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One Thing Dads Do Better

I've been paying lots of attention to the dads in my life, especially those who are single. Lately, I've been watching more closely because my son has been spending 98 percent of his time with his father, and during this time it seems like he's been developing at a more rapid pace than he did when he spent more time with me. Of course I know children behave differently with different parents, but there are things I can learn from fathers that could make both my son's life and mine run more smoothly.

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I've noticed, for example, that my mom girlfriends are constantly, or almost constantly, thinking about their children. Even when they are working or are out with friends, the needs of their children pervade their thoughts.

The multitasking brain of a mom is always worrying, when she's showering, cooking, exercising, on the phone with her mom, watching a movie or even sleeping. And these never-ending thoughts are real energy burners. They're like lights left on all day when no one is home, slowly and quietly draining the system.

Our society expects moms to be focused entirely on their children and want nothing separate for themselves. Fatherhood, however, is still considered an auxiliary position.

The other morning I awoke up at 7 a.m. with the thought that it's time for me to get a two-bedroom apartment so my son can have his own room and get out of my bed. In that moment, a close girlfriend texted to say she was getting rid of her son's current bedroom furniture and wondered if I'd like to have it. I shared that I was just having a connected thought, and we both laughed because we realized that our first thoughts in the morning were planning for our children.

My dad friends, on the other hand, seem to worry less about their children, and, truth be told, also seem to be more actively present when they're with them than the moms I know (self included.) The dads seem to be able to compartmentalize their lives, including their parenting, allowing them to give fully to each experience and encounter without dwelling about what is to come. They will deal with that when they get there.

I'm not suggesting dads don't think about the future. It's simply my observation that they tend to do one thing at a time. On a Saturday morning my dad friends are more likely planning an activity-filled day because that's what is actually happening—and not simultaneously shopping for apartments and bedroom furniture.

Interestingly, the moms I know agree with me that they experience parenting as simply relentless, whereas the dads I know exclaim only how much they love, love, love being parents. I can only think that this divide is culturally induced: Our society expects moms to be focused entirely on their children and want nothing separate for themselves. Fatherhood, however, is still considered an auxiliary position. Moms and dads do not share the same narrative. Because fathers are expected to maintain their sense of who they are independent of their role as dads, fathers get to enjoy parenting, and enjoy they do.

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For years there's been a running joke that fathers can't do what mothers do. From where I'm standing, they can do what mothers do; they just do it one thing at a time, in real time. When they are with their children they do that, and when they are not, they are not in their heads worrying about (and in truth hoping to control) what's to come. Neat trick, huh?

Image via Twenty20/darby

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