Science also shows that it is not the mothers’ imagination that fathers play longer with the kids than they (the mothers) do. According to one study, when dads are alone with babies, they spend 45 percent of their time playing with them, compared with moms, who spend 20 percent or less of their solo time with babies playing with them.
This also would explain the stinky, overflowing diaper pail after Dad has taken care of the baby for the afternoon.
Moreover, fathers and mothers play differently: Fathers like activities that are social, physically active, team-oriented and foster independence, while mothers tend to gravitate to activities that are thoughtful, verbal and relatively quiet (i.e., coloring in a book, making a craft).
A father’s style of caring is “action, playfulness and zest,” Harvard Medical School psychology professor William S. Pollack said in his 2001 book, “Real Boys Workbook.”
“Research shows that right from the start, fathers tend to arouse their babies’ emotions and stimulate them, while mothers tend to want to soothe their boy children and shield them from stimulation,” wrote Mr. Pollack.
Mothers might worry when dad “tosses the baby playfully, bounces him around, or pretends to gobble up his little feet,” he added. But “this kind of extra stimulus is actually good for a boy’s emotional development,” because it helps the child experience, tolerate and manage a wide range of emotions.
So, to sum up: When Dad blows raspberries on the baby’s tummy, lets the preschooler ride on his back, wrestles with the sixth-grader and plays catch with the teen, he’s making a unique contribution to the kids’ emotional, intellectual and social development.
Sure, it looks like they’re just goofing off and not cleaning their rooms/mowing the grass/getting ready for church, Mom. But hundreds of studies can’t be wrong, and those studies say that when fathers play with their kids, it pays off - with big dividends.
And that’s no “D’oh.”
— Cheryl Wetzstein’s “On the Family” column appears Tuesday and Sundays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.