Carrots and sticks for training parents

Carrots and sticks can be used to train animals, children, and even parents!

Skinner and a bunch of rats in cages helped psychology and the world understand that there are two approaches to shaping people's behaviour.

Reinforcement encourages people to repeat a particular behaviour. So reinforcement is the carrot.

Punishment discourages repetition of a particular behaviour. This is the stick.

The approach (which psychologists call instrumental or operant conditioning) is used to train circus animals and kindergarteners.

However, when separating parents haggle over the children, the Family Law Court will step in and offer their own version of training using carrots and sticks.

Two recent court cases give great examples:

Step up Dad.

In one recent decision, a family court judge awarded Mum 52.5% of the family's net assets valued at $2.2m.

It seems that Dad thought it was important to socialise down at the pub in order to maintain his profile within the community!

Mum on the other hand was at home looking after the two kids, one with Aspergers.

Move over Mum.

In another family court decision, the judge took the "drastic step" of making Dad the primary caregiver of his eight year old daughter.

Separating when the child was 13 months, the court found that Mum had limited the daughter's access to Dad, and harmed the formation of a relationship with him.

The court deemed it to be in the best interests of the child that primary custody should be transferred to Dad, with Mum given regular access to the child.

Of course, the training offered by Family Law Courts is outrageously expensive. So maybe we can encourage people to learn by these examples which psychologists consider to be a form of social learning theory.

Both cases remind us that children need a village to raise them, and the heart of that village is two parents.

The cases also remind us that there are rewards for Dads that step up, for Mums that let go (as we explore in the last chapter of our book).

And rewards for the kids too.

So maybe we could avoid all the hideously expensive training sessions offered by the Family Court if parents were to simply remember one of the basic lessons from kindergarten: "share nicely."

Shared inequalities: at work and at home

By Stephen S Holden 

Job-swapping: his for hers
Just as women face challenges in participating in the work domain, so men face challenges participating in the home domain.

Emma Watson in her much-discussed UN speech observed that inequalities faced by women are everyone’s problem, and importantly, they are only a part of the problem.

Just as inequalities are overlooked, so too are the solutions. Annabel Crabb recently observed that career women are frequently asked about how they manage their family lives while men never are.

Her solution is deceptively simple: “I don’t think the answer is to stop asking women. The answer is to start asking men.”

Dad's still dad, despite a divorce

Learn to share !
These are not my words, but they could be! Carolyn Managh whispered them. I've co-opted them in a shout-out to dads post-divorce:

"Divorce invariably means one parent gets control, the other gets controlled access. Usually Dads (sorry ladies, the statistics back this up). Now, he didn’t stop being a Dad when the divorce went through. So why is time with his children determined by the amount of child support or the Family Court? Never having gone through this horrific scenario, it was shocking to hear Associate Professor Robert Kenedy explain that in all Commonwealth countries, the legal system and alimony (dollars & pounds) determine who is and who isn’t a Dad after Divorce. That sucks no matter how you look at it. Most shockingly from the children’s perspective because they didn’t divorce their Dads, but the system is forcing them to."

Check out the "Man whisperer" and read more of what she has to say beyond the above.

Meanwhile, let's try to get mums and dads and lawyers and judges and politicians to do what our children are taught to do in pre-school: "Learn to share!"

Fighting for fatherhood: The other glass ceiling

What are the invisible challenges facing fathers?
Our book, The Other Glass Ceiling is available, right here, right now. The e-book is available through Google Play.

Meanwhile, just to remind all of us about the currency of the ideas that we share in our book, Aaron Dickson's daddy-daughter-date video (which he created for Father's Day in the US) went viral on the same day we launched the book.

Here's that story and my response at The Conversation:

Sexual Symbolism and Filth Tolerance Thresholds

The gender symbolism of cleanliness characterises many a marriage. You know what I’m talking about. Women are clean. Men are dirty. Cleanliness is associated with proper morals and sexual purity. Dirt is associated with amorality and promiscuity. 

Given these connections, it is hardly surprising that 20th century housewives were judged, largely by other 20th century housewives, according to how tidy they kept their domiciles.  Many episodes of situation comedies in the 50s and early 60s featured women visitors covertly checking for dust, dirt, and grime has they moved through their host’s house.

Finding dirt was not just an indication of carelessness; it conveyed laziness, depravity, a wanton disregard for one’s family, communist leanings, and possibly an enthusiasm for devil worship. Keeping a clean family home was the essence of womanhood. Things have changed since then, but the remnants of this mindset still remain.

Stay-at-home, second income, and single dads do clean the house. They understand the connection between filth, microbes, and disease, and would generally prefer to avoid these nasties. But that’s where it ends. We are still a long way from getting men to think of cleanliness as the essence of manhood, and we may never get there.  Household cleaning for a man is purely functional. It is stripped entirely of its symbolic meaning, and this is perhaps one of the reasons why men’s standards for cleanliness are lower than women’s – which has probably led to mild cases of marital discord from time to time.[1]

[1] Cooper, Annabel, Robin Law, Jane Malthus and Pamela Wood (2000), “Rooms of Their Own: Public Toilets and Gendered Citizens in a New Zealand City, 1860-1940,” Gender, Place and Culture, 7 (4), 417-433.

Flying High: sexism, paternalism and sheer idiocracy

What are the dangers to a kid flying alone ?
Airline policies and parents concerned about allowing unaccompanied minors to be seated next to men make a travesty of both reason and justice.

That this fear feeds paternalistic policy and parental concerns is ludicrous.

If you send your child unaccompanied on a plane, your child has more chance of dying in a plane crash than being molested!

Tracey Spicer, journalist and Sky News anchor has recently affirmed her support of this controversial airline policy saying “I don’t want my kids sitting next to a man on a plane.”

Her statement is, as she admits, sexist. It most certainly is, but my major issue is that it is patently wrong and misleading.

It is said that we use only 10% of our brain, that 20% of statistics are made up, and the remaining 90% of the population aren’t any good at proportions.

Dad: be good to your children, they will love like you do

When Dads get involved in child-rearing, the second beneficiary (after Mum) is the child (or children).

The child gets two loving, hands-on parents.

And curiously, this appears to be a case where not only is two better than one – it works even if, maybe even because, they are different.

Research is constantly suggesting that Dad’s role is important - which may be surprising to some.

It probably should not be surprising. If Nature had decided that human children were better raised by one rather than two parents, she probably would have made it that way. That's how Nature - a.k.a. evolution - works.

There are host of odd findings that show the important influence of fathers on the cognitive and emotional development of their children.[i]

For instance, fathers communicate less on average with their children than mothers (that figures given that they are male perhaps), but surprisingly, they appear to have more influence on the vocabulary than the mothers[ii].

However, more generally, the children of engaged fathers show more significant gains in intellectual development, better self-image, more sense of humour, longer attention spans, more eagerness for learning, and greater resistance to peer pressure.[iii]

Daughters in particular, learn really important emotional and relationship stuff from their Dads, in particular how to relate to the other sex. As John Mayer says in his song Daughters, “Fathers be good to your daughters / Daughters will love like you do."

As a counterpoint, it is notable that daughters raised with stepfathers rather than their biological fathers tend to grow up faster[iv]. In particular, they
-        reach puberty earlier
-        menstruate nine months earlier on average
-        commence sexual activity earlier
-        and tend to become pregnant earlier.

Having two parents seems to have a whole lot of positive effects and reduces a whole set of risks for children. The evidence for this comes from the risks that are faced by children raised in single-parent households[v]:

-        lower levels of educational achievement
-     twice as likely to drop out of school
-        more likely to become teen parents
-     more conflict with their parent(s)
-     less supervised by adults
-     more likely to become truants
-     more frequently abuse drugs and alcohol
-     more high-risk sexual behaviour
-     more likely to join a gang
-     twice as likely to go to jail
-     four times as likely to need help for emotional and behavioral problems
-     more likely to commit suicide
-     more likely to participate in violent crime
-     twice as likely to get divorced in adulthood

Caution ought to be applied in interpreting these conclusions too simplistically. 

Firstly, many of the difficulties faced by children in single-parent households could be related to economic challenges as single-parent households tend to have less income than two-parent households.

Secondly, children raised in a two-parent household with one parent displaying serious anti-social behaviour are generally worse off than those raised in a single-parent household with the the non-deranged parent of course.

However, all in all, Dad’s involvement is clearly of benefit to the children.

[iv] Bettina Arndt (2002) “Without Dad Little Girls Grow up too Fast”

Raising children - a worthy Herculean labour

Hercules & Omphale on the way to making babies
(Francois Boucher)
Parenting is a really tough job.

Just ask any mother!

The truth is that the task of raising a child is herculean. The choice of adjective is deliberate. 

Hercules is of course a mythical male famous for his 12 labours.  While none of his labours includes anything quite like raising a child, he was nonetheless associated with neonatal rituals in Roman culture[i].  It is not entirely clear why, perhaps because of his own precocious childhood, or his being granted immortality through the breast milk of Juno in Roman and Etruscan myths, or his fathering of many children.

Regardless, birthing and raising a child is a challenge worthy of Hercules. The awe with which we hold Mothers reflects their willingness to take on this challenge. The word mother is virtually synonymous with dedication to child-rearing, beginning as it does and appropriately enough for the argument here, with labour.

And if mother means all this, then the term single-mother takes that this all to another dimension. A mother who is trying to raise children while also keeping the house, working and without a partner is one of best modern images of a battler well worthy of compassion.

The word father – whether referring to single fathers or otherwise – does not evoke anything like this kind of effort and sacrifice. And justifiably perhaps given their apparent willingness to put child-rearing into the ‘too hard’ basket.

Why is raising a baby seen as so different from other man-projects?  I mean, it’s fiddly, the details can be annoying, and he will certainly get his hands dirty, and yet, will the chaos of the process that takes place in the workshop will produce something magnificent.

In fact, a child is a better project than most because it keeps on developing. The child is always growing, changing, and at some point, s/he is very likely to take on a mind of her/his own.
Parenting then is much as Michaelangelo famously described sculpting: ““Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it”[ii].

Even so, still takes a lot of work for the parent/sculptor to do.

So much work perhaps, that many men seem to baulk at the challenge. This is of course ironic as men are held to be the ones that rise to the big challenges, at least stereotypically as reflected in the character of Hercules. To shy at this challenge might seriously undermine the stereotype of men’s strength, and cast their courage as little more than a myth.

So if the man isn’t willing to take instructions, is he at least willing to make mistakes?
In fairness, there is something about the nature of child-wrangling that makes the challenge a little different from engaging in arduous journeys (like Ulysses), wrestling lions (like Hercules) and getting up to investigate things that go bump in the night (like our modern male hero).
Imagine someone who is about to jump from a plane with a parachute on their back for the first time.

What they feel is fear.  A fear that things could go terribly wrong. And if something goes wrong, he (or she) is in serious trouble.

However, the fear in a challenge like skydiving – and like many of the challenges that men do like to tackle – is of a personal nature. That is, ‘If I get this wrong, I might be damaged.’
The fear in the challenge of child-rearing is quite different: ‘If I get this wrong, my child could be damaged.’

That is a big responsibility. I make a mistake, I mess up someone else’s life. Still, for a man to even feel this fear is a good step in the right direction. It means that he has realised that there is someone out there that is more important than he is! An important step towards manhood is the shift from seeing himself as the centre of the universe to seeing himself as an infinitesimal and integral element of the universe.

However, while his fear of getting it wrong for the child is quite reasonable, he is not alone. Mothers of course may well share a similar fear. 

Daddy's dream: to be an equal parent!

Doyin (pronounced doe-ween) has made a splash on the internet showing the world how Dads do their job.

Their job as fathers that is of course, not whatever other job it is that they might have that earns money and status, oh, and stress!
Doyin's post of a picture of him brushing his daughter's hair while carrying another in a baby carrier has evoked a range of excited responses.
But as he notes, it was the ones that made a big deal of him doing this stuff that is kind of weird. As Doyin points out, if a mother posted a similar picture, it would be no big deal.
It would be bit like a photograph of a working mum sitting at her desk in her office drinking her morning cup of coffee and printing out the monthly sales report.
Yep, really weird.
Thanks Doyin, more evidence of 'the other glass ceiling'!
Here's Doyin's dream - in his own words:
"I have a dream that people will view a picture like this and not think it’s such a big deal. Don’t get me wrong here – it’s a very cute picture, and it’s cool when people say so. However, I start to get a little uncomfortable when people want to start planning parade routes for me because of it. Somewhere there’s a dad doing the exact same thing for his daughters. Somewhere there’s a dad who put his foot down with his boss and refused to attend an “urgent staff meeting” so he could leave work early to attend his daughter’s dance recital. Somewhere there’s a single dad successfully getting his three sons ready for school. Somewhere there’s a stay at home dad crushing all of the cooking, cleaning, laundry for his family. Somewhere there’s a dad who would rather play catch in the backyard with his son instead of killing pixelated terrorists on his XBox.
In other words, there are plenty of good, involved dads out there. Many of them are reading this post right now.
I’ve posted hundreds of pictures of my family since I started blogging and I had no idea that this one would cause such a seismic shift on the WWW. But what if I posted a picture of MDW doing what I did in that picture? Many would probably think it’s cute, but after ten seconds of looking at it, they would probably move on to the next shiny object on their newsfeed. Why? Because it just wouldn’t be a big deal to many people if a woman did it.
Until we can get to the point where men and women can complete the same parenting tasks and the reactions are the same, we will have problems. If you want to create a statue for me for taking care of my daughters, create one for the moms who are doing the same damn thing everyday for their kids without receiving a “Thank you” or an “Ooooh” or “Ahhhh.”
These behaviors should be expected of moms and dads. No exceptions."