Last month I suggested that men and women have taken on two very distinct but overlapping roles. Men have gravitated to or have focused on providing for the physical needs of their family (i.e., food, water, shelter, and protection), while women, on the other hand, have focused on the relational or emotional needs of their family. Remember, these are not mutually exclusive roles. Both men and women are ultimately responsible to provide for the physical and emotional needs of their families. However, it appears that most men have assumed the role of the physical provider, while women have assumed the role of emotional provider.
As a result of these differences, men have adapted to their role by developing skills to make them successful at work and women have adapted to their role by developing skills to make them successful at relationships. Specifically, notice the skills or tools men have developed to be successful as a physical provider.
How Men Attempt To Use Their Natural Physical Provider Tools Within Relationships
Here’s the problem. Men and women will tend to apply what they’re skilled at (physical skills or emotional skills) into their other roles. It is a natural assumption to make that we will use our natural skills or “tools” to be successful at whatever. For example, if a man is skilled at being the physical provider then it is likely that he will use those skills to be successful at emotional providing. The problem is that what helps us be successful as a physical provider does not usually result in success within relationships. This is why many men do not experience successful parenting relationships. It’s not that we don’t want success. Instead we misapply our natural tools in our relationships. If we can learn the right kinds of tools for relational success then we can experience victory.
How to Develop a “Relational” Tool Box
Success in our relationships is not guaranteed if we take the exact skill set of a physical provider and apply it to emotional providing. Physical and emotional providing requires different skills. For example, if you want to be a successful emotional provider you cannot take skills like independence, problem solving, taking charge, aggressiveness, and being action-oriented to achieve success. Emotional providing requires unique skills like listening, connection, equality, harmony and tenderness. Therefore, the answer is not to apply one skill set into all areas of our life, but instead, cultivate what is needed—not force what is not needed. Let’s take a look at four specific skills or tools we can cultivate for success as a parent.
1. Instead of independence our children need relational connection.
Our natural tendency is to be autonomous; men can work independently of others in order to be successful at work. Furthermore, men are conditioned at work to function independently (e.g., “You do your job and I’ll do mine.”). This can cause us to be guarded or self-centered at home. Instead, our families need us to relate to them by doing things that foster a connection. Things like sharing the details of our day, asking about their day, and playing together. Do anything which promotes togetherness.
2. Instead of problem solving our children need us to listen.
Typically, a man’s desire is to listen so that we can solve the problem. Therefore, we need only enough facts necessary to solve the problem. We may react to people if they use too many words because we want to solve the problem and not have a deep, relational discussion about the issue. The best way to guard against problem-solving in relationships is to LISTEN—much like the Apostle Paul encouraged when he wrote: “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger” (James 1:19). As a matter of fact, if you did nothing else but learn to be a great listener, you’d greatly improve your chances of success in relationships.
3. Instead of taking charge (authoritarian) children need a balance of rules and limits with affection and relationship.
Our ability to “take charge” in relationships can be so out of balance that we win every verbal battle or our children follow our orders immediately, but we end up losing the war for our family's hearts. There is no question that our kids need clear rules and limits. More importantly, however, our loved ones need sensitivity, unconditional love and acceptance.
4. Instead of a goal-orientation, children need us to be feeling-oriented.
At work, one of the most useful tools we possess is our ability to focus on goals or objectives. However, this type of goal-orientation at home can feel very unemotional or insensitive to our loved ones. Instead, they need us to focus on feelings or emotions. This means paying attention to how our children feel instead of what they say or the content of their communication. For example, when one of my daughters is telling me that her sister will not play with her, being feeling-oriented means that I pay attention to her emotion—even if she doesn’t use a feeling word. I might say, “It sounds like that makes you ‘sad’ when she won’t play with you.” A wonderful gift you can give your children is to acknowledge and validate their feelings even when they aren’t talking about them. This is also a great skill they can learn as you teach them to identify “feelings.”
The bottom line is whatever skills we possess we tend to use them in each context to be successful. If a man is skilled at being a physical provider then he will most likely use those skills to be successful as an emotional provider. But, the skills necessary to be successful as an emotional provider are different than what is needed to be successful as a physical provider. So we end up using skills that are not needed to be successful in different areas. In other words, we misapply them. This is why many men do not experience successful parenting relationships. It’s not that we don’t want success. Instead we misapply our natural tools in our relationships. If we can learn the right kinds of tools for relational success then we can experience victory.