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Personal Caregiver Interviews and the Importance of Mothers

The five Davidson College Design Fellows participated in a workshop to share personal narratives about our first five years of life. Before the workshop, we interviewed our primary caregiver(s). During the workshop each person visually represented key pieces from the caregiver interview, then shared with the group. We are each posting an insight from that workshop — here is mine:

Photo of Claire Gutermuth
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In sharing my own personal interview with my mother and hearing others' accounts of their first five years of life, I couldn't help but notice that everyone talked more about mom than dad. My key insight:

Mothers tend to have a greater influence than fathers on a child's activities, behaviors, and general health in the first five years of life.

This is obviously true during pregnancy; everything a mother does directly influences the fetus' health. But when it came to swimming lessons, or family traditions, or doctor visits, or determining nutrition after breastfeeding, almost everyone gave credit to their mom. This commonality was in place in spite of our different backgrounds: planned and unplanned pregnancies; single, stable homes to separated parents to those of us who moved around the world. Our mothers tended to be our primary caregivers, and they made many of the crucial decisions in our beginnings that allowed us to thrive.

This presents several questions: if we are designing a product or program, should we focus on mothers? Is this more or less true in certain communities, and why? What impacts do fathers and other family members have, and how can this be harnessed to help with a child's development? Could encouraging fathers to become more involved in caregiving make a difference, and if so, what would this look like?
 

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Photo of Elaine Mau

We had a similar discussion in our group. We ended up designing specifically for mothers since that's what we found!

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