Whats in a word?

This week whilst I’ve been in a flurry of creativity and inspiration during my visit to the Reproduction Research Group one of the things I have been thinking about is the language we use in relation to families and parents. As those who have read my blog previously will know, one of my research interests is around young men who are fathers, and the support of young men with children is something I am passionate about. However I have recently been considering, and some of the conversations I have had whilst on this research visit have helped me further consider, whether the words we use for describing parents is useful.


In relation to young men who are fathers,is the age focused word ‘young’ useful in relation to this aspect of the population, and specifically if ‘young’ is a neutral descriptor. The phrase ‘teenage father’ always seems to be more value laden, but whether the word ‘young’ also has the ability to ‘other’ men who have children in their teens and twenties is something for consideration. In seeking to ensure that men under 25 are well supported and included in parenting provision and activity, does creating categories of age of parent actually suggest some sort of difference between fathers who are 19 to fathers who are say 29 or 39?  The use of a specific descriptive tag via age may serve a purpose in targeting specific resources to men with children which could perhaps make it worthwhile when considering any sense of ‘othering’ or difference that it creates.

The pondering of the use of the word ‘young’ then in relation to fatherhood took me further down the rabbit hole and into consideration of whether our gendered attribution of words for parents, i.e. mother and father, then also serves to create and reinforce difference. As women increasingly have and continue to, move into the workplace, and men into intimate spheres of social life (as I have discussed here) does then the separation of mothers and fathers create a difference we know longer need? Does talking about mothering reinforce traditional values of women as care givers and child rearing, and the domestic as a site of women’s labour? Should then we move to discussing men as parents and women as parents when talking about sex differences in relation to parents? Would this be more value free and allow for greater openness and fluidity about contemporary parenting by both sexes?

Can  ‘muting’ the age focused and gendered language of parenting help towards the broader project of dismantling parenting as a site of gendered practices and beliefs? Possibly, I don’t have an answer as yet, but as is often the case the words we use are certainly useful food for thought.



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