Can Men Join Their Family?
by Mark Brandenburg
I needed a screwdriver. Passing the bag of recycled cans on the steps, I went straight to the tool shed in the garage and claimed my screwdriver. “Why would you walk right by this bag of cans and not take it out to the garage?” my wife shrieked.
“Well, I was thinking about the screwdriver and didn’t notice the cans,” I said defensively.
As my wife left the area shaking her head, I knew that I was guilty of a specific offense—being male. You see, we males are interested in goals and tasks to be done. When we have a task, very little is allowed to get in the way. It’s a trait shared by most males, and one that drives many wives to the brink of insanity.
This fundamental difference in men and women is the source of most of the conflicts that occur between husbands and wives in our country today. He focuses on tasks to be done and individual goals, and she focuses on the relationships in the family, or what needs arise for the family as a whole. Both sides believe that they have the same priorities—to help the family. But when each side is coming from such a vastly different perspective, conversations can fall apart in a matter of moments.
“What more does she want?” I used to say to myself. “I’m doing all these things around the house!” What she really wanted was for me to pay closer attention to the family as a whole. She wanted me to think about whether lunches were packed for the next day and whether our daughter should be playing soccer or some other activity. She wanted me to think about a better system in the morning to get the kids off to school. And yes, she wanted me to take out the recycling bags when I was on my way out the door anyway.
As a father and husband, I’ve seen the value in seeing the family from the “whole” perspective. I feel better able to stay close to the lives of my kids. My wife appreciates the help and feels like she has a “partner” in the family. My kids see what a loving relationship really looks like. And in a country with a divorce rate of around 50%, modeling a committed relationship to your kids is an incredible gift. There may be no other thing you can do for your kids that will have as much influence.
If you’re a husband and father who’s interested in figuring out the needs of your family, rather than what tasks need to be done, here are some ideas:
• Start by just trying to use a “needs of the family” focus for one day. See what changes happen for you, and go from there. Sometimes all you need is a starting point.
• Take account of the areas where you need to improve (your wife will help you identify them quickly!). These might be spending more time in planning for the family, time with the kids, etc.
• Write down the ways in which you may be diverting your time and energy away from being more involved in the needs of your family. This might be TV, golf, work that isn’t absolutely necessary, etc.
• Find a way to shift from the goal-directed mode at work to the needs-directed mode at home. Use the drive home to make this shift. Start by thinking of questions you can ask your family and what your family might need.
Men aren’t to blame for the problems in American families today. But they do have opportunities to make their family life better and more fulfilling. They have a chance to improve the lives of everyone in their family by taking the risk that all family men face: the risk of being intimately involved in their family. The risk of being incompetent and messy at things they’re not good at. And diving into a place where there’s nothing to “fix.”
American families don’t need “men as islands” anymore. They need men who are willing to join with their families in a way they may never have learned.
And if they have the courage to learn this new way, I don’t think their families are going to mind a few mistakes.
Mark Brandenburg MA, CPCC, is a relationship coach. He is the author of “25 Secrets of Emotionally Intelligent Fathers”