The maternal instincts of men

By  Sara Loftson, The Catholic Register
  • October 27, 2006

TORONTO - Increasingly, more married and single fathers decide to stay home with their children rather than work full-time, according to Andrea Doucet

 Doucet, an associate professor in the department of sociology and anthropology at Ottawa’s Carleton University, argues in her new book Do Men Mother? Fatherhood, Care and Domestic Responsibility that the gender of a person doesn’t matter when it comes to raising children.

“We should take the maternal lens off and stop trying to measure (fathers) up to maternal standards,” she said.

Doucet defines mothering as anyone who takes on the responsibility of caring for children.

Doucet’s concept of mothering stems from reading the writings of Sara Ruddick, a feminist philosopher at New York University. Since reading her work more than a decade ago Doucet has been in conversation with Ruddick about her work.

The care a mother or father gives can be the same, said Doucet.

“Many (fathers) said they found a more maternal side, (but) they don’t want to see what they do as mothering, they are fathering. But they did change as to how they care... these fathers learned to respond to children.”

Doucet said fathers differ in their parenting style by promoting risk taking, physical play and a child’s independence.

Doucet spent four years researching her book. She interviewed more than 100 fathers from truck drivers to insurance salesmen to physicians. Seventy-five fathers participated in person, 25 over the phone and a further 25 fathers filled out open-ended questions on a confidential web-based interview form. She also interviewed a dozen couples to include some mothers’ views.

Doucet said economics is often what leads fathers to leave a paying profession for raising children at home. In most cases couples jointly decided the father stay home generally if the mother had a better paying job.

While at home, fathers tend to work part-time or take courses because work is so much a part of male identity, said Doucet.

Doucet said there is still stigma attached to fathers as primary caregivers. People often ask “have you lost your job?” or “are you babysitting?”

Doucet found single fathers with preteen daughters often don’t feel comfortable letting their daughter have sleepovers for fear others may be suspicious of their intentions.

Fathers aren’t always welcomed into female-dominated community centre groups or as aids in their child’s classrooms. “Men felt a bit more awkward, scrutinized,” said Doucet.

The stigma Doucet’s husband faced 16 years ago while helping to raise their children in England is what initially piqued her curiosity in the subject.

“I really appreciate the fact that I have a husband who is really in tune with the kids and they draw on us for different things, otherwise it’s exhausting.

“Having boys see their fathers involved begins to change those norms of who can do it and I think that’s a good thing that opens up choices,” said Doucet. “It moves us away from the idea that men do this and women do that. We encourage women to be educated and work, we have to encourage active fathering.”

Do Men Mother? is in stores Nov. 4. Doucet is now researching parental leave for fathers and how it affects the couple and community. She is also studying women as primary breadwinners.

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