Do Men Mother?

FIRA researcher Andrea Doucet chose a clever and provocative title for her first academic book.

Do Men Mother? Fathering, Care and Domestic Responsibility, published by University of Toronto Press in the fall of 2006, was based on a four-year, in-depth qualitative study of primary caregiver fathers by the associate professor of sociology at Carleton University. Doucet, currently the co-leader of FIRA’s New Fathers Cluster (LINK), interviewed over one hundred stay-home fathers and single parent fathers to take a close look at how some Canadian men are breaking the moulds of traditional parenting roles.

Doucet argues that, while there are both “gender differences and gender similarities in parenting,” men in fact, do not mother and that, rather than see fathers as substitutes for mothers, we should pay more attention to the unique, positive masculine qualities they bring to parenting. This is not to suggest that fathering and mothering are completely different and must ever remain so. In fact, Doucet writes, “there are times and places where men’s caregiving is so impeccably close to what we consider mothering that gender seems to fall completely away, leaving only the image of a loving parent and child.” Even so, Doucet asserts that it is not possible to separate parenting roles from what it means to be a man or a woman in society

  Doucet’s key findings:

• Compared to women, men’s social and psychological preparation for caring for children takes place in a more compressed time frame. “The men in my study, and these were primary caregivers, all said that it never crossed their mind that they would be a stay-home father, looking after children,” she explains. Women, on the other hand, start thinking and planning around their childbearing and reproductive capacities when they first get their menstrual periods.

• Most stay-home fathers do not relinquish their tie to the work place the way stay-home mothers did in the 1960’s. “About half of the fathers in my study were working either part-time or flexibly from home and many were in a phase of career transition.”

• Having a father at home often results in shared parenting. “The mothers in my sample usually stayed very involved,” Doucet explains. “Most would step in and become the primary parent soon after they got home from work.”

Doucet’s discussion of fathering through the lens of maleness and masculinities, and her examination of the ways in which men and women work out various responsibilities to their children provides much insight, but not only into families where traditional parenting roles have been reversed. Her work also sheds light on the ongoing challenges today’s mothers and fathers face as they work out a new social blueprint for negotiating and sharing parenting roles in a more equitable and flexible way.

Do Men Mother? Fathering, Care and Domestic Responsibility, University of Toronto Press, 2006. Available through Chapters and