What Mom Can Do for Dad

What Mom Can Do for Dad

“I’ve been thinking more about my husband’s needs lately, and wondering what I might be able to do for him, even while swamped with kids, laundry, and all the rest. Any suggestions?”

When kids come along, a mom and dad have to work harder than ever. Naturally, they each get stressed and depleted. And that means they need more from each than ever!

A previous column suggested practical ways Dad could help Mom. And here’s a similar list of what Mom could do for Dad. Rather than playing it safe with a generic, gender-free list – like be more supportive or less critical – we thought we’d take a chance and try to capture some of the common, “him and her” textures in many relationships.

For many of these, we’ll mention how often she could do them; feel free to adjust those suggestions to your own situation. Of course, if something doesn’t fit for you or your mate, just move on the next item. And more than anything else, we hope you come up with your own lists: both what you’d like to receive and what you recognize your partner would like you to give.

Have confidence in his fundamental ability to be a parent. Hundreds of studies have shown that a father is just as able to parent with love and skill as a mother. For example, when babies cry, the typical father gets just as upset inside as his wife does, and just as relieved when the baby settles.

Encourage him. Be encouraging (though not patronizing) if he is learning a new skill or doing something uncomfortable. Suppose he feels awkward holding a little baby: you can reassure him that he’s doing fine, that everybody feels a little funny at first, that he is getting better and better at it. You could self-disclose about ways you, too, have felt a little klutzy.

Acknowledge him. Try to admit it when his way worked even though it was different from yours, or when you learned something from him. Emphasize what you appreciate about his parenting rather than what you wish were different.

Understand the whole picture before jumping in. Be aware of how your emotions, beliefs, or previous experiences can make a situation look worse than it really is. And try to get the full story before you react; otherwise, you might make a mistake. A father once told Jan: Our five-year-old son, Pete, whines and gets upset real easily. If we roughhouse, he gets mad over almost nothing, and then my wife, Joanie, comes in and yells at me. We were playing basketball in the backyard one day, and I was letting him win and he was happy. Then he missed a shot, and I got the ball for my turn. But he wanted the ball. I explained it was my turn but he started to cry. Joanie heard him and ran outside, glared at me, and said really nastily, “Can’t you ever play without making him cry??!” But I didn’t do anything! First she tells me I don’t do enough with him and then she’s mad at me when I do. She’s always watching, ready to pounce for the least thing.

Don’t micro-manage. Try not to be controlling, dogmatic, or self-righteous about small matters. That way, you’ll be more credible when you discuss the big ones, and your partner will probably feel less defensive. Many disputes about parenting are inherently minor: If he puts an orange top and purple pants on your preschooler, maybe you should just smile to yourself and let it go. Every time you argue with him about how he parents has an emotional cost for each of you, plus it discourages his involvement; sometimes the issue is worth the price, but often it’s not.

Be respectful. When you do offer suggestions, be respectful and specific. Give a positive idea of what he could do rather than what he should not do, like saying It’s been working for me to change Emma’s diaper with that little music box going instead of This time, try not to make her cry. If you can, filter out any implicit criticisms or commands in what you say.

It’s alright for you to take the lead. Unless you and your husband truly share all aspects of parenting, it is natural for you to have a leadership role sometimes when it comes to the kids. He is probably entering a flow of activities that you’ve been managing, and he is just being a good team player when he asks you, the quarterback, what the play is. We suggest that you tell him at the time what you’d like him to do. Later on, if you like, you could talk together about similar situations in the future and figure out what he could do in them without you having to say anything.

Initiate romantic and erotic contact. Remember that romance and sex are important, even profound ways to feel loved and to improve well-being for each of you. Rather than waiting for him to take the first step, you could ask him out, or be the one to say first that maybe you could make love tonight.

This is an article adapted from the book Mother Nurture (2002) by Rick Hanson, Ph.D., Jan Hanson, M.S. and Ricki Pollycove, M.D.



Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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