‘He needs his mummy’: keeping dads in their place

12 July 2013

Jeremy Davies writes:

Earlier this week, we tweeted about a dad who had been referred to as ‘Mr Mummy’ when he dropped his children off at school – as if fulfilling this mundane but vital task placed him into a world of parenting activity way beyond his gendered capabilities.

We asked our Twitter and Facebook followers to share any similar comments they had heard when they were out and about, doing the day to day stuff of parenting. Here are a few of their responses…

“I’ve heard so many I’ve lost count, one that stood out was ‘we know who wears the trousers in your house’.”

“I’ve lost count of the number of the ‘Is your wife busy today?’ quips.”

“Where’s mum? Got the day/afternoon/minute off has she?”

One respondent said her partner had, with the space of just five weeks since their baby was born, heard the following:

“Bet you’ll be glad to go back to work.”

“Can you let mum know?”

“You are one of those new dads.”

“She must be missing mummy.”

Several tweeters pointed out the all-prevailing nature of our ‘mum knows best’ culture: the fact that the cereal box always says to ‘ask mum’…the current advert which describes Kinder chocolate as ‘loved by kids, approved by mums’. One just said “how depressing that a bloke with his kids is still worthy of any comment”.

Somebody posting on the Facebook page of Ireland’s Men in Childcare Network (which had shared our original posting) referred us to Andrea Doucet’s book ‘Do men mother?, which cleverly challenges and unpacks our terminologies of caring. (It’s an excellent book, by the way, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading it.)

Most upsettingly, another told the story of when his toddler son had almost severed his finger on a piece of glass. The dad rang for an ambulance and at the same time called his wife, who worked flexibly and was able to rush home to provide moral support. When the ambulance arrived, although the boy was lying comfortably in his dad’s arms (and had found a position there, where his finger hurt least), the paramedics practically insisted on transferring him to his mother, to sit together in the back of the ambulance. “He needs his mummy”, they were told.

Within families, men and women are finding new ways to share the breadwinning and caring – throwing away decades of social expectation in the process (Gideon Burrows has written about why it’s up to both sexes to address inequalities in this way). But no matter how much more involved fathers become, the world around them seems insistent on keeping them in their place: playing a supporting role to a more present, more competent, more loving mother.

Isn’t it time we – and especially those public servants who come into contact with families – started to recognise a new reality?


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