The Words of the Walsh Family

Gender Complementarity, Relationships, and the Family

Lynn Walsh
March 19, 2011

Many college students are asking, "How can I have lasting love in my life, marriage, and family?" Such was the interest from a hundred students and faculty from several colleges attending a conference on "Sex Differences in Relationships and the Complementarity between Men and Women" on March 19 at the University of Virginia. The conference was co-hosted by Off the Hook and the Love and Fidelity Network. Several fascinating scholars were featured.

Dr. Steven E. Rhoads presented on the biological differences between men and women which are at play in their respective differences in the meaning of sex, emotional closeness, and attachment. Dr. Rhoads suggested that when women take things slower in relationships, they are given more respect and taken more seriously as a potential spouse. He said that just as in earlier times, "In serious courtship, a man conveys to a woman that if she is worth all of this trouble to court, she is the one who is worth marrying and maintaining fidelity. When a woman shows how hard it is to court her, she will show how she will remain faithful in marriage. He won't have to worry about her cheating and having someone else's children."

Drs. Danielle and Bradford W. Wilcox presented as husband and wife, discussing the critical importance of marriage for society as "the institution that has ensured that fathers are attached to their children and their children's mothers." They reviewed several research–based factors that help marriages thrive such as getting married between the ages of 23 and 28 without prior cohabitation, having similar interests and values to sustain a marital friendship, the ability to handle conflict and form long deep-seated friendships, having a faith that gives a perspective and orientation about the real meaning of life, the capacity for emotional engagement (especially important predictor of women's marital happiness), establishing good boundaries with the opposite sex, having friends that support marriage, and having a shared commitment to lifelong marriage.

Dr. Linda Malone-Colon addressed the plight of African-American children and communities related to "the black marriage crisis and the 72 percent of black children who are born out of wedlock." Dr. Malone-Colon focused on the impact of fatherlessness. Fatherless young women often fail to feel their worth, become obsessed with getting any male attention but then develop a toughness, invulnerability, denial of a real need for a man and resentment towards males -- making it all the more difficult to attract or keep a husband. Fatherless males often feel abandoned and angry, which they externalize through aggression, violence, and sexual behavior. Dr. Malone-Colon noted that fatherless Black males, often lacking a sense of their masculinity, tend to value the traditional male gender role which gives them power over women. However, fatherless females, being independent, aloof, and aggressive, are resistant to Black males' desire for domination. This conflict leads to resentment on both sides, making a successful relationships and marriage all the more challenging. Dr. Malone-Colon stressed that it is critical that the African-American families be strengthened by promoting healthy gender roles, encouraging marriage and fatherhood, and helping couples maintain healthy relationships.

Dr. David Blankenhorn contrasted how mothers are biologically hard-wired to bond, care, and sacrifice for their children but that fathers require cultural bolstering for them to accept their fathering role. Margaret Mead was quoted in saying, "the supreme task of any society is to teach its men to be good fathers." According to research, the kind of good fatherhood that so greatly benefits children requires co-residency and a good relationship with the mother. There is no denying that children thrive and succeed the most when raised by their married biological parents. However, today 60 percent of men are either not interested in marrying the mother of their children or are not marriageable. Dr. Blankenhorn pointed out the perilous situation as our sexualized culture focuses on adult desires and forgets the critical needs of children especially for their father, essentially and tragically de-culturing fatherhood as no longer necessary.

Dr. Jenet Jacob Erickson gave a presentation about on the differences that mothers and fathers bring to the parenting unit. There are some fundamental differences in mothers' nurturing, caretaking, bonding, and "holding" in contrast to fathers' instruction, challenging development and independence, and "preparing to let go" that seem unique, complementary, and most beneficial when combined for effective parenting, according to research. As Dr. Erickson pointed out from her research, although the stay-at-home dads did a good job of parenting, they did so in a very different way. As neither parent is replaceable, she concluded that, "Men do not mother, women do not father -- and so much the better for children." 

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