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Mother's Day Guest Post: Are you "still the mother”?

I had the pleasure of having coffee with recently with Andrea Doucet, a sociology professor at Carleton University who focuses, among other things, on feminism and fathering . This week I'll be featuring a series of guest posts by Andrea, who has been studying these issues for the last twenty years both academically and in her own home.

Are you "still the mother”?

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.

“Because I’m their mother”

On the one hand, some mothers (and fathers) confirm what Monica said so many years ago.

I heard it from Nina, a psychotherapist in Ottawa, ten years ago:
“I get right irate when people say – but really Mitchell is the children’s mom. He’s the one that’s staying home and therefore he’s the mother".

When I asked her why this bothered her, she answered:
"Because I’m the mother. I carried them, I bore them, delivered them, nursed them. I’m perfectly comfortable with saying he’s their primary caregiver. I have no problem with doing that, but don’t say that he’s their mother. I’m their mother!"

Nearly a decade later, in 2009, Laura, an insurance broker and mother of four in Connecticut, also told me that she held onto a unique mothering identity; she reasoned that even though her husband was home all day with the kids, they still had that “mother bond with me that never goes away.”

Men, too, have often joined in and supported this view. I have now lost count of the number of times I have heard stay-at-home dads send a cautionary note to other men: “Don’t try to replace the mother.”

In my visit to Sweden last summer, a father (a doctor) who took parental leave for each one of his three children explained to me why his wife (also a doctor) took most of the leave with each child. “After all, she is the mother,” he said in a completely matter-of-fact way.

And just a few days ago, a mother named Melissa left this comment on my bread and roses blog:
"The interesting thing though is that even though he spends more time with our daughter, there is no question that I am the ‘mom’ in our family.”

But just as some women, and men, hold to the view that Monica first planted in my mind – “I’m the mother” - I have also heard an equally loud chorus of voices that contest that view.

Equal Shared Parenting?

While most couples admit that pregnancy, birthing and breastfeeding can create distinct mother/father roles for a short period of time, some also point to these as the only differences that can, or should, matter.

For example, in Boston in 2009, I interviewed Winona, a video game developer, and Jeremy, a stay-at-home dad. Aside from nursing, which provided Winona with what she also called a ‘mother bond,’ they were both primary parents to their two-year-old daughter. As Jeremy put it, “parenting should not be limited to being a mom.”

Peter, a stay-at-home dad and part-time web designer, and Linda, a teacher, an Ottawa couple whose story I have followed for over a decade, have constantly reiterated to me: “As parents, we are completely interchangeable.” Meanwhile their two boys have always called out for  “Mommy or Daddy” and have used a combined “Mommy-Daddy” label.

This Mommy-Daddy approach was well depicted in the recent Globe and Mail article on the quest for not-so perfect motherhood. In that piece, my colleague Gillian Ranson spoke about how many of the couples she interviewed for her book Against The Grain tended to move away from the labels 'mothering' and 'fathering' towards 'parenting.'

One of the most well elaborated arguments for gender-less parents is Marc and Amy Vachon’s recently published book, Equally Shared Parenting. To their credit, they astutely recognize the difficulties for some women to let go of primary parenting, and the challenges for men to take full confidence in their role as shared primary parents. To this end, they even offer tips from other Equally Shared Parenting (ESP) couples “on how Moms can let go of childcare work and responsibility to make room for sharing these evenly with their partners.”

Some of the their recommendations include:

  • “During your maternity leave, intentionally save some of the childcare activities (bathing, nail clipping) for your partner when he returns from work.”

  • "Don't denigrate his parenting style or skills to others or directly to him."

  • “Don’t bail him out when things get tough ... He is as capable as you.”

  • “When you feel the urge to ‘correct' his way of handling the kids, frame your comments so that you’re talking to a true peer.”

For Marc and Amy Vachon, a “commitment to equal childraising as a team” means  becoming “aware of what each of you must do to steer clear of gendered assumptions in your parenting roles”.

This Mother’s Day, we ask the question: Are you ‘still the mother’?

Guest author Andrea Doucet is a Professor of Sociology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. For the last twenty years, most of her work has hovered around, and landed on, two central puzzles; the first relates to enduring gender differences in the 'response-ability' for care work, domestic life, and community work while the second is about how we come to know and represent ordinary and extraordinary stories.  Visit Andrea's  website to learn more about her work. Cartoons used in this post are by Cathy Thorne, whose work can be viewed at Everyday People Cartoons.
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Reader Comments (41)

What a shame even this has to be over-thinked. Isn't the Mum the female parent and the Dad the male parent? Why must we also turn this into a hidden insult? {I'm referring of course to those comments like "but really Mitchell is the children’s mom", not the author of this article!}.

I've seen these tips before, and I always feel deeper when I read this one: “Don’t bail him out when things get tough … He is as capable as you.” because my husband is not only as capable as me, but much better in areas, and yeah, sometimes I'm better than him in areas. I remember sleepless nights with our first when I would get upset because he would have to bail me out.

May 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEmma Small

I'm with you Emma, I'm the mom because it's the typical label for the female parent, it doesn't imply I do more for or with my children than their dad, the male parent (frankly, lately I don't). It's not a hierarchy where "mom" goes to first place and "dad" is for the also-ran, both are equally important. Just like I am Andrea and he is "his first name here" to people who aren't our children -- neither is better or more important than the other, we just happen to have different names.

I'm also going to guess (though I don't know for sure) that in same-sex couples where both parents are female, both are called mom, no matter who takes on what tasks? And in the case of two men, both are dad?

May 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

This makes me terribly sad. Being a feminist, to me, means having all the same choices as men, with regard to career choices, and equality in the workplace. It also means having the choice to be a wife and mother, and make family a priority. When it comes to parenting, mothers and fathers are such different creatures, equality is simply not an applicable term. Fathers will never come close to being mothers, and the suggestion that they are anything like them is ridiculous. Women have the choice, in our society, to choose a career over parenting, which I respect and agree with 100%. What I do not agree with, even a tiny bit, is mothers choosing their careers over children who exist, and I equate that act to abandonment. If having a career is the top priority, then don't have children. If you really want to be a mother, be one, and take the time out of your life to fully participate in the experience. It's worth it! My mom was my rock growing up, and having her present in the home was critical for my feelings of security and self-worth. I wouldn't dream of giving less to my own children. My body carried our children for 38 weeks before anyone else could bond with them, and then I gave birth to them, which no man is capable of doing. My bond is different, and I also believe it is stronger from that 38 weeks of pregnancy and childbirth we experienced together. My bond with my newborn was further strengthened through a breastfeeding relationship that no man could accomplish. Pumping and bottle-feeding is inferior. Human milk is the ideal food for human babies. Milk from a cow is for calves, and adding sugar and vegetable oils to it is an atrocious replacement that any educated, informed person should reject, but that is another debate. A stay-at-home breastfeeding mother is superior and ideal for every baby, which is NOT an anti-feminist opinion. It is a celebration of my gifts as a woman! Mothers who are breadwinners and feel horrible about missing bedtimes or forgetting their children's schedules own those feelings for good reason. That "sting" at the suggestion that their stay-at-home husbands are "like the mom," stems from their guilt at not being home with their children. They should feel badly, and the feelings of children who grow up with an absent, career-driven mother suffer greatly in my own professional experience working with children. I consider myself a feminist advocate for children. As a parent, my hopes, dreams, and desires for my career were consciously, and happily put on hold in order to fully participate in, and experience, the greatest event in my life, being a mother and raising another human being. No career can compare to that, even being a rocket scientist or a heart transplant surgeon. I am a mother first and foremost, and my children are much happier, more self-confident, and more successful than any other children I know being raised without their mothers present. Children should come first over a career, which can and should be put on hold until they are grown. Fathers are very important too, don't get me wrong on that. They play a very important role in children's lives as well, but as primary caretaker, they will always be second best in my opinion. My mother, by the way, holds a Master's in child psychology, and she is my hero. She is a strong feminist and was a stay-at-home mother throughout my entire childhood. Choosing to put family and home first is not oppressive when it is presented as the best choice for women who want to be mothers. You still have other choices, they just come with a very high price.

May 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFeministSAHM

Interestingly, my husband and I are as close to equal as you can get. We adopted our son at birth so I have no claim over having given birth and all that comes with it including breastfeeding. We both work part-time; we both get up in the night; we both cook, clean and play with him. We both get alone time and family time. For a while, I wondered. Am I actually a mother. Maybe we're parents? Oddly though, for quite some time, he's preferred me when he's hurt or tired but I think that is about the change as he becomes more of Daddy's boy.

May 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterharrietglynn

Wowsa. I've got to say that's a bit judgemental, FeministSAHM. I can't imagine saying to anyone that being a father is second best or that a mom that choses to go back to work is a bad mama.

But, I get the impression that your opinion was written to upset/chastise others for their choices.

No parent is a perfect parent, and we are all learning as we go. I think whatever works best for each family is awesome - and if everyone is happy, even better.

I love being a mom, and I still think I'm the mom, even if I ask for help from others to take care of my child when I need to get some work done or lean on my husband to help out. I can't do everything. And, if I could, I'd be a horrid mom.

May 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

Thanks, Andrea. While pregnant, I read your book Do Men Mother and credit it for the now current equal division of labor in my home. That chart exercise has been passed on to many of my friends!!

On the parenting front, my experience (after bearing my baby, and going on 23 months of breastfeeding) is that I don't have a unique bond with my daughter when compared to my husband's relationship with her. From the start, I developed great skills with feeding her and nurturing her in several ways, whereas he developed wonderful soothing skills and other skills. Our parenting overlaps a lot in terms of what things we do with and for her, though we each are better than the other in some areas at different times. It's fluid.

We both work full-time, though he sees her more each day given the differences in our commuting times. So I try to make up for it on the weekends when he "goes out to play" on Saturday mornings.

My experience is that my child bonds with whoever is there. After the weekend, she asks for mom a lot because I was the one there for her a lot on the weekend. By contrast, by the end of the week, which is Dad-dominated, she asks for him a lot.

With children, it's just all about putting in the time.

My daughter also has loving caregivers in her daycare, and my view is that her mother and father, and two daycare workers, are her "parenting team."

We're all in this together, and I feel that she's better off given how many people love her and show her good examples of adulthood. Personally, I fit into the "it takes a village" camp.

I don't believe momhood is inherently different than dadhood. I think that individual humans are different. I also don't believe that girls are different than boys to any degree that bears bothering about. Frankly, I had never seen so much desperate gender enforcement until I became a mom, both in terms of what we believe male and female parents are, and what we believe our male and female children are. But you can never completely beat the juggernaut, can you!

May 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLia

Being a SAHM can certainly be a pro-feminist option, but I also think it is anti-feminist to hold on to rigid notions that men are less capable of nurturing than women. There are definitely cases of men who are by temperament (or whatever) more nurturing than some women. The biological bond between an infant and his mother is certainly different, and nurturing at the breast is the biological norm for our species, for sure. But, as has been posted on this blog elsewhere, past the" nine in/nine out" period, quality, engaged caregiving may come equally from from any parent or loved one. The needs of each child can be so different, as can be the gifts that those who love and care for them bring. I say this as an adult who was surrendered to adoption at birth, and who has carries within a sense of pervasive loss and longing--not for my father but for the mother who brought me into the world. There is something primal there, but we needn't define it, and setting limitations on gender-based identity discourages the possibilities within our scope of what it means to be human. Mothering comes in many blessed forms!

May 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKristin

I went back to work when my daughter was 6 months old. Even when I did go back to work, I was still physically touching her 14 hours out of 24, which is probably more than most stay at home moms who use strollers, cribs and bouncy seats. I co-slept, I breastfed, and I babywore. I nursed her about 7 times per day, despite being at work, and yes she did get 3 bottles while I was working (gasp!). My partner, who stayed at home with her, was also able to develop a very strong bond, as was my mother who helped out several times per week. I think she has benefited tremendously from having a strong bond with multiple adults.

I don't think it is oppressive for anyone to choose to put family and home first, whether it is a man or a woman. In our case, what worked best for everyone in the family was for my partner to be the one who stayed home. He put our children ahead of his career and I could go on yada yada yada about how my children are happier, more self-confident and more successful than children whose fathers only see them at dinnertime and on weekends, but what is the point of that? I really think each family needs to figure out what works best for them and make the best of it.

May 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Annie - I agree completely that "each family needs to figure out what works best for them and make the best of it". Thanks for the great response and for posting my post on your wonderful site.

May 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea Doucet

Thanks for this Lia and for your kind words on my book. I am still using the Household Portrait in my work! The comments here indicate that there is (for many) a lot of shifting expectations around motherhood and fatherhood. That is great to hear/see. I like the word 'fluid'. I have used it many times to describe my parenting relationship. Yet,as you point out 'the juggernaut is indeed hard to beat'; at times, those larger social expectations and judgements are still not as fluid as we might like them to be.

May 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea Doucet

Beautifully put! Thanks Kristin!

May 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea Doucet

Oh, my what a wonderful post. It scratched my Sociology itch perfectly (I'm a 4th year student...and will eventually finish, maybe)

I echo Kristin's sentiments as she put them down so well. Mothering isn't a one size fits all experience. World over parenting looks differently, sometimes in small ways and sometimes in more noticeable ways. We must be careful not to judge egocentrically based only on the weak material of our own personal opinions.

I am a stay at home mom but not the better parent because of that fact. My husband brings gifts to our children I cannot. His care for them when they are sick is unmatched by my efforts. I am not less a mother for it and he is no more of a father.

I think part of the problem is that fathers (or other non-mother partners) are seen as inferior caretakers. My head explodes every time I hear that a parent is 'babysitting' their own children. By allowing for that double standard it only reinforces the assumption that 'mother knows best'.

I also want to add that I found FeministSAHM's post offensive and not feminist at all according to her own definition. I agree that feminism is about having choices. Those choices must include whether or not a 'mother' chooses to work, breastfeed, cloth diaper....the list can go on and on. Without having a full spectrum of choices to select, her point about being feminist is moot.

May 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGinger

I think to have this discussion properly, we first need to define what we mean by "mother" and father." What, exactly, are we asking when we say, "Are you still the mother?" Does "mother" mean the parent who spends the most time with the kids? The one who knows best how to soothe them? The nurturer? The disciplinarian? The one who takes care of the most child-related tasks? The woman? It's hard to nail down who's "the mother" if we all have slightly (or drastically) different ideas of what that term means.

May 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarcy

"What I do not agree with, even a tiny bit, is mothers choosing their careers over children who exist, and I equate that act to abandonment. If having a career is the top priority, then don’t have children."

I always wonder why this is supposedly true for mothers but not fathers.

Also: "Choosing to put family and home first is not oppressive" No, it is not oppressive *when it is a free choice.* Being told you are harming your children by not doing X, Y, Z, effectively trying to force them into it, is and can be very much oppressive. It is exactly the kind of oppression feminists have fought against for generations. I am a stay-at-home mother. I also consider myself a feminist. And I think I am just as good a mother, and my children just as well-off, as mothers who work outside the home.

May 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarcy


I think that like many labels, it should be up to individuals to define that for themselves. I think the societal need to put labels on people and use those labels to put them into a little box is part of the problem. So I don't think we need to define what we mean by "mother" and "father", I think we need to give mothers and fathers the space to define that for themselves.

May 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

"My head explodes every time I hear that a parent is ‘babysitting’ their own children"


May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEmma Small

These comments about how a mother isn't "the mother" if she's not primary caregiver bother me the same way I used to get offended when my single, female, heterosexual, career-driven friends used to complain that what they really needed was "a wife". What they meant was that they envied their male counterparts who worked the same long hours they did but had someone to take care of their cooking, cleaning, laundry, and social calendar for them and they wish they did too - totally understandable. But it drove me nuts that while these successful, career oriented women were breaking gender barriers, they were also buying into them.
I think what these women suffered from, as well as the commenters who assume some inherent meaning to the term "mother", is a lack of imagination. It doesn't take much creativity to have a female parent work full-time and assume the role of "father" while the male parent stays home full-time, does all the nurturing, and assumes the role of "mother" (or, more frequently, have both parents be "father" and nanny be "mother") What takes creativity is to totally reimagine what both "mother" and "father" mean, and create new roles that never existed for anyone before.

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChanna

My husband, a WAHF, is so competent and capable that I sometimes resent him. How's that for a confusing message?

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkarengreeners

I find this such an interesting conversation, because I am THE MOM of four children that my husband and I are adopting from foster care. So when I hear a Mom claim that she is the MOM because she carried a child in her body and breast fed, I want to ask: Am I less of a mom than you then? The answer is NO. Colin and I both work, though he works away from the home a bit more than me. The kids DEFINITELY identify a stronger "Mom" need attachment to me. It isn't about my ability to logistically run the family -- yes I do do that, which the kids observe -- but it is certainly to do with the kids identifying me as the person who provides them with care. Even though they DO have a nanny who does this too -- and she loves them also -- they have no trouble distigushing that I am MOM. Without umbilical cords or breast milk or even having lived with me since birth.

I think the issue has more to do with self-identification and fear. I know I struggle -- like the first mom does -- with missing things. I know my husband does too. But we don't say "Oh you are NOT a "Dad" anymore because you don't make it home for dinner five nights a week.

These questions lead more directly to questions about whether we are willing to allow women to define their own place in society, or are we going to just keep feeding them a line of social expectations for women, then keep asking them to measure up against it.

Lia, we also work with our caregiver (we have a nanny at home but not live-in) as a parenting team. My husband and I strive for consistency with the kids and extend our ideas about this to our nanny. We want the kids to see us as "same" and we think it teaches them not only respect and structure and security, but also the inherent belief that men and women are equally capable of love, discipline and hard work.

They don't get that message from the media, from school or from anywhere else. Interestingly, my husband and I both got that clear message from our parents growing up. It wasn't necessarily about WHAT work the mom or dad was doing -- it was the fact that the parents treated each other's work as equally important.

Interesting question. I have been the parent who works full time outside the home with my husband staying at home with our son for almost 3 years now. I have never experienced anyone come remotely close to questioning my motherhood role. I do tend to think I would respond pretty negatively to anyone implying that I am less of a mother than another woman who stays at home with her children full time. I identified stongly with the sentiments of Nina, quoted in the article. Of course, I also identified with Laura, quoted immediately below Nina. My son and I have a unique bond that he does not appear to share equally with his father, although they clearly have a strong and solid relationship. I do not know why exactly that is. Perhaps breastfeeding for close to 3 years has something to do with it? Perhaps the fact that I am not with him during the bulk of the week makes him more inclined to desire my presence and touch at any and all times of the day or night? Perhaps there is something more primal to the mother-bond? I certainly am not qualified to make an educated opinion on the matter of "why", I can only describe what "is" in my family.

I will admit to struggling with gender role and societal expectations when I first returned to work after maternity leave ended. I first resented the arrangement, although it clearly made more sense in my family for me to return to my full time job with health care and retirement than for me to stay at home and have the family rely on my husband's part time job with no benefits... because - darn it *I'm the mother* I'm the one who "should" be at home... As time went on though, I came to realize that my husband and I each have our unique parenting stregnths and weaknesses, and he is certainly equally (if not better in many ways) suited to stay at home parenting than I am. I no longer feel threatened or resentful of our arrangement. On the contrary I think our co-parenting lifestyle works well and provides a good example to my son of challenging traditional gender roles.

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterShana

These questions lead more directly to questions about whether we are willing to allow women to define their own place in society, or are we going to just keep feeding them a line of social expectations for women, then keep asking them to measure up against it.

Yes. Exactly!

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

"A stay-at-home breastfeeding mother is superior and ideal for every baby, which is NOT an anti-feminist opinion."

I can even tell you how deeply I feel that this statement is wrong. Not only because it is a slap in the face to millions of mothers who don't have the option of the 'superior and ideal' situation- but because it completely negates the value that different women with different strengths and weakness bring to parenthood. Humanity is a diverse bunch and I can not believe there is only one 'superior' option to raise a happy, health, compassionate human being.

I think a lot of this question comes back to how we see and value fathers in our society. There is such the societal stereotype of the father who is kinda oblivious and not on the ball-- you see in tv shows and commercials all the time. You add to that mothering stereotypes about the 'super mom' or the 'soccer mom' and you have all these ideas floating out there about what 'mom's' and 'dad's' should be. In the end, I think the ideal is that each parent and caregiver brings their unique strengths and abilities to the table and they work out the best way to maximize those abilities to the benefit of their family in a way that everyone is valued. For me, it is all about what works for each unique family.

I've read through some of the comments and I basically agree with the article. I think what my reaction to it is this mainly: I am the mother because I am female. I have inherently female characteristics in how I relate to my children. My husband is male, therefor he is the father and has inherently male characteristics in how he relates to the children. It has nothing to do with who is the better parent. In our house I am the SAHM, but we would be perfectly fine if he was the SAHD.
The only situation we have is that because I am the "primary caregiver" I do at times have a hard time letting him do the parenting his way, which is in some ways different than mine. But that's okay and I'm learning to just let it be!

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKrista

I'm wondering, as a SAHM who finds myself feeling a bit of a non-entity because I'm not in productive work, whether 'mother' as a superior label is actually a compensation for a role that is not valued by society. Effectively a saying 'you're not really doing anything productive, just looking after children as a 'mother' but at least you're better at it than the 'father'.'
So the transference of the label is part of re-establishing the social hierarchy, socially high father role, socially low mother role, parenting high mother role and parenting low father role.
I think that could explain why we tenaciously hang on to the super competent mother stereotype and clueless father stereotype. If we remove them then parents just get to equally share the bottom of the social pile!

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHolly

karengreeners - I think I understand what you mean. While intellectually, I feel very solid in my decision to work full-time while my husband stays home, emotionally I don't always feel that great about it, like when he can calm our son down and I can't, or he has to tell me something he does or doesn't eat (he's 17 months, so that swings wildly from day to day, of course). I love breastfeeding partially because it is something only I can do - it gives me a special bond and that part of my brain that I try to keep quiet makes me worry what will happen when I don't have that extra tool. I like some of the commentators note that "mom" simply denotes the female parent - I think you're right, in a two female parent household, there are two "moms". It takes away some of the judgment or defensiveness I feel when my husband is better at something I feel like a "mom" should do because my mom did it.

May 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commentershandrananette

Our son will be one year on Sunday, and it has been a magical ride; I am so in love with being his mom. We currently both work FT and use a neighbor for childcare three short days/week. We also don't see each other much in order to maintain this arrangement. On June 1st, we will take a deep breath and jump into the world of the single income. My partner will be staying home. As it currently stands, he's home with our boy a few hours more per week than I am, so I have confidence in his parenting skills and have marveled at what he CAN do that I CAN'T (like put our son down without nursing him or getting him to eat solids without a battle--impossible for me). And it'll be nice to actually see each other whenever I'm not at work and to be home at the same time (a necessity for getting some household tasks done when you've got a kiddo around, as I'm sure most of you know). But I worry, because this kid is really, really into breastfeeding, and I'm going to have to pick up adjuncting again and will be gone even more. I can barely keep supply equal to demand with pumping at work, and I'm still losing weight at the rate of about a pound a week (fortunately, I had the pounds to lose. But I'm TIRED).

So am I the mom? Yup. Do I worry that I won't be the mom? Nope. Do I worry that we'll disrupt our nursing relationship or that he'll go hungry (because the little rascal flat out refuses solids when he wants to nurse)? Yup. Do I worry that our son will feel abandoned when I'm gone more and my partner is at home? YUP. That, despite the fact that my partner's extremely competent and has a wonderful, unique, and mutually appreciative relationship with the kid. So for me, I think it raises awareness of either 1) my control freak nature; or 2) the ways that I've clung to patriarchal notions of what "only" I can do in our parenting journey, rather than truly embracing the equal parenting that we've tried to practice from Day One. In some ways, I'm looking forward to being forced to practice what I preach so that I can feel less responsible for every second of my son's well-being and get back to having a full life outside of parenting.

May 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

I'm a mother in a traditional town in Chile. Women often have 5 kids and stop working outside home with the first. I found that I had no problem with my husband but it was problematic at school. We both went to parent meetings and talk to teachers, but the discourse of teachers was very traditional and enframe what ought to be my motherhood style. At the end, for other reasons, we decided to homeschool while still working. It was liberating!!!!! Know I want to research teachers parental mental models .

May 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterandreaentalca

Yeah, the question for me is more complicated than it seems on the surface. On one hand, I totally agree with the post, and the need to break down the idea of what it means to be "the mother". We hold on so tight to being "the mother", because what kind of mother are we if we aren't "the mother"? (Ie society teaches us that we are worse than bad mothers that we are nothing if we are not "the mother" - like The Handmaid's Tale's "unwomen")

My husband is so patient, loving, and affectionate - there is absolutely no part of caregiving than I can do that he can't (except the nursing). I have zero worries about leaving the children with him, and think he would be an amazing SAHP. (We both work.) Yet at the same time, it wasn't so clear-cut when our kids were small babies. He was definitely less attuned to them then, and when #2 came along, he preferred to be with #1 while I took care of #2. I love babies, and wanted to spend a lot of time focusing on #2 anyway, especially in the beginning. So we kind of created a more "traditional" dynamic in the first 6 months or so of #2s life. When I examine why this was so, I could say, well it's a personality difference - he prefers toddlers and I babies. That's true. But I also have to admit if I'm being 100% honest with myself that I do feel like it's different with babies, that babies need their mothers. I know this is irrational, since many babies have two-dads or just one dad and no mom, and they get everything they need from their primary caregiver. It doesn't have to be a woman. But *I* wanted to be the primary caregiver for my babies - not only because I was nursing them, but because I was caught up in a super intense emotional experience of being a parent that made me want to be with my baby all the time, and that would have made it excruciating-impossible for me to leave him (in contrast to my husband w ho had to leave a week when the baby was only 6 days old, because of work. He was sad, but not devastated. I would have quit my job first). So what's that about? I really hate to stumble into some kind of biological essentialism, because I know not all moms feel that way - even if they had a choice, which many don't, some don't feel that intensely attached to their small babies. And this doesn't make them "bad" mothers. So I guess it could be personality, but it also felt hormonal (for me), like being taken over, and I know that's an experience that other mothers have had. Do dads have that visceral reaction to their new babies? Some do, I guess. Anyway, in our household, everything moves into a seamless 50-50 equal caregiver partnership in all aspects of the children's lives around a year.

It makes me sad/angry when I hear women act like their husbands are incompetent fathers. It makes me sad/angry when I see men act like incompetent fathers. I think we all have to fight against these tendencies, because social conditioning towards them is so strong.

May 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErin

I'm actually curious not so much about "mother" as a noun but about "mother" as a verb, as in Ruddick's statement that "men could mother." In that statement, the verb "to mother" does seem to mean "to care" and "to nurture" and such. What did Ruddick mean? Where is the quotation from?

May 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRachael

Andrea - thanks so much for sharing all the way from Chile. Wow! Thanks for pointing to how the social institution of education does structure parenting practices and possibilities. Good luck with your new research ... and the homeschooling.

May 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea Doucet

"I also think it is anti-feminist to hold on to rigid notions that men are less capable of nurturing than women"

I agree!
I try really hard to not equate my ideals about my mothering with a general idea of "how all women should mother". It's a bit of a struggle some days as I do have strong opinions about "how things should be", but I don't think it is fair to other humans, let alone women, to ordain how they should conduct their lives.
My only "must" is that children should be safe and loved.

May 14, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterradmama

[...] a guest post at PhD in Parenting, Andrea Doucet asks, “Are you ‘still the mother’?” I’ve never really thought about what it means to be a mother in quite the same way as [...]

May 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOn My Mind: 05.16.11

Wait, wait- there was a couple whose children referred to both parents as "mommy-daddy"?! Holy crap, I thought that was just my family! I called both parents "mamadaddy" until I was nearly five and it dawned on me in a stunning burst, rivaled only by the day I realized that if there was no Santa there was no Easter Bunny, that they were two different people.
The question "are you still the mother?" is an interesting one for me because there is no dad in the picture at the moment, has not been for a while, and probably won't be in the foreseeable future. BUT, there is MY mother, who has shoulder a huge amount of the child care while I've been in school and who my daughter and I live with. At some point I started referring to her half-jokingly as my "co-parent", and now I mean it seriously. It is really wild to be functioning in a parenting relationship with some one who raised you, to be making mutual decisions together about what's best for baby (who is almost in kindergarten now) and brainstorming tactics for modifying unwanted behaviors and encouraging her interests and such. The people at my daughter's school know my mother better than me. Up to now, I've been working twenty hours a week and going to school full time, which has tended to work out where I am with my child traditional dad hours: I'm home in time for a little play before dinner and bedtime, and we are immersed in each other for the weekend. This kid gets raised, parented, by almost every adult around her- her fabulous pre-k teacher, her aunts and uncles who discipline her as well as entertain her, her grandparents, me, her favorite sitters, her best friends' parents. I think what's going on is that the language has not caught up with the shift in social structures- or the shift in how we view them, perhaps. Mother, Father, Aunt, Uncle, Grandma, Grandpa, Son, Daughter, these are all words that developed to denote blood ties and position in hierarchically structured family networks. I think in some families we have pushed beyond some weird invisible boundary, in a thousand different ways depending on the family, into a realm where our words don't work anymore because the definitions they are burdened with are too narrow or loaded. I think over the next century or two we're going to see the definitions and usages change. But on that kind of time line I won't be around to be proved wrong.

May 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermumsyjr

I had a friend who shared her parental leave with her partner, so they each got to spend 6 months at home with each of their kids. She took the first 6 months (when breastfeeding was being established and she was recuperating from birth) and he took the second 6 months. She shared with me once that she initially felt jealous when she returned to work and her children started forming that bond with her husband.

I could relate to what she said, honestly. I have been my children's primary caregiver their whole lives. While their father is a very involved parent, I am the go-to person. And as much as that can sometimes wear on me, I would have a very hard time giving that role up. I'm not entirely sure why it is, and my inner feminist has misgivings about feeling this way, but it's the truth.

May 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

Way back before the internet, so I wouldn't know how to find it, someone did a study of children who were first held and cared for at birth by their fathers because something went wrong and the mothers were in intensive care. Later on these children turned to their fathers first when they were hurt, just as most children turn to their mothers first. So it may not be that being a mother is different from being a father (except re breastfeeding) but that the first one to hold and spend time with the baby is the one the baby imprints on.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNancy Schimmel

This is such an interesting article! I am in a different situation in that me and my daughter's dad are ex partners, but we have managed to work out an ESP situation whereby our daughter spends half the week at her dad's and the other half with me and we split all holidays down the middle too. This has been difficult at times because there are some issues from our past relationship together, also dealing with different parenting techniques is hard when you are not in a loving relationship anymore. People tell us how impressed they are at our situation and how happy and confident our 8yr old daughter is (which is true, thankfully).
It hasn't always been easy and at one time my daughter was very upset by her dad badmouthing me in front of her a lot. He was slightly defensive about this but we now have a meeting at least once a month to sort out anything to do with our daughter.
I feel like I am most def the Mum!! And he is most def the Dad! We each bring different skills to the table she gets the best of both worlds.
I feel your article could also be very helpful to parents who are separated and trying to set up an ESP situation, have you thought of writing a piece based on giving this advice and tips to parents in this predicament?

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commentershana layzell

Is there any way to edit my previous comment so I can take my surname off? I didnt realise it would show up as my username in the post!!

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commentershana1

I know this is a really old post, but I had to comment here because it seems that we share some aspects of our experience. My husband and I also shared childcare responsibility equally until our daughter was well over a year, when he went back to work full-time and she started daycare (up until that point, we'd both worked part-time) and he's much better at many things than I am (mealtimes and bathtime and bedtime, pretty significantly, while just personality-wise, I'm a lot better at stuff like, having hydrocortisone cream for bug bites, and remembering to put on the bug spray in the first place, etc.) But, especially at the beginning, it really did seem as though I was much more attached? I'm not sure what the word would be. He actually left for a brief work meeting while we were still in the hospital, and even if had been physically possible for me to leave for two hours, emotionally, I think I would have rather died. Months later, when she had to have blood taken, I sobbed -- and I know he was upset (perhaps more by my reaction than the baby's) but it wasn't anywhere near the same visceral reaction.

July 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCrystal_B

Great post Andrea. Really loved the way it has been put across. I also read through each of the comments. Every parent has their own ways of nurturing their children. Both share equal responsibilities and have their own role to play being a mom and a dad. Each of them have their own commitments and deserve equal respect.

July 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEmily Hudson

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