dads more “traditional.” Dads tend to be more physical with and encourage independence in boys than girls, perhaps as a way to “toughen” boys up. Dads respond more quickly to fussy or crying girls than to boys, and will pick up a daughter who’s fallen sooner than a son.
Interestingly, when it comes to gender roles, moms and dads are equally likely to support stereotypes. They’re perfectly fine about dressing a girl in blue or pink—wanting to give her the option to be anything she wants to—but the same parents would balk at putting a son in pink. Similarly, while they might encourage a girl to play with trucks and other “boy” toys, they’re less likely to encourage a boy to play with dolls (unless they’re superheroes or soldiers.)
While it might seem like a nice idea to treat your son and daughter the same way, that’s never going to happen. The best you can do is give them both the same options and support the choices they make. A few years ago, I interviewed a mother of boy-girl twins who, like you, tried very hard to create a gender-neutral environment at home. So she was very surprised that her daughter often wrapped up toy trucks, gave them bottles, and rocked them to sleep. And she was equally surprised that her son tore the heads off of the Barbie dolls and used the legs as guns.
Originally published on Mr. Dad
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