Monday, 7 June 2010

Should Fathers Day be celebrated?

It’s June already…..and everywhere is reminding me that means it’s nearly Fathers Day. Now, I’m in two minds about this. On the one hand it’s great that fathers are being given recognition. But on the other hand, it’s simply commercialism and reinforces differences between mothers and fathers. I apply these thoughts to Mothers Day too.

A brief conversation with my 10 year old daughter this morning highlights the reason for my concern. I asked her to draw a picture with a baby for Fathers Day. In checking what my creative brief actually was, she suggested that she would draw a picture of a baby with a mother. Why, I wanted to know. “Because mothers should hold babies first, babies need to get to know the mother so that they can feed, fathers can hold the baby at home.”

I laughed – quite horrified, and we then had a bit of a debate. Despite my being the champion of fluid gender roles, I am the primary carer and that’s what my daughter sees. So, if my daughter thinks mothers and fathers should have different behaviour at such an early stage in parenting, my family still has a very long way to go in contributing to cultural changes about shared parenting!

Do your children see mothers and fathers as different?
Do you think Mothers Day and Fathers Day should be celebrated separately (or even at all)?

Leave your comments and vote in my poll on the left-hand sidebar.


  1. I can't help but think that very little has changed in the childcare arena for a couple of decades at least. Male/female performance at school, university, and early career, have evened out in that time, and in many cases females have outpaced males (for example I believe entrants into the legal profession are now roughly 60:40 in favour of female). Yet it's still the case that when children enter the scene, the male and female parents revert to (stereo)type, and so nothing changes. Of course your daughter reacts that way, because you and your partner have acted that way - and I'm sure the majority of her friend's parents too.

    I feel nothing will change until males and females begin to share childcare equally, which in turn means sharing the burden of a brief slow-down in their careers. I will be very interested to see how next years changes in maternity/paternity leave, effectively allowing parents of new borns to share their leave, will be received. It's a very big step in the right direction. But the economic strain remains a significant barrier.

    I explore this further in my blog:

    Thanks Melanie, really interesting stuff on here.

  2. Thanks for the comments, Tim. Yes, change in the arena of shared childcare has been slow which was why I did my PhD. It’s great to see the post on your blog about paternity pay because it's an important factor in this debate, and I shall follow it with great interest.

    Yes, the overall pattern of childcare and work patterns in our family matches the traditional gendered stereotype of mothercare and fatherwork, as it does for many families, and most of the fathers in my research. The thing that is startling though, is how those patterns came about which is why questions linked to paternity/maternity leave and pay are an integral part of the broader cultural and social discussion.

    Many fathers in my research suggested that they had 'slipped into' their roles. It is very difficult for men to reduce (or even alter) their work patterns to take on childcare when both gender stereotyping and policy neither encourage nor actively support it.

    And it often makes little immediate financial sense for mothers to swap roles with working fathers because they are often on similar or lower pay and have statutory support for the maternity period too.

    But the debate is not just about work. We also need to talk about care.

  3. There aren't enough jobs to go around so maybe we can move into a phase where people consciously choose to work less hours (and earn less) so there's enough work to go round (with less money having to be spent on welfare payments). As the world's resources run out, we are going to have to come up with different models for so many things including work, and maybe we could position gender equality and equal responsibility for child care as a specific benefit in that debate.