Criticism Destroys Fatherhood

I notice every year that Father’s Day never receives the same attention that Mother’s Day does. There is an age old stereotype that suggests mother’s do more for their children than their Fathers do.

Well, I have a bone to pick with that.

This stereotype has never been more false than it is today. Before tradition would dictate that men would be the sole provider and was “entitled” to do literally no housework and no rearing of the children. Now, more and more women are moving to join the workforce. Some by choice, but in my personal experience, more out of necessity.

More families are challenged to shift the balance between one parent being the provider and the other the homemaker to now having both parents contributors to providing and parenting.

Unfortunately this exact dilemma can sometimes be the very cause of divorce. Couples who bicker constantly about the “unfairness” and imbalance of all the tasks that need to be done end up squabbling all the way to the courthouse.

You would think this would be easier to do after divorce. One parent does it all at one home and the other parent does it all in the other.

I’m about to share with you my very personal and brutal honest truth that I wish I’d known prior to my first marriage and that I’m still guilty of in my second marriage.

How many times, as a mom, does your criticism push the father out of the father role? How much of your spouses (child’s father) lack of involvement in your child’s life is your own fault?

I’m willing to bet that the honest truth is that as women and mother’s we are guiltier of this that we realize or care to admit.

criticism destroys fatherhood

When you brought your new bundle of joy home and you were completely overwhelmed with the learning curve that comes with a brand new baby. You were constantly calling your own mother or chatting with friends with all kinds of questions in a desperate plea: “What do I do?”

Remember all of those desperate trips to the pediatrician asking: “Is this normal?”

How many times were you criticized? I’m not talking about social media or strangers on the street. Don’t even get me started on that! I’m talking about your most closest and trusted friends and advisors? How many times did your pediatrician criticize you for the way you changed, burped, or held your baby? How many times did your mother hover over your shoulder dictating every move you made and after you still weren’t “doing it right” gave an eye roll and said: “Just let me do it.”

If that is the kind of thing your close relative or someone you trusted did, I’m willing to bet that you either changed pediatricians or avoided your mother/friend for a while. It didn’t feel good and it probably really damaged your confidence as a new mother.

Now, answer honestly… How many times have you criticized your spouse’s ability to care for your child? How many times have you hovered over his shoulder dictating only to get so frustrated for his inability to “do it right” aka “your way”. How many times have you said “Just let me do it.”

Of course, hormones, depression and pure exhaustion play a factor in your level of irritability and snappy attitude. When (not if) you get into a horrific attitude, you probably neglected taking care of yourself for far too long anyway and need a break and time for yourself. Did I mention there’s a learning curve after a baby? Part of that learning curve is learning how to not neglect yourself while taking on the huge responsibility that is motherhood. The catch 22 is that you end up snapping, criticizing and otherwise chasing away the very person designed to give you that break in the first place.

Now, here’s the thing with men. More often than not, they are inherently more terrified of holding a baby that the mother is. Mom has gotten used to the baby and even shoved the baby back sometimes in the epic war for space. Dad has no idea how strong this little one is. He is terrified he is going to do something wrong or hurt this (in his mind) very fragile baby. He is 1,000 times more terrified and self-conscious than mom ever was. Yet he is ridiculed, criticized and laughed at for “doing things wrong” more than any other person involved in that child’s life. Let that sink in for a moment. How culturally acceptable is it to laugh, mock and make jokes about dad’s incompetence in taking care of his kids?

Now, good men are incredibly patient. They can take the jokes, the sarcasm and criticism with much more grace than most women would. Perhaps it is because men have learned (again through criticism) long ago that talking about feelings is completely taboo for them, that they don’t voice how degrading and hurtful these comments actually are. They keep trying again and again however, to be a good father and be involved in their child’s life. But constantly being criticized begins to show as men deal with it the only way they know how. They withdraw. They stop trying. They avoid and just go elsewhere. Even if a man tries to voice that his spouse is being moody and mean he is bound to get an earful of how he just doesn’t understand the pressure she is under and that she “does everything anyway.”

And so he withdraws more, just trying to keep himself busy with his own daunting “honey do” list that never seems to end. He has completely recognized where he isn’t wanted. The more he keeps to himself, the more the wife thinks of him as selfish and uninvolved. And so that cycle continues for years, decades and sometimes even a lifetime. The wife continues to criticize while the father tries to participate in the child’s life only to be nagged away until he recedes back into the shell of the man that could have been until even the children believe their father is completely incompetent and useless. They grow up with this attitude thinking it is perfectly acceptable to criticize your spouse into the corner. And so the cycle even ripples through the generations.

In my experience and first hand witnessed accounts, the majority of divorces began with an overly critical wife.

What can you do?

Be honest with yourself and begin every effort to stop criticizing!

I can recall a conversation my husband and I had as we were making amends after such a spat. “Honey I will do anything for you, I will gladly give you more of my time, energy and effort if that’s what you need to lighten your load. All you need to do is ask, but please don’t accuse me of not giving enough and not taking responsibility for my share of the work.”

Like I said. I’ve been guilty of criticism too. It’s a hard and noxious habit to break. And honestly, I’ll probably be working on my criticism for the rest of my life.

This doesn’t mean we never laugh at the dad jokes and shows. Some of them are absolutely hilarious.

But there is a real danger to your marriage when you start to believe them.

Too often women fall for the stereotype as absolute truth, criticizes her husband into an unconfident husk of a man he could have been and then treats him as disposable. They are the all-powerful matriarch of the household, and if the husband doesn’t do exactly as the wife wishes, she will simply divorce him and find a new spouse (aka victim) who will be more eager to please and do exactly as he is instructed to do. If not, then he too will become disposable. All the while the wife will complain to anyone who will listen that she is a martyr who does all the work and “can’t find a good man.” She will go on to countless divorces still refusing to accept any responsibility on her part for starting the vicious road to divorce that starts with criticism.

Fathers are an invaluable part of the child’s life. As a spouse, it is our job to lift each other up, enrich each other’s self-esteem and help each other in our weakest moments. This begins long before marriage, but is even more crucial after the hormones and stress that accompanies new families.

How wonderful would it be if fathers were built up instead of torn down? If they were involved in the partnership of parenthood?

How confident would fathers be if instead of hovering over their shoulders criticizing their every move, we encouraged them by telling them “You’re doing great.” Or “Oh that’s a neat idea.”

How eager would fathers be to participate in their child’s life if we only let them?

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