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What does 'motherly' mean to you?

I've been thinking about what it means to be 'motherly' or 'fatherly' and was wondering if people might be willing to give me a few words to describe what they think are the most important concepts to them.

If possible, I'd like to think outside of gender roles as such - so not so much male and female in a family as mother and father. I am just wondering whether my ideas (motherly traditionally being described as nurturing etc. as opposed to fatherly being described as 'providing for') are considered outdated and unpalatable to feminists or others?

For example, many fathers are great at 'rough play' and I would probably put that in the 'fatherly' camp - though obviously in many cases it is the woman who teaches the kids play fight. The idea is not to restrict people into roles. I just think that it might be good to take 'motherly' and 'fatherly' beyond the biological i.e. not applicable only to people who have children because in many cases I think that these definitions apply to how people interact in the workplace and society etc

I hope you don't mind me asking - I thought it would be good to start with ideas from people whose immenent parenting is very real to them..

5 Replies

Hello Kipper, I was wondering, are you doing a research project on this? Will you use the comments in another text? If so, it may be best to approach this in a different way, see for details. Also, I wasn't really clear on what yo meant. It may be that other people didn't understand you either. Maybe you could make it much simpler and try a new post? x


Hi Blue321,

Thank you very much for your comments. I tried to answer you but seem to have only linked to my own post. I just wanted to make sure you received my thanks. K


Hi Blue321,

Thank you for replying to my post.

Reading what I wrote again, I can see that I wasnt clear.

It's not part of a research project and there was no intention to quote anyone.

I had just learnt some interesting thoughts about men having a fatherly role in society and women having a motherly role (whether or not they were biological parents) which made sense to me from a religious and personal perspective. Then something came up at work about trying to achieve better gender balance and I could see how my career choices had been guided by the same need to be 'motherly'. However, before I could talk in work about these sort of things I wanted to avoid any offensive stereotyping and since different women find different terms offensive, I wanted to gather some ideas about the positive terms womenmmight use to describe their motherliness.

I think maybe it's just too ponderous a question for this forum, but I will think about it again and perhaps try to rephrase.

Thank you so much for your time nd the link though



Hi K

That's so much clearer! I think what you're really asking about is how to talk about motherhood and fatherhood, and perhaps social structures relating to gender at work. The issue is wanting to talk about this at work. But I'm still confused because you talk about motherly-ness and fatherly-ness in society? Doesn't this happen in the home? You might have to be A LOT more specific to get the information you want.... sometimes that feels very risky!

However, you are also right, this is not a straightforward topic and is certainly a heated one, which you may seek to discuss in a less mediated environment than a chatroom and perhaps a less formal environment than work.

There is also so much literature on this.

For me, there are individuals and there are societal structures. For a long time the structures have been 'masculine' and the white middle class man has, and still does to a large extent, hold most of the decision making and power roles. Equality of opportunity as expressed in your workplace seeks to address the power-relations that are latent within the structure of our society. Why should men work and women look after children? Why should this be the norm? Would the world be a better place if more women were in charge? Aren't men equally good at bringing up children?

Motherhood is a very different model for me than the traditional conception of women at home and man at work and I'm happy with that. Motherhood is about co-parenting, working as a team, planning, sharing the chores and the care, being conscious of each other's needs, engaging the heart to help us all to be clear.

Good luck in your discoveries! x


Hi Blue321,

Sorry for the delay in replying - my little one (now born) seems most busy in the evenings which is when I'd normally get around to checking the computer.

Thank you for your thoughts - I agree that it is wonderful that it is now more common to co-parent. I don't know how our children would manage without myself and my husband working together. We each bring our own strengths (and weaknesses) to the table and we somehow muddle along.

I actually am thinking in an even more removed way from the traditional roles of parenting actual children.

If I explain it from my work perspective perhaps it will make more sense. I am a statistician and I work in a university setting - with my school comprising both academic and consultancy roles. The school spans two subject areas - statistics and mathematics. My particular job is a consulting role which means that I help people with their research work - either by explaining to them how to do their analysis themselves or by doing the analysis myself and reporting back to the client. As with all scientific fields, there is interest in gender balance and especially (in our department) trying to encourage more women to stay within the sector. It is noted in our school that the mathematics department is predominantly male, the statistics academic department is majority male but somewhat better balanced and our consultancy company is predominantly female. Although the last is probably almost 'anecdotal', the other two are common situations within the field.

The question came up - why to more 'mathematical' women choose statistics as their subject of choice rather than mathematics. I could only think of my own situation - why I chose to be a statistician; I like being able to resolve researcher's problems, being able to guide someone through an analysis so that they feel less nervous about approaching the numbers, and being useful to others just by following the steps of an analysis and 'dealing with' the process for them.

I can see many similarities there between that and what I need to do as a mother - in some places nurturing and taking a child through a process step by step and in some places just taking the responsibility away from the child and 'dealing with' the problem myself. A father too, of course, would find just as much fulfillment in doing these things for his children, but I would hazard that the priorities might be slightly different. From my experience of working with male and female leaders, I would suggest that female managers are often more comfortable with more nurturing type approaches (e.g. suggesting training that she thinks might help the member of staff) whereas male managers often prefer to 'provide' the opportunities for their staff (e.g. allow training opportunities should the member of staff request it). In that sense (if I am correct), the female manager is performing a somewhat stereotypical 'motherly' role in the workplace (i.e. nurturing) whereas the the male manager is taking a more stereotypical 'fatherly' role (i.e. providing).

Anyway, I think for the moment I should probably concentrate on being an actual mother to my little boy and worry about these more lofty thoughts another time. You seem to have a lot of knowledge about formal research - I will try to look into it more again.

Thank you.



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