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Matrescence and Patrescence: Fathers Also Raise Children Today

The 21st Conference of the Japan Society of Developmental Psychology was held in Kobe for three days from March 25 (Fri.), to 28 (Sun.). Day 1 featured "Basic Survey on Pregnancy, Childbirth and Child-rearing: Developing Parenting Skills in First-time Parents," an independent symposium to discuss research by Benesse Institute for the Child Sciences and Parenting in which I participated as one of the discussants.

Noriko Goto, Benesse Institute for the Child Sciences and Parenting, served as moderator, and presentations were given by two researchers from the Institute, Junko Takaoka and Satoko Tamura as well as Masumi Sugahara, Professor, Ochanomizu University; Satoko Matsumoto, Research Fellow, Ochanomizu University; and Atsushi Sakai, Yamanashi University. The second discussant was Masami Ohinata, Professor, Graduate School, Keisen University. Papers have been published in the Volume 5: The follow-up survey of "First-time Parenting" of the Benesse Institute for the Child Sciences and Parenting, our most recent research report. In this message, I would like summarize the views that I expressed as a discussant in this symposium.

Looking at the long history of human evolution, one could go so far as to say that fathers only became involved in child-rearing at the beginning of the twentieth century. Nevertheless, fathers' involvement increased at a fast pace and by the twenty-first century, they were expected to be involved. Of this, father's participation in child-raising was mainly found in the affluent societies of the developed nations.

During the hunting-gathering period of human history, hunting for food was considered to be men's work. Women's work consisted of gathering plants and fruit to prepare as food in addition ensuring propagation through pregnancy, birth, and raising children. This prototype of child-rearing that originated in hunting and gathering society gradually underwent change with the development of agricultural society several thousand years ago and the introduction of manufacturing industry with the industrial revolution through scientific and technological progress from the 18th to 19th century. Increasing affluence around the world engendered a changes in social structure and women began to enter the workforce in order to sustain this affluence. With the increase in working women, child-rearing also began to shift to an increasing participation by men.

The period of life when a woman marries and gives birth is called "matrescence" can be seen as a special time: it is the propagation of the next generation and the continuation of life. As such, is also a special time in the life cycle of women. This has been pointed out by Dana Raphael, a medical anthropologist of pregnancy, childbirth, and childrearing who studied under the cultural anthropologist, Margaret Mead. As I have stated previously, emotional support for the mother in the form of "mothering the mother" is important at this time. According to Raphael, the newborn, whose birth is celebrated with joy, receives good care, but the mother, who has just given birth, should be given increased attention and valued.

In traditional societies and in modern societies in the past, women were responsible for ensuring the next generation of the life and shared their knowledge to help one another. Raphael called such women "doulas." Doulas not only provide practical care, but also emotional care in the form of "mothering the mother." The word "doula" originally meant "slave" in Greek, but women doulas were respected in the Greece.

Now in the 21st century, given that it is quite common for fathers to be involved in raising children, it is now also necessary to study patrescence. Like matrescence, good patrescence also depends on experience and learning, without which it is not possible to become a father. In the past, raising children may not have been part of the direct experience of boys, but it took place around them and they could learn by observing. This has disappeared in developed societies. This means that it is important to provide opportunities to experience and learn child-raising before entering the period of patrescence.

Once I had the chance to ask the primatologist Jane Goodall if chimpanzee mothers abused their children. She answered that that she had seen such a case in a female chimpanzee that had several older female siblings. In other words, the female chimpanzee who abused her child had had little or no chance to watch and experience younger chimpanzees being raised and was unable to raise her own child well. Even such chimpanzees, however, will learn how to raise their children as they gain a bit of experience in the process of repeated gestation and birth. Jane Goodall has also reported on male chimpanzees and child rearing. Like human males, they also need to experience and learn child-raising in order to do it well.

Just as emotional support is crucial for matrescence, it is clearly necessary for patrescence, too. This type of emotional support, however, is not necessarily the same. As I mentioned in my previous message, there is a flourishing support group for fathers in the Kansai region. The fathers bring their children to the gatherings where they play sports together and the fathers themselves have a chance to exchange information. Relying on collective know-how and resources, fathers are now building networks to support one another, too.

Furthermore, it is important to create a society where fathers are expected to be involved in raising children and where taking childcare leave will be nothing out of the ordinary. Today, it is still very embarrassing or awkward for fathers to request childcare leave or to be directly involved in caring for their children. We should recognize this as a historical fact in the course of human evolution, and understanding this, I hope that we will see more men engaged in raising children.

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