It's right before bedtime and Sylvia is about to flip out about something - that a page of her picture book is "broken" (read: torn, by her, days before) and that she can't have three more handfuls of popcorn after we said "one more." Before I have a chance to ask, "What's wrong, Syl?" my husband walks up behind her, lifts her up into his arms, and carries her over his shoulder.
"MAMA! NO! Mom-me-ee-ee!!!" she yells, upside down.
My eyes are shooting darts at Aron's back. By surprising her from behind, he's made it worse. He just barrels on in, not giving her a chance to calm down. Now she's never going to go to sleep. It's just so -
And then, from upstairs, giggling. And then, the low murmur of story reading. And then, silence. And then a triumphant husband, breezing down the stairs, as if it were all a bunch of nothing. "What a sweetie she is," he says.
I learn this lesson at least once a week: I confuse Aron's parenting style with being "wrong." I apparently think, especially in my weaker moments, that he should do exactly as I do. But his way often works just as well as mine - if not better.
And then I'm stuck in a brutal twist: If I thought he was wrong and his approach worked, does that mean he's right? And that would make me...
Of course, this train of thought is likely to take me nowhere fast. "It's not about copying your partner's style or his copying yours," says Rona Renner, host of the radio show Childhood Matters and a mom of four kids. "It's about appreciating the way he's different from you."
So while we're not advising you to become clones of your partners, we do think dads often have some good tricks up their sleeves. Why not celebrate what they do right - and maybe even try one of these tips yourself.
Lets kids take risks
"Our girls' adventures are incomprehensible to my wife," says Will Craig of New York City, dad of 4-year-old Radia and 2-year-old Lela. "She'll ask, 'Why did you climb the fence?' The answer is 'Because it's there.' I've always felt the girls need to try things. That doesn't mean I let them burn themselves on the stove, but if Lela is trying to stand up on her toddler chair to reach something and it's about to topple, I might let her feel that balance start to go before I pull her off."
Why moms are different: Renner has a theory about why many mothers tend to flinch when their kids are on the monkey bars: "Moms form a protective attachment to their babies during pregnancy, when we're so focused on having a healthy and safe child that we give up all sorts of risky behavior ourselves. I think some of the instinctive protectiveness comes from this."
"If kids don't experience somewhat risky physical fun, it might make them more cautious and less willing to try things they haven't quite mastered yet," says Kyle Pruett, Ph.D., a clinical professor of child psychiatry at Yale University and author of Fatherneed: Why Father Care Is as Essential as Mother Care for Your Child. "You have to fall down in order to learn to ice-skate. If you're afraid of falling down, you won't learn."
Dealing with the difference: Tolerate only what you're comfortable with. But when I see Sylvia playing with Aron or running around outside, I try to ask myself: Is she really in danger, or is it just hard for me to watch? Would a stumble from where she is truly harm her, or just hurt a little bit?
Or do as my friend Laurie does and remove yourself from the situation. For instance, when she and her family are at the beach, she literally turns her chair around to face away from the water because although she knows her kids are safe with their dad, it makes her nervous to watch them play in the waves.