I‘ve heard a lot recently from dads who have felt displaced inside their own family. This is how a typical conversation has gone:

“For years I did what I thought was expected of me. I have been the chief bread winner, and my wife has mainly taken care of the children. I realize now that I spent too much time working, because I believed that I had to bring in enough money for us to maintain a reasonable standard of living, or sometimes, even enough to pay the mortgage and feed the kids. Suddenly, I have two teenage children and a wife I hardly seem to know, and they certainly don’t know me. I feel like a second-class parent. All I’m asked to do is hand out the discipline when the children won't do what their mother says, and the money when they want something.”

If that sounds like a stereotype from the seventies, all I can say is how common it appears today.

Nobody teaches us the kind of parenting skills that helps us to distinguish the equally valuable, yet distinctive roles that moms and dads play, or could play, in the development of their children. Nor are men and women taught how to communicate their needs, fears, hopes and personal strengths to each other, especially in relation to the sensitive subject of “how shall we bring up our kids”. When the only model we have is the one of our own parents, or of living in a dysfunctional family, it is hard to escape that way of being, even with the best of intentions, without an understanding of how to create the best partnership in the most important role we ever play.

Children need the loving care and attention of both parents, because they get different things from each. Boys learn how to be men from their fathers. If they have a father who shows his love by not being present because he is working to bring in money for the material things, that is what his son will learn. Daughters, who see the same thing, will learn to expect material, not emotional, support from a man. Nobody is satisfied. The man is unable to express his love in the ways that are natural to him, since he has learnt to be the strong provider; the women feels trapped in the role of child-rearer; and the children see models of parenting that create disempowerment, and eventually discord.

The answer? Men and women need to ask each other what they both really want as parents, and what each really has to offer. And they have to listen to the answers and arrive at ways to mutually provide support. Easy? Well if it were that easy, there would never be a problem. It takes practice, and more practice, because, as we know, men and women communicate differently. It takes a big effort to shake off the preconceived notions we have of what parenting is about. It is not just what mothers do, nor just what fathers do. It’s what they both have to offer as men and women.

We are just beginning to understand the importance of dads. Being a great dad isn’t being just like mom. Being a great dad is being there, teaching your children about the things you know as a man - sharing your stories with them, playing with them in your own distinctive way, giving them values and clear boundaries and explaining why they are there, supporting them when they are down or in trouble, showing that it’s OK to express love and fear and joy. Oh, and showing how you value their mother, and all the things that she does.

So, when you and your partner talk about the dad side of parenting, explore the differences between my list and being a chauffeur, paying the bills, being the disciplinarian, and “fixing things.”

Most important (and difficult) of all, learn with each other to value and celebrate the differences between your parenting styles, instead of seeing the differences as “right” or “wrong”. They are both right for the children if they come from a place where each parent is wanting to be the best they can be. When mom and dad both reach into the natural love they have for their children, and then acknowledge that each shows that love differently, there will be no dad who feels like a “second-class parent,” displaced from his own family.

Author's Bio: 

Warren Redman trained in the UK as a psychotherapist, facilitator and coach and has developed his own unique style of Emotional Fitness Coaching. He is president of the Emotional Fitness Institute (formally the Centre for Inner Balancing), writing about, teaching and coaching people in Emotional Fitness. He is the author of fifteen books, including the Award-winning The 9 steps to Emotional Fitness, Achieving Personal Success and Recipes for Inner Peace.

Warren currently consults with an organization called Families Matter in Calgary. www.FamiliesMatter.ca

Warren can be e-mailed at info@EFitInstitute.com or called at 1-866-310-3348 (EFit) for further information.