mothers and fathers

When I think about what a mother is, I tend to think about what a father is not. My mother was day in and day out, my father was summers and some weekends. My mother was the endless overseeing of schoolwork and driving to lessons, my father was special occasions. My mother listened to my problems from the end of the bed, my father from the end of a phone line. This arrangement was, in part, a product of our individual situation: I am the child of divorce. But I am also a child of the seventies, an era when gender roles in the home were more clear cut than they are now. Even if my parents had stayed together, I’m not sure how different things would have been.

They both loved me. I would never argue that fathers don’t love their children as much as mothers do, I would only argue that their love often manifests itself differently. Because there is love and there is presence and they are not the same gift. Most mothers are present in a way that fathers are not. And I don’t just mean physically present. I mean emotionally present. I mean, to borrow Jennifer Senior’s perfect phrase, they are “more alive to the emotional undercurrents” of family life. A simple observation with a profound effect. It is at the heart of why, even in 2014, as fathers shoulder increasing amounts of childcare, mothers still perceive a palpable inequality in this arena, irrespective of whether they are employed outside the home or not. And their perception goes hand in hand with the facts: “women, on average, still devote nearly twice as much time to ‘family care’…as men,” according to Senior.

You can read the full post here, at Brain, Child Magazine.




Filed under parenting

4 responses to “mothers and fathers

  1. This is fascinating and I’ve been thinking about it since I saw it over the weekend. I like to think of myself as more atuned to those emotional undercurrents, but I only am about half the time. Last night we had to have an intense conversation with our 4-yo about bodies/boundaries/private parts and I thought we were doing a great job. But it was my husband who noticed that our daughter seemed to be filled with shame and as soon as he told her we were not mad at her she started to cry and unleash all this emotion. I had no idea she thought she was in trouble. I feel sick that I missed that, and also grateful that my husband caught it. The thought of her not being accurately “read” by one of us makes me feel sick to my stomach. And I sort of wish it could have been me, which is totally narcissistic, but alas, I want to be everything to all. That’s a big problem, but also another subject.

    • Thank you for your comment, Christie! That is such an interesting story and your husband sounds wonderfully alert to your daughter. I think there are different ways to be emotionally attuned, at different stages of the kids’ lives. A lot of what I was writing about - or thinking about - in this piece is a kind of heightened sense of involvement that some mothers experience, especially when the children are very young, which grows out of their feeling of being physically responsible for them and then continues, almost from inertia. Would you say your husband has always been that attuned or only as the children have grown older? Age does matter, I know a lot of fathers who find it easier to be involved once the kids aren’t babies and toddlers anymore. And, not coincidentally, that’s when mothers start to loosen the reins because they aren’t so fearful for the children’s safety. Also, many moms want to be everything to their kids, that feels quite common to me. I wonder how many dads would say the same.

  2. Richard Apfel

    So true. . Love,


    Sent from my iPad


  3. “Because there is love and there is presence and they are not the same gift.” So, so true. Amazing photo, btw!!! That could have been taken in my house. Wood paneling, yellow patterned couch. Fantastic! Heading over to read the rest of the piece!

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