Are mothers and fathers more or less the same? Do mothers “father” as well as fathers? Do fathers “mother” as well as mothers?

While we may know single parents doing their best to “father” and “mother” at the same time and we may know stay-at-home dads who seems to be flourishing, personal experience suggests that moms and dads are far from interchangeable. Stand up comics wouldn’t be able to make us laugh with their wry observations if men and women weren’t so different.

God’s design for the family is for a husband and a wife to fill different, but complementary, roles in the home. Even from nature we can see that God designed our sexual organs so that reproduction would involve a man and a woman. The raising of children is intended to be a couples-project, with a father and a mother excelling in different ways.

Men, for example, do not make good mothers. This is the subject of a recent article by Jenet Erickson in Public Discourse.

Are fathers and mothers really the same? Do mothers “father” and do fathers “mother” in the same way the other would do?

Canadian scholar, Andrea Doucet, has explored this question in her book Do Men Mother? Her extensive research with 118 male primary caregivers, including stay-at-home dads, led her to conclude that fathers do not “mother.” And that’s a good thing. Although mothering and fathering have much in common, there were persistent, critical differences that were important for children’s development.

To begin, fathers more often used fun and playfulness to connect with their children. No doubt, many a mother has wondered why her husband can’t seem to help himself from “tickling and tossing” their infant—while she stands beside him holding her breath in fear. And he can’t understand why all she wants to do is “coo and cuddle.” Yet as Doucet found, playfulness and fun are often critical modes of connection with children—even from infancy.

Fathers also more consistently made it a point to get their children outdoors to do physical activities with them. Almost intuitively they seemed to know that responding to the physical and developmental needs of their children was an important aspect of nurturing.

When fathers responded to children’s emotional hurts, they differed from mothers in their focus on fixing the problem rather than addressing the hurt feeling. While this did not appear to be particularly “nurturing” at first, the seeming “indifference” was useful— particularly as children grew older. They would seek out and share things with their dads precisely because of their measured, problem-solving responses. The “indifference” actually became a strategic form of nurturing in emotionally-charged situations.

Fathers were also more likely to encourage children’s risk taking—whether on the playground, in school work, or in trying new things. While mothers typically discouraged risk-taking, fathers guided their children in deciding how much risk to take and encouraged them in it. At the same time, fathers were more attuned to developing a child’s physical, emotional, and intellectual independence—in everything from children making their own lunches and tying their own shoes to doing household chores and making academic decisions.

Erickson concludes that the arguments for genderless parenting fall flat. Moms are not as good as dads; and dads are not as good as moms. Children need both. God can certainly give all sorts of grace to single parent families, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for the design that nature, Scripture, and even scholarship says is the best.

Arguments for the non-essential father may reflect an effort to accept the reality that many children today grow up without their dads. But surely a more effective and compassionate approach would be to acknowledge the unique contributions of both mothers and fathers in their children’s lives, and then do what we can to ensure that becomes a reality for more children.

There may be something to the old-fashioned idea of manhood and womanhood after all.

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26 thoughts on “Do Men Mother?”

  1. Bill says:

    I’m thinking of a moment in our family when our son (youngest of 5, and only boy) was complaining in the kitchen that he didn’t know how to peel a carrot. He was in middle school, and had been around countless carrot peeling environments. My wife instinctively went into mother-mode to rescue him from his plight. Our son would have been more than happy to be mothered. I intruded rather abruptly: “Stop… son, if you want a carrot, you’ll figure out how to peel it, if not, you can eat it without peeling it.” In our debrief later, my wife thanked me for that moment. I must say though that my wife could be awarded “mother of the year” every year for the past 28 years. More than once she has graciously corrected me of my overly harsh correction and discipline of our children. We parent best together.

  2. Sam Cox says:

    I dig the article, but the image associated with the article confused me a bit. What’s going on? Is the guy on the left aloof and fatherly while the guy on the right is trying to be motherly? The man on the right is also looking very suspicious. It’s kind of a strange image!

  3. Elle says:

    Great points! I completely agree. God’s design for the family is best.

  4. Dean P says:

    It just depends on the guy and his wife. If you are like me a sensitive artistic introvert by nature and can easily see myself being more patient and nurturing with a child. Especially when my own wife even tells me that I am more patient and nurturing than she is. Where as she on the other hand is the more driven and career minded one as well as being more competitive and on top of that she has ADHD to boot ,statistically proven to hinder good parenting skills (man or woman). And though we haven’t had children yet we both acknowledge that I am more suited for the stay at home role than she is. So let’s not be too hasty in our broad generalizations here. Especially when the man doesn’t fit cultural stero-types in his masculinity.

  5. Chris Taylor says:

    Dean,

    I can relate a bit. Before I was born, my dad was in art school up in Milwaukee. When he got out, he couldn’t find a job, but my mom, a much better artist, got a gig with a top fashion designer out of New York. When she realized that my dad was not ‘manning up’ and finding a good job, she quit her good paying job and told my dad to get his act together. Talk about lighting a fire under someone.

    I just found out about this a few months back, when my parents were telling me about the good old days. My mom claims that was one of the most decisive period in their early marriage. Since then, my dad got serious and has been one of the hardest workers I know. Artist don’t get a pass on manhood, they just have to work a little harder at it.

    With all that in mind, I hope you’ll bear with me when I wish you the best, and that your wife gets fired or quits her job before you start having babies :)

    Warmly,

    CT

  6. Douglas Padgett says:

    Rev. you may find this article interesting: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/9572187/Couples-who-share-the-housework-are-more-likely-to-divorce-study-finds.html

    “The reasons [for higher divorce rates amongst couples who share housework], Mr Hansen said, lay only partially with the chores themselves.

    “Maybe it’s sometimes seen as a good thing to have very clear roles with lots of clarity … where one person is not stepping on the other’s toes,” he suggested.”

  7. Dean P says:

    Well thank you Chris for both your insightful and compassionate response ☺,but considering that I have had vocational and educational issues due to a severe learning disability my whole life (and I am 42 now) I don’t really know if manning up can really be part of the equation for me now. What I mean by this is that for most of my working life I have never been able to acquire any job that paid over 8 to 10 bucks an hour. Most of what I have been able to maintain have been within this range and even in those particular jobs I was fired a few times for making too many mistakes. These occurrences were also pretty much across the spectrum of various types of jobs. They ranged from retail to warehouse work (hey that’s pretty manly isn’t it?☺) to human services. Fortunately now my wife and I (we have been married to for the last six and a half years now) own our own business. It is a graphic design and branding company. Of course she is the graphic designer by trade and has the prior experience in the industry. I have had to adapt and learn copywriting and client accounts, which has been great (see I manned up there). But unfortunately because I am not a graphic designer or a corporate communications major by trade, but am in fact a (due to the same learning problems) very slow learner when in comes to computers and technology. My point being is I don’t really think that the business could survive if she quit or I fired her ☺. Which means if we did decide to have “a child” I would absolutely have to stay at home. Anyway once again I appreciate your keen insight and sovereign knowledge and wisdom about every man’s universal and particular personal and vocational situation. It has been very eye opening ☺

  8. Dean P says:

    My point being is I don’t really think that the business could not survive if she quit or I fired her ☺. Which means if we did decide to have “a child” I would absolutely have to stay at home.

  9. Chris Taylor says:

    Wow, Dean!

    Your story seems much closer to my folks than I first understood. Initially, my dad took random handyman type jobs at restaurants, etc. Eventually he got his lucky break and took the graveyard shift at a printing company running the folding machine. After some time, I think he was permitted to move into the pre-press area where he used stat-cameras, etc. The experience he gained there helped him get a job doing paste up work (back before computers!) at a layout and design company (ever seen a wax machine?).

    Eventually, he got a job doing magazine layout and design. In fact, he did this from home and my mom (the true artist, with the eye for color and design) assisted him in everything he produced. When the Mac was created, he eventually got one for each of them. Dad had one on his side of the desk, mom on the other.

    But I digress, I still don’t think you have an out here. When the story was that you were merely an introvert, I inferred that you needed to man up. Now that there is the added difficulty of having a learning disability, I feel for you. I went to college (roomed with him in fact) with a friend that had a severe learning disability, and I now know that the concept is not one to take lightly!

    This friend never was able to pursue the dreams he had, but eventually he was able to provide adequately for his family through hiring on with a construction company, doing home remodeling. I’m not saying that you should consider this, but unless you are truly disabled, etc., I think the Bible dictates that you take the mandate to provide for and protect your family seriously. I have no problem with your current working arrangement, but unless there are even more things in your background that keep you from being gainfully employed, I certainly wouldn’t agree with your final verdict that you would, ‘absolutely have to stay at home.’

    Often, there are circumstances the require a man to ‘stay at home.’ However, for the most part, since managing the home is more difficult than any job I know of, anyone fit for that work is more than fit for just about any job in the market place, accept for maybe senior management. My stay-at-home wife used to have a tagline for her emails that went something like, ‘Chief Financial Officer, Head Chef, Janitor, Principal, Bus Driver, Daycare Helper, Nurse, Purchasing Agent, Laundry Mat Slave, Contract Negotiator, Teacher/Mentor, Psychologist, Room Service, Motivational Speaker, Lawn Care Specialist, etc (i.e., wife and mother).’

    Be well,

    CT

  10. Dean P says:

    So what you are basically saying is that if my wife got pregnant we should sell our business, so I can go get a Handy Man or manual labor job? Oh yeah I forgot to mention unfortunately my eye hand coordination and spacial dexterity is one of the primary things effected by my learning disability, which is why I have never been too successful at any skilled labor jobs, and believe you me I have given that one a whirl too and that didn’t pan out so well either. So I guess that means skilled and manual labor is out too.

    So where was I? Oh yeah so instead I attempt to get a retail job (probably entry level at about $9.50 per hour). Which by the way I couldn’t even find back in 08 before we started our business and the economy crashed, and no one would hire me), So next we then scale down our life, which means that we would eventually have to sell our new house that we saved up four and a half years to buy, (oh wait nobody is buying houses right now so that won’t work). From there we then move in with my seventy something parent’s house with our brand new baby.

    So you see Chris if this is what you think I should do you really don’t have a firm grasp on real life or any empathy for very personal complex and or complicated individual situations and if you are a pastor I really wouldn’t want to be one of your flock. Oh and also everything that I am saying here might sound like an exaggeration or the worst-case scenario to you but it’s not, this has all happened to me. So, from where I’m standing being a stay at home dad really sounds like a much better option for everybody

  11. Chris Taylor says:

    Well Dean,

    To be sure, I’m not a pastor (though I must admit, I tested the calling a few years back).

    Permit me to take a step back for a second to explain why I even commented on your first post. Basically, I see more and more men neglecting their biblical duty to provide for and protect their wives and children. This is a serious issue our churches, destroying many families.

    When I consider that the biblical authors have no problem speaking in general terms about such things, it makes me think that sometimes, it’s permitted, if not important, to make general statements that clearly communicate the main message to the masses without softening the message by adding all possible exceptions (e.g., ‘But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.’ [1Ti 5:8; see also 2Thes 3:6ff, and the Book of Proverbs]) Should we fault Paul here, for not adding a disclaimer about those who are physically unable to do so?

    In fact, I think this must be the predominate truth communicated to the church culture as a whole. It’s not that Paul didn’t have some wiggle room for what he called ‘cases of urgent need’, it’s just that when he taught the church, he wanted his main message to get communicated. By and large, he wanted those who strayed from his teachings to be ‘avoided.’ Even so, no one would argue from Paul’s writings that we should avoid those who were unable to work.

    My problem with your post has more to do with not wanting a necessary exception to be confused as the main message. It must be regulated to the background so that it doesn’t become predominate in our churches. This is all the more pressing in our gender-bending society.

    Most men must take the initiative to lead and provide for their families. Indeed, the church has an obligation to proclaim this loud and clear. For the sake of the health of the church, there should always be a certain kind of awkwardness or stigma associated with stay-at-home dads. Lord willing, when it really is necessary, the Lord will provide more grace to such families. The church should even come along side and make sure that these families feel the love of God through the church more richly than a more healthy family. But it is desperately important in this day for men to feel the weight of responsibility God has placed upon them.

    On a more personal note, it may seem strange to you, but it seems to me that the church you attend has an obligation to access your specific circumstances and make a judgment concerning your fitness to work outside of the home. It might be that they would say, ‘You have sold yourself short, you are more fit than you suppose.’ Or, they might determine that your case is unique, in which case they will be able to minister more appropriately to your family.

    All the best to you,

    CT

  12. Dean P says:

    “My problem with your post has more to do with not wanting a necessary exception to be confused as the main message. It must be regulated to the background so that it doesn’t become predominate in our churches. ”

    The problem with your statement here Chris is that since the economic meltdown in 2008 the myth of the lazy video game playing job tinkering man boy who decides to become a stay at home dad to get out of getting a real job is just that…. a myth.

    I think the root of the problem has a lot to do with when both Gen X and also later Gen Y men went to college . You see a lot of them (me included) got very impractical majors like anthropology, photo journalism, liberal arts, sociology and even religion and philosophy. These same men also did not have very practical hands on skills (and some had bad learning disabilities ☺) and have had difficulty getting semi-professional jobs after college. But then a lot of them like yours truly ended up marrying young women who did the opposite as them in college, and instead went after more specialized and professional jobs like law, medicine, business, engineering, and on and on. And once they got married, because their degree and skills were in more demand in the professional world the women often times ended up becoming more qualified for the more high paying professions then the men. Anyway this then automatically placed many young females in the role of the primary breadwinner in their relationships with their husbands. Then of course the economic crash of 2008 just compacted the problem even more so.

    My point is that with the economy crashing many of these guys who did not have the more specialized professional jobs lost their position, but yet because they choose to man up and be Stay At Home Dads they end up getting thrown under the bus and accused for being man boys by many TR Complimentarians. Even though they can’t control what has happened to them due to the economy. But yet these guys love to group all of the SAHD’s together with the man boys even though their individual stories maybe more threaded and complex than they realize, and yet they still get thrown under the bus. Chris I would recommend that you Google “Women making more money then men” or start looking at a lot of the statistical data that came out a couple of years back about women’s professional jobs then men, which is the real reason for why so many men are having to stay home. Just simply because they can’t find work (and I mean any work).

    Also Two years ago when all of this stuff was coming out about women being more employable than men, I noticed that the articles were strangely absent from the TGC homepage. But yet a few moths later when all the “Man Up” articles were coming out TGC jumped on those stories like flies on….well you get the picture. I guess my main point is that SAHD’s are multiplying and growing exponentially and the idea that it is only men who don’t want to “man up” or get off the couch is just ridiculous. It is rooted in much deeper nuance. Just look around you and you will see that men are now seen as disposable and a dime or dozen to the professional job world. And Stay At Home Dad’s are going to be an inevitable future even for men who are proud of their complimentarianism.

  13. Dean P says:

    Oh as far as my church goes. When the economy crashes several of the men lost their jobs and became stay at home dads. I am not a father but was unemployed for a long time. Needless to say I felt right at home with the other men. So yes my church has been very supportive.

  14. Tic says:

    I don’t this article debunks stay at home dads. If men stay at home, let them be fathers. Why should they have to become mothers simply because they stay at home? The research only reinforces the necessity of both parents in the raising of children.

  15. Tic says:

    Something to think about here in relation to the verses Chris mentioned above from NT scholar Ben Witherington: http://blog.beliefnet.com/bibleandculture/2010/10/husbands-as-stay-at-home-dads.html

  16. Chris Taylor says:

    Interesting article Tic, I’ll try to give some feedback tomorrow.

    CT

  17. Dean P says:

    Hey thanks Tic. I haven’t read the entire article yet, but I totally agree with yours and Ben Witherington’s basic theses. For my wife and I this is also true since owning our own business allows us to have a more pre-industrial approach to parenting logistics. and I agree that stay at home fathers shouldn’t try to be mothers but like you said they should be who they are. However I would argue that some men are more senstive and more nurturing than other men and there is nuance across a spectrum. I was mostly bothered by the examples Kevin used in this article not really his basic premise. It just seems like all of the examples he gave were just very stereotypical and painted men with a pretty broad brush, which allowed him to make a pretty broad conclusion.

  18. Chris Taylor says:

    Morning Tic,

    Here’s a quick response to Ben’s article. To be sure, I did not find it convincing. Ben argues that modern exegetes who read Titus through a patriarchal lens are doing so anachronistically. His basic premise is that prior to the industrial revolution, both men and women worked outside the home, and there for, Paul’s use of the phrase ‘workers at home’, should not be seen as something that would have been exclusively required of women by some sort of ‘eternal gender generated roles’ kind of way.

    So why am I unconvinced?

    First, I think Ben has, in his own words, ‘totally misread the Biblical social situation.’ Ben appears to have done some research into ‘high status marriages’ in the first century. Cool, hope that was fun for him. The problem I see is that he assumes that these ‘high status marriages’ are what ‘Paul is most concerned about in the Pastorals.’ But is this true? How does he get there? In infers this from the fact that Paul mentions slaves in this passage in Titus, and in the other household code type texts.

    But this is a major flaw in his argument. It does not follow that just because Paul instructs slaves in how they are to act in relation to their masters, that therefore, Paul is only giving instructions to wealthy families in these passages. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, in the broader context of these passages that dictate that Paul is even remotely concerned with only wealthy families.

    I’m convinced that Paul is giving general instructions to the average household. In Titus specifically, he’s addressing all households and all people groups, even slaves.

    A second major flaw in Ben’s exegesis is his translation of the word ‘oikouorgos’ (and as he mentions, the flaw with some English translations). The ESV, NIV, KJV, NAS, NET, and many others get this word exactly right. It means to ‘work at home.’ It does not mean, ‘household manager.’ Ben argues that it should be translated ‘household manager’, since slaves are addressed later on it this household code. But again, he is totally mistaken on assuming that just because Paul addresses slaves, that Paul is only addressing ‘high status marriages.’ Since his premise is unfounded, his conclusions are not supported by the text.

    My final issue with Ben’s exegesis is his assumption about the kinds of women that are being addressed. Ben argues that Paul is primarily addressing women who are married to unbelievers. Therefore, he reads the instructions to women in Titus as ‘missionary advice.’ However, there is nothing in Titus two that justifies seeing these instructions as ‘advice’ for ‘religiously mixed marriages.’ The fact that Paul supports his instructions with the phrase, ‘that the word of God might not be reviled’, does not necessitate a mixed marriage context, though it can certainly apply to those contexts as well.

    The rich biblical tradition of Israel’s need to obey God’s commands, so that the outside world cannot scoff at God’s little hypocrites, is enough to support such a reading in this context as well. Paul is commanding every Christian home, rich or poor, to live in a manner worthy of the gospel, so that unbelievers will not be able to ‘revile’ God’s word.

    So where does this leave me? The most natural reading of Titus, even is the first century, is one where the wife is supposed to take up the work in the home as her primary responsibility. I agree with the concept that, for a woman that has the home under control, and yet still has more capacity, can certainly take on more responsibilities, even if outside the home, but the home should be her primary focus. I find this to be true from Titus specifically and the rest of the Bible more generally.

    Obviously, I total agree with your assessment that both parents, bringing their own unique gifts to the home, is the most optimal way to raise children.

    Warmly,

    CT

  19. jacob says:

    This article only proves that kids are best raised by both parents. Great. Agreed.

    However, there is nothing in the research or the Bible that says women should stay at home and men should go out to work. That is something cultural. Certainly both parents should be involved with and bring something unique to parenting, but it is a big leap that is not necessarily Biblical to say women belong at home as primary nurturers or caregivers.

  20. Damon says:

    “God can certainly give all sorts of grace to single parent families…”

    I certainly hope that He does because I am certain that “Christians” will in no way extend any to any other family that does not follow their learned and adopted world view. I find this type of “love” to be very sad and unfortunate.

    Congratulations on pointing out the fact that men are different than women. Was there some type of point you were attempting to make besides disparaging any family that does not resemble your model?

  21. zKatherine says:

    Chris: “The most natural reading of Titus, even is the first century, is one where the wife is supposed to take up the work in the home as her primary responsibility.”

    I think you should review the Proverbs 31 woman who didn’t seem to stay home much since she was out buying property, rising early to provide food for her family and servants, planting vineyards, trading goods, caring for the poor and needy, working in the marketplace selling the garments she made by hand, etc.

    You are doing more harm than good by trying to force your idea of “biblical manhood” on a man who clearly has a great working relationship with his wife and knows how to best use his gifts to provide for his family. They may not be the same gifts as yours, but that doesn’t make him any less of a man and he certainly should NOT be treated with “awkwardness and stigma” by his church if in the future he and his wife decide that he would be the primary caregiver of their children! How horrible and ungodly of you to suggest such a thing!

  22. Chris Taylor says:

    Katherine:

    I agree with your admonition to ‘review the Proverbs 31 woman’.

    When attempting a Biblical Theology of Man, all of Scripture should be taken into account, beginning with the creation account in Genesis, as well as related historical texts, wisdom literature, prophetic writings, the gospels, epistles, etc.

    Those committed to Biblical Theology believe that there is an overarching agreement behind all of these texts that inform the believer on how we are to understand our relationship to God, to each other, and to the rest of creation.

    This being the case, we look at each passage in both the immediate context and the broader canonical context. We don’t believe that there is any fundamental disagreement between Solomon and Paul. Therefore, when I look at the Proverbs 31 woman, I examine her in light of Genesis, Titus, etc. There are many principles that can be used when evaluating such texts, but a key one is to let clear passages inform vague passages.

    In the case of Proverbs 31, Solomon is clearly outlining the necessity of being a hard worker. What’s not so clear (nor is it even remotely Solomon’s purpose in this text) is to outline the extent of a woman’s sphere of work. While this honorable woman is extremely productive, even engaged in the purchase of property, etc., I don’t think you could argue from the passage that Solomon expects a woman to work outside the home as we conceive of it today. Yes she weaves cloth and delivers it to merchants, but Solomon does not say she should be a merchant herself. She is ‘like the ships of a merchant’, in that she buys food for her family from afar, but she is not a ship.

    I say this, because Paul is clear on the sphere of a godly woman’s work. Paul could not be clearer when he says she is to ‘work at home.’ When I allow Proverbs 31 to inform Titus, I can safely say, ‘A woman should work hard at home.’ I cannot say, ‘A woman should work hard outside the home.’

    Warmly,

    Chris Taylor

  23. zKatherine says:

    Oh, I see, Chris. Thanks for making things so clear for me. I think I’ll go find a slave to help me at home as well since Paul (in Titus 2) insists that slaves must be “subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted.”

    I’m so glad that this is not just a cultural thing, but that Paul’s words were meant to be taken literally for all people of all times! I was really hoping that we could afford a maid and a nanny, but now I’ll just look for a slave! Thanks again! :-)

  24. Chris Taylor says:

    Dear Kathrine,

    If we had a few days to sit across the table from each other and engage in a meaningful dialogue about our interpretations of the Bible, I think we could come to the point where we would respectfully disagree with each other.

    Given our limitations, I’ll just have to take a shortcut and respectfully disagree you without the benefit of truly understanding your position or being understood by you.

    All the best to you,

    CT

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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