The gender of parenthood

The proliferation of “mother and baby” clubs gets to me sometimes. Its as if fathers don’t exist. I could understand an attempt not to alienate single parents (or homosexual parents) through constant references to mother and father, but what on earth is wrong with just referring to parenthood. How (apart from the miracles of baby-growing and breast feeding) do mothers and fathers differ so fundamentally anyway?

Resources specifically aimed at fathers are horrifyingly patronising. They seem more like guides for moronic aggressive thugs, not fathers. It must be pretty oppressive looking to them for some useful advice as a man, and coming across such negative assumptions about your intelligence and empathy level, and your aversion to domesticity.

Having said that, while I find the materials aimed at fathers horrifying, Neal always comments on the patronising tone of information presented to new mothers. Language suitable for 5-year olds, no big words, information for morons.

A recent documentary on BBC4, Biology of Dads, purported to explore the importance of fathers in the lives and upbringing of their offspring, with the obtuse finding that “the role of the father in bringing up their kids is far more important than previously thought.” I want to call bullshit here for a number of reasons. Firstly, surely the popular discourse is more along the lines of Children Must Have Two Parents of Different Genders. How else to explain the demonisation of single parents and/or gay parents? I’m not sure who is suggesting that fathers may as well not bother, just squirt and go since they’re not needed beyond conception.

My main gripe with the program though was the dodgy research used to “show” the findings. For example, measuring fetal heartbeat while the father is talking to it, ooh, an inch from the belly, in comparison to when the mother speaks, at least a foot higher up. The different proximities of the mouth in both conditions are too variable to even bother seeing if there is a difference. Plus, you can’t neglect to notice that occasionally daddy’s voice will be speaking in a different room, different building, different country even. The fetus can’t escape mum’s voice – its there all the time. Maybe any change in heart rate can be explained by it being a different voice to the one it hears, what, 18 hours a day.

In another observation, we watch a father play with his son for a few minutes, observing the type of play (“rough and tumble” we are told. Looked remarkably like playing with a 2 year old to me. And cars) and the language used. Dad talks away as if he’s chatting to a mate. The kid doesn’t understand most of it but it listens really good anyway. We are told that this helps building vocabulary. After the allotted time, in comes mummy and out goes daddy so we can observe the difference. What happens? The kid wants daddy back because they’re not done playing yet. Mum is obviously hurt and tries desperately to get the poor kid’s attention by showing toys and saying such intelligent gems as “look!” “here!” “ooooh!”. That’ll help vocabulary. Thus, dad play is good, mums may as well not bother. Just change its nappy, wipe its face and give it some dinner, eh love?

Obviously this study is flawed, but it left me worrying that if both myself and Neal talk to our kid like an actual human being (I always feel self conscious talking to other people’s kids because I can’t bring myself to baby them) will it get overwhelmed by too much “fathering” and miss out on “mothering”?

It sounds like a stupid worry, but will it end up missing out because I’m not much of a girl? What if it wants its hair doing nice? I’m not the mama to do it. Will the cars and engines and computers and dinosaurs and trains give it half of a childhood? No chance. Since when did growing a boy that cooks (and builds robots) or a girl that builds robots (and cooks) become a crime?

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5 Responses to The gender of parenthood

  1. Pingback: Motherhood vs. parenthood: an introduction |

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