Gender Differences in Parenting Styles

© 2007 Bill Nodrick PhD and Bev Nodrick RSW


Gender based differences in parenting styles often figure into discipline problems. This is true in both biological and stepfamilies. However, the associated difficulties tend to be more intense in stepfamilies.

Consider the following vignette and its analysis:

The fellow steps through the door, and is confronted by his exasperated partner who is at her wit’s end with the kids. She insists: “Deal with them!”

The fellow instinctively knows that restoring calm requires asserting his role as the “alpha male”. This almost always involves a display of “might is right” of some kind—such as raising his voice, assuming a threatening posture, issuing an intense stare, slamming a few things, etc. Essentially, these gestures proclaim: I am the alpha male. Challenge me at your own peril—and only if you are confident that you will be able to defeat me (and assume my role and position).

Once his dominance is (re)established, he is likely to address the issue of concern with the child(ren)’s behaviour in some way—usually by critical comment; to make it clear to them what he expects of them. Following this, and after a brief period of “emotional cooling”, he will return to other aspects of the alpha male role—that include being gentle towards the children (who have now “fallen in line”) and feeling very protective towards them.

In between incidents like the one presented above, he is likely to feel that the “flock” should continue to show their respect for him (through their compliance and obedience) because he “provides” for them.

Unfortunately, his partner is not at all pleased with his method of intervening. She feels it’s too harsh. She may even feel it reveals that her partner is controlling and abusive. She worries that his treating the kids in this way will damage them emotionally. What she REALLY wanted him to do was to intervene using HER methods—despite the fact that they don’t seem to work for her. Perhaps she was hoping that his personality or his status with the children would render them more receptive to the “relationship” or “feeling-centered” approach she would have preferred that he’d used.

Because she does not approve of his approach, she “undermines” his effort in one way or another—perhaps by consoling a child while her partner is reprimanding them, or holding the child so that he/she can look away from (i.e., disregard the “rant” of) the male who is trying to address him/her. She may even tell her partner to “back off” because he’s “gone too far”, or because he’s “out of control”.

Sensing her lack of support for his efforts to “discipline” the kids, the male is very soon feeling angry towards his partner. “After all, the kids were out of control, and she could do nothing about it. She asked for my help, and now she’s criticizing me! Go figure!” He concludes: “She’s too soft on them. They’ll have no respect for anyone. She’s killing them with kindness. I need to be firm with them—for their own good.”

In reacting to his anger towards her, the woman aligns further with the kids. She concludes: “There is no doubt about it. He has an anger problem. He must have had a poor relationship with his parents, etc., etc., etc.” With this, she feels she must protect the kids from this raving lunatic at any cost. Her determination to do so is even more intense if “this man” is not the children’s biological father.

The net result: neither the woman nor the man is in charge—the kids are. When kids are in charge, chaos prevails.

Clearly, this situation is not likely to self-correct until the children grow up and leave the home.

If you would rather not wait that long, all of the strategies, tools and techniques necessary to address and resolve problems such as this are detailed in our home-study program entitled: Discipline with Dignity.


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