People have a strong need to connect with others, and the central task of adulthood involves the ability to master relationships. Both men and women have a similar need to be close. But the way in which many boys are raised and socialized in our society sometimes makes it difficult for them to recognize and acknowledge this. Boys want to be like their fathers and loved by them. Similarly, boys have normal and natural wishes to be close to and to feel loved by their mothers.
Many men grow up wanting to be closer to their mother and father, yet some may feel they have to hold back to feel manly. Unfulfilled attachment needs can create a great deal of inner sadness or anger, which can continue into adulthood. For many males, a struggle with competence, independence, stoicism, and public performance can evolve, obscuring their ability to be responsive to those 123
they love. They may have a strong drive to prove their competence. But even as Emotional they achieve competence, the urge to connect does not disappear.
Health and Well-being
Attempts to describe behavior associated with male expectations often result in a series of negatives, such as men don't cry, men don't show their feelings, or men are never scared. Positive ways of describing masculine behavior have traditionally focused on characteristics such as physical strength, aggressiveness, and independence. Cultural or ethnic expectations, socioeconomic success, individual achievement, and education level heavily influence the perception of male characteristics.
Men who are married tend to live longer than men who are single. Does this mean that marriage is the healthiest form of relationship for men? Not necessarily. But it does mean that a stable, long-term relationship includes features that positively affect many men's emotional and physical health.
Role expectations for men in Western societies traditionally have emphasized protection and provision. In colonial times, physical strength was essential to survival. Along with these expectations was the premise that a man should hold a leadership position in the family and should be in charge of both household and community affairs. Many of these male role expectations remain today; many men see themselves as the primary provider for their families. This view is often reinforced by their partners.
However, cultural role expectations for men are changing. This has become a potential source of anxiety for both men and women. Some men may learn that providing financial support is not enough to satisfy their partner, although their ability to provide may still be used as a measure of both their worth and their suitability as a partner.
Most women also expect to have emotional support, mutual respect, stability, and a satisfying sexual life as part of their relationship. Working women expect greater participation by their partner in household chores and child rearing. Tension in marriage is often the result of different role expectations and unfulfilled needs. The role behaviors and values you learned during childhood may not work in your relationship today.
Men who remain well adjusted and healthy throughout life seem to have mastered the following values:
• intimacy—achieving an interdependent, mutually responsible, committed relationship
• satisfying work—engaging in work that is valued and rewarding
• parenting—accepting responsibility for the physical and emotional health and well-being of children
124 • leadership—taking responsibility for being a positive role model and inspira-
Staying tion to others
Healthy • integrity—following a code of moral values
In the past, fathers were expected to play a limited role in their childrens' lives. Once a child was conceived, the father's role was often defined primarily in terms of supporting the mother, both financially and emotionally. Often he was the major disciplinarian. Childcare was considered women's work. The father's responsibility was to be a role model for his sons, to impart sexual knowledge to them at the appropriate time, and to be a good provider. He often represented the disciplined, serious side of life.
Today, a new awareness of the importance of fathers is having a beneficial effect on the lives of children. Fathers are crucial to the emotional and intellectual growth of their children. Fathers contribute to the welfare of their families in many different ways—providing financial support or assistance; providing emotional support for their partner; performing household and childcare tasks; nurturing a caring, committed relationship with their partner; and having frequent and positive personal contact with their children.
Bonding with Your Child In the past, many fathers of newborns sometimes found it difficult to bond with their infants and to express their feelings. Today, however, most fathers are bonding with their children and playing a nurturing role in their lives. Most fathers want to be involved, even occasionally volunteering to stay home from work to spend more time with their baby.
When fathers become involved during the pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum period, their involvement with and attachment to their infants are strong. The period immediately after delivery is especially conducive to the development of psychological ties between parents and their newborns. Fathers experience the same feelings of warmth, devotion, protectiveness, and pleasure at physical contact with their children that mothers do.
Divorce If your marriage fails, it does not mean that you are a failure or that your role as a father is diminished. Try not to let your contact with your children drop off after your divorce. Children are at risk when they grow up without their father. They are more likely than children who have regular contact with their fathers to have psychological problems, abuse drugs and alcohol, live in poverty, and fail in school. Almost half of all divorced fathers have not seen their children in the past year. Keep in mind that your child needs and wants your continued love and emotional support even if you are no longer living together as a family.
Blended Families A blended family, or stepfamily, includes a couple with one or more children from a previous relationship. Half of all people in the United States will experience a stepfamily relationship at some time in their lives—as a stepparent, remarried parent, or stepchild.
Children in blended families have strong emotional connections to a parent who lives in another household or to a parent who has died. In many cases, a child moves back and forth between two households that often have very different rules and expectations. This adjustment period can be even more stressful than a divorce or living in a single-parent home. Children may feel angry, anxious, or depressed and worry that they won't be able to have as much contact with either parent.
Blended families in which both adults have children from previous relationships have the biggest problems to overcome. Children in these families may worry that their own parent will have less time to spend with them, that they will have to share their bedroom or possessions with a stepsibling they hardly know, or that their place in the family hierarchy will change. Rules and family routines may be different.
All these new experiences can put stress on a child. He or she may display his or her feelings through disruptive behavior, or perform poorly in school. Give your child time to adjust to the situation, to become familiar with the new family members, and to get used to the working structure of the household. Step-families who work together to solve problems eventually find a living arrangement they can all be happy with. Once you make it through the difficult early years, you will probably find that being part of a stepfamily is an enriching, fulfilling experience.
Here are some tips for helping to make living in a stepfamily rewarding for everyone involved:
• Put a priority on the couple relationship; a secure relationship between the two adults is essential for a successful blended family. In many stepfamilies, couples spend so much time dealing with child issues that they don't nurture their own relationship.
• Agree with your partner on a few important rules and spell them out to the children. Always support each other in front of the children.
• Be patient in establishing a relationship with a stepchild—it takes time. And be cautious when taking on a parenting role, especially with a teenager, who may never accept you as a parent. Your stepchildren are more likely to treat you with respect and courtesy if you treat them the same way.
• Supervision of children is especially important in a blended family, especially when their ages vary. It can be tempting for an older child to stretch the rules with a younger or smaller stepsibling when the two are left alone.
• Have regular family meetings to discuss the week's activities or any problems
Emotional Health and Well-being
126 that might come up. Open communication helps establish healthy relation-
• Take most of the responsibility for disciplining your own child. Give the stepparent time to establish a trusting relationship with your child before beginning to set rules for him or her. Discipline all children in the household equally and fairly.
• Resolve any personal differences between a stepparent and a stepchild or between stepsiblings promptly and directly; unresolved problems tend to get worse over time.
• Set aside time for one-on-one activities between family members. Stepchildren need to spend time alone with their parent; stepparents should do things alone with stepchildren; and the two adults should spend time alone with each other.
• Participate in a support group for stepfamilies. You'll see that you are not alone and can learn a lot from the experiences of other stepfamilies.
• If your children are part of their other parent's stepfamily, support that family and cooperate with both of the adults involved. Competition and tension between two households can cause the children to suffer emotionally.
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