Are you “still the mother”?

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  • May 26, 2015
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The following is an excerpt from a guest post I wrote for PhDinParenting.com. Click here to read the full post.

I’ve been interviewing mothers and fathers on changing motherhood and fatherhood for twenty years. Some of their voices remain lodged in the back of my mind.

One voice that I keep hearing is that of a British mother named Monica. I met her, and her husband Joshua, in 1993 in a small village outside Cambridge when I was writing my doctoral dissertation on (heterosexual) couples attempting to ‘equally share’ housework and childcare.

Monica and Joshua were both managers in the British government. Since she had the upper level job with a demanding travel schedule, Joshua took on the daily running of the household. Monica called home every night. But she was upset when she was unsure about what her two daughters were doing on any particular night:

“I hate it when I don’t actually know what they’re doing. Like I rang home yesterday evening and I’d got the nights wrong and I was thinking Emma would be going to guides and she wasn’t. It was choir. And I hate that feeling. Because I’m their mother! And I ought to know.”

Across two decades, four countries, and three generations, most of my scholarly work has focused on couples who challenge traditional gender norms. Most of these stories are from two-parent families where women are primary breadwinners while men are stay-at-home dads or (shared) primary caregivers.

My long-term research has, in turn, been inspired by the late feminist philosopher Sara Ruddick and her provocative statement that “men could mother.” I explored that statement in my book Do Men Mother?

I am still exploring this issue in my forthcoming book on breadwinning mothers (and caregiving fathers). I’ve also thought about this constantly over the past twenty years as a breadwinning mother (of three) with a fully involved husband.

Am I still the mother? Or am I part of an interchangeable parenting pair? Can parenting be gender-neutral? Should that be the goal of feminist research on families?

What I have heard from hundreds of couples across time is that even in households where traditional gender roles are challenged or reversed, there is a mixed set of answers.

To find out the answers, click here to visit PhDinParenting.com to read the full post.

Want another take on this topic? Read Tara Gentile’s response to my post: I’m Still the Mom: Birthing a Child & a Business

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