Somehow, days like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day seem to trigger my reflective side. (You might have noticed this in last month’s post on juggling motherhood and business.) Possibly because there are still so many debates about the relative roles of women and men. You just need to take a look at the marketing around these two events to see what I mean.
Stereotypes abound in marketing. In fact, some Mother’s Day advertising campaigns in South Africa had to be removed from stores because they were deemed to be offensive. But it’s not just about discriminating against moms. There are so many aspects of the interpretation of fatherhood that rankle. One that really gets to me is the view of nurturing.
Are men as nurturing as women?
I still believe that I am right. Okay, so granted that as an Aquarian, that is my default position… But I’m sure a lot of you intelligent people out there (yes, you) will agree with me on this one:
Several years ago I got into a
debate argument with a colleague about the roles of mothers and fathers. I was adamant that men can be as nurturing as women; that being a nurturing parent comes just as naturally to men as it does to women. I was up against the view that nurturing only comes naturally to women (expressed with some man-hating vehemence, I might add). I was – and am still – right. Obviously.
My brother and I are lucky enough to have been raised by two loving parents, both of whom have always been nurturing. Our dad was a hands-on, involved dad. Nappies, burping, rocking to sleep, etc. He did it all. And my husband is just as involved in the raising and nurturing of our little man Julian (aka Jum). I think that labelling men as not being as nurturing as women is just another form of discrimination.
But what about maternal instinct?
So do I believe in ‘maternal instinct’? Absolutely. In fact, I was quite overwhelmed by the way in which it instantly kicked into gear after the birth of Jum in 2016. But I also think that dads can have an incredible bond with their kids, and experience a nurturing instinct and care for their little ones.
There is a lot to be said for the way in which fatherhood is now perceived by society in general. Just the other day I was chatting with a longtime friend about family life and she was relating how the men in her family, be they dads or uncles, play just as an important role in the daily lives of their kids. Both the men and women in her family adopt the notion of it taking a village to raise a child.
In fact, a lot of women relate these kinds of stories about their husbands and partners. The idea that fathers are there to provide financial support, discipline, and physical protection to the exclusion of all other aspects of parenting is just ludicrous. Slowly, we are starting to see changes in the perception of gender roles. Slowly. The language we use to describe the roles of mothers and fathers is very telling.
Like the idea that a dad looking after his kids is regarded as babysitting, as opposed to parenting.
The funny thing is, I’ve heard both men and women talk like this. Either way, it indicates that many people still see parenting as primarily the role of the mom. That when the dad is looking after the kids, he is doing the mom a favour. That a dad being an active parent isn’t in fact taken for granted.
Please can we do away with outdated views of parenting and families?
What about families where kids are raised by a single dad? Or families where there are two dads? I’m of the opinion that it’s in the best interests of children to be raised in a loving, nurturing environment. Regardless of whether the family has a traditional composition or not.
In some ways, I think that it’s more about personality than it is about gender. There are lots of women who choose to not have a family, and it’s hardly fair to say that that is ‘unnatural’. If you’re not the maternal type (whatever that is), that’s perfectly acceptable.
In the same way, we should accept – and embrace – the idea of nurturing dads who defy those outdated gender stereotypes and shower their kids with love and affection.
Let’s do away with ‘big boys don’t cry’. Let’s raise boys who are encouraged to be nurturing.
Happy Father’s Day to all the great dads out there! And let’s not forget those who have lost their dads, dads who have lost their children, and those men who are still yearning to become dads.
(And while we’re on about stereotypes, it’s okay for a man to use a bag *wink*)