A recent New York Times Science article documents the efforts that family clinics and parenting groups are making to get fathers more involved in parenting. However, the issue is not only getting them involved, but in getting the mothers to let them be involved in their own ways. The biological connection that a mother and child share is undeniable but, as the article explains, our social and cultural constraints on fathers, and what is expected of them, can often make parenting confusing and unbalanced.
This article comes only a few days after another article on family relationships in the Times Magazine — one documenting the Obamas’ marriage. That article presents the Obamas as committed to one another but also not afraid to have conflicts, experience difficult times, and turn them into “teachable moments.” As a recent article in Social Development argues, conflict can actually be productive — if it occurs under the right circumstances. As the authors explain, both the type of conflict (constructive or coercive?) and the type of relationship in which it occurs (positive or negative?) can help predict the consequences of conflict.
So, whether the task is negotiating a balanced parenting arrangement in a society with fairly prescribed gender (and parental roles) or negotiating a marriage, psychology reminds us that conflict can be productive, and the process of working through the conflict can be beneficial to the relationships in the family.