Dear Tzippora,

I want my husband to help me more with the kids. The problem is that when I try and tell him how I want things done, he gets upset and says, "So do it yourself then." He says that if he is going to care for them, whether it is bedtime, bath-time, or whatever, he needs to do it his way. What do you think? Am I being controlling? Isn't it confusing for the kids if he does things differently?

Confused Mom

Dear Confused Mom,

I love your question, because it reflects a classic family struggle. Mom spends much more time with the kids, and begins to feel like she's the expert. Unfortunately, she also feels overworked and overwhelmed. But when she tries to bring dad in for re-enforcements, he is not interested in hearing her superior wisdom. He wants to do it his way.

This dynamic raises an interesting question. Is Dad just a stand-in for Mom? Or is he a parent in his own right, who will develop his own parenting style that uniquely reflects and nurtures his relationship with the kids.

The answer is that families work best when both parents function to full capacity, and that means trusting Dad and giving him free reign. Through interacting with both parents, kids learn about different styles of relating, and they catch on quickly. They learn what to expect from each parent, in turn. Bedtime with Dad means more tickling, bedtime with Mom means more stories.

The Torah itself alludes to the different relationships that fathers and mothers typically have with their children in the way it phrases the two mitzvahs of honoring parents. When commanding us in the mitzvah of kibud (honoring them through serving them), fathers are listed before mothers. When commanding us in the mitzvah of yirah (respecting them through acknowledging their authority over us), mothers are listed before fathers.

Our sages explain that these shifts in word order are designed to counteract our natural tendencies. Though children tend to be more comfortable with their mothers and therefore will more readily bring her drinks etc, this is equally important with our fathers. Though children tend to be more fearful of their fathers, and will therefore more naturally be careful about sitting in his place, this is equally important with mothers.

What becomes confusing is when Mom or Dad will overrule each other's decisions. This demeans the over-ruled parent in the eyes of the child. Which means when Mom makes a rule, Dad needs to support it, and vice versa. The key is mutual respect, and shared authority, and not identical styles.

On big issues, when Mom and Dad need to present a united front, take the time to discuss things privately. Feel free to say to your child, "Dad and I will discuss it, and I will let you know our decision."

However, when Dad is doing bath-time, and he lets the kids pour the shampoo themselves, even though they spill out half the bottle, that's the time to let go and not worry about how you would have done it. Because for the price of a bit of extra shampoo, you are giving them something priceless - the gift of a real, and truly involved father.

Thanks for writing.