Men and Women react differently to parenting stress

Men and Women react differently to parenting stress


Children add both joy and stress to your life. Gender differences between men and women affect how each responds to that stress. Understanding these differences and providing the support your partner needs can make the difference between a relationship that grows and one that falls apart.

Having children increases stress due to things like:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Increased chores
  • Decreased personal time
  • Needing to set limits on children's behavior
  • Responding to challenging situations like teens making poor choices

Differences between How Men and Women Handle Stress

The physical differences between men and women's brains contribute to the differences in how each handles stress. When men are stressed, their testosterone levels drop and doing something relaxing like reading, watching TV or napping helps rebuild their testosterone. On the other hand, when women are stressed, their oxytocin levels fall. Talking about the problem and receiving messages of caring, understanding and respect rebuilds that oxytocin in women.

Under stress, men tend to get quiet and retreat to their caves to recover. Women typically seek out someone to talk to about their stress. Appreciating these differences in handling stress can help couples better understand each other and provide the support with the other one needs.

Working Better Together Under Stress

When there's a problem you need to discuss with your partner, it's best to have this discussion when you are both calm. If you are upset, the thinking part of your brain is significantly hampered by the chemicals released in your brain from this upset.

Once you are ready to discuss an issue with your spouse or partner, it helps to say things in ways that don't make the other person defensive. Gray gives a number of examples of what to say that will either make things better or worse.

Effects of Parental Stress on Kids

When parents fight, children's stress levels also go up. Researchers have measured the stress hormones in children's bodies and have found that even infants respond to their parent's fighting. Children who experience high stress in their homes have increased adrenaline in their systems. Adrenaline affects things like the child's ability to focus attention, shift attention and sustain attention.

The Parenting Gender Gap

Nurture vs. Discipline

Both mothers and fathers are capable of being strict disciplinarians, but it perhaps comes more naturally to the father, if only because the mom is the chief nurturer. Cautious mothers prioritize comfort and security for their kids and are sometimes viewed by dads as being "too soft" on children. In these cases, it may fall upon the dad to enact law and order in the family.

This becomes more apparent as kids get older and into their teenage years. A mom may be more inclined to be the "peacemaker" when things go awry, while dads are more intent on teaching a lesson than making the conflict disappear.

Emotion vs. Detachment

Ideally, mothers and fathers love their children equally. But generally speaking a woman's emotional attachment to her kids is stronger, or at least more apparent, than fathers maybe. This has a lot to do with the high expectations moms are held to as opposed to dads, who are relegated to a supportive role. As a result, moms that stay at home can feel emotional and overworked, while working moms feel guilty for not being home. Whatever the case, it's difficult for mom to detach, or separate work from home.

Competition vs. Equity

Dads and moms play differently too, and the ways the play differs may have to do with the values men and women tend to cherish. One example, posed by Glenn Stanton in his book why Children Need a Male and Female Parent, is the dichotomy of lessons imparted by men and women through play. Fathers emphasize competition, while mothers emphasize equity. Both are important, and one without the other, Stanton argues, could be unhealthy in the long run for a child.

The competition and equity equation further sheds light on how experience shapes parenting. Men, who are taught to be competitive and take risks, teach their kids (both male and female) to take risks too. Women are taught to protect themselves and treat others fairly, and pass this lesson on to children for safety reasons. With these two perspectives combined, kids can learn to be competitive but fair, and take risks while understanding consequences.