Move over Tiger Mothers. In some families, a revolution is taking place as more and more dads are taking a more active role in parenting. Hands on dads certainly aren’t new- it’s the emerging breed of pushy dads that is catching the eye of teachers, psychologists and other child development experts.
No longer content to leave the after school activities to mum, some dads today are more involved than their own fathers ever were, keen to make sure that their child achieves as much as possible in their childhoods. Some of these dads will stop at nothing to push their kids to dizzying heights. But what effect does this type of pro-active parenting have on children? The experts are divided and research has provided some interesting results.
According to the National Child Development Study, which followed 17,000 people born in one week in the UK, education has always been a little one sided in many families. In the 1960s, it was found that half of mothers read to their children every day, compared with just one third of fathers. The same study also found that more than 8 in 10 mums took their children on outings every week, while only two thirds of dads reported doing this. Interestingly, the report also found that first born children are able to read better than their siblings, suggesting perhaps that parents invest a little more time and effort into the whole process when there is just one child to focus on.
So while parents have always had an interest in their child’s education and development just when did ‘Tiger Mothers’ and pushy dads begin to emerge? In his 2009 Independent Review of the Primary Curriculum (IRPC), Jim Rose found the majority of parents agreed that personal development was an important part of education and that they were better placed to teach it, rather than schools. The report also recognises the need for schools to understand a parent’s “increased expectations” (IRPC).
Lucy Quick is the Principal of Perform, prestigious performing arts school for children aged from three months to twelve years. She says that she often has to remind parents that “development happens at different ages for different children.” Lucy has seen many pushy parents throughout her time at Perform and says that dads seem to be emerging from the shadows as they begin to share in the traditional ‘mum duties’ of dropping off and picking up children. But how do pushy dads differ from pushy mums?
“Dads aren’t normally confrontational face to face, whereas mums will grab you at the class and discuss their child in front of other parents. Dads prefer to ring up later and can be quite direct in what they want for their child and why they believe their child is the best,” says Lucy.
She also speaks of an incident involving a three year old student whose father insisted upon daily one to one tuition to bring up progress and attainment to a level he felt was acceptable. “He said all of this in front of his child, which I feel is ill-advised and counter-productive.”
Perhaps fathers such as this are a one-off, but the fact remains that there are more and more dads who strive to ensure that their child achieves as much as possible throughout their childhoods. Dr Amanda Gummer is a leading authority on child development and has over twenty years’ experience in working with families and children. She agrees that a father’s interaction with his children differs from a mother’s.
“Generally fathers tend to be more focussed on results and less concerned with the process. Recognising issues from their own childhood can affect a father’s parenting in one of two ways. For example, fathers who were a bit lazy/naughty/high-spirited etc remember this and they tend to either clamp down on the children to ensure that they 'knuckle down' and don't make 'the same mistakes I did' or go in the opposite direction and take the 'I turned out ok' approach and are therefore very laid back with their children. Fathers tend to be less inclined to be sympathetic to excuses for failure at a task, whereas mothers may over-emphasise an excuse.”
Richard Gipson, 61, raised five daughters with his wife and believes that his method of parenting stems from his desires to ensure that his kids achieved more than he did. “I was pushy because I wanted to do the best for my kids, to make sure they all did well at school and got to university so that they could get decent jobs,” he says. “I pushed them to get part time jobs to realise the value of money and to know what it took to earn it. I brought them up, instilling good manners and values so that I could be proud of them when socializing with others and preparing for life in society. Like many parents I wanted them to take opportunities offered and aspire to better things, going as far in education as possible while given the chance.”
Dr Gummer believes that encouraging children to persevere when they find situations tough can be an effective way to raise kids. She acknowledges that “the term 'pushy' parent is usually associated with a style of parenting that is overly competitive and can be very damaging for a child's self esteem.” Richard does not believe that he was a ‘pushy dad’ and insists that his method of parenting was successful.
Dr Gummer believes that praising children is the best way to motivate children and Vivien Sabel, a mother and relational psychotherapist, agrees.
“Pushy parenting can be detrimental to children. A pressurised child can experience and embody many negatives self beliefs. Children may be left feeling insecure, not good enough, overwhelmed, anxious, resentful and even depressed! Encouraging your child and empowering them to make positive choices for themselves is a positive parenting tool. Push, and I believe you will all suffer as a result”
This is a view echoed by Trudi Butler, parenting consultant at Greatvine.com. Butler does, however, concede that a dad’s method of parenting may well have certain benefits that mums should consider adopting. “The male perspective of being clear and straight forward with the consequences of their child’s action or inaction, is one we mums could do well to adopt. Motivation is about encouraging effort so that has to be the focus for getting our kids to work hard on difficult tasks,” she says.
It seems the experts are in agreement that encouragement and praise is essential when raising kids. But where do parents draw the line between positive encouragement and downright pushiness? And how do parents decide which method of parenting is most appropriate for certain situations? Every child is different and every child responds differently to contrasting methods of parenting. All the tiger dads can hope is that their judgement serves their children well and that they grow to be confident, self-assured adults- ready to parent their own children one day.