Peterson, C. (2004). Mothers, fathers, and gender: Parental narratives about children. Narrative Inquiry, 14, 323-346.


This was an exploratory study assessing how parents talk about salient child experiences, namely injuries serious enough to require hospital ER treatment. Preschool-aged (2-5 years) and school-aged (8-13 years) children were recruited from a hospital ER, and their parents were interviewed a few days later about their children’s experience. The free recall portion of interviews are assessed here. Narratives of mothers and fathers differed little, but both parents were more elaborative, i.e., more descriptive and informative, when they talked about the injury of their daughters vs. their sons. Narratives about daughters were also more cohesive and included more context-setting information, i.e., orientation to where and when events occurred. Narratives about older children were also longer, more elaborative, more cohesive, and more contextually embedded than were those about younger children. Although the amount of explicit emotion descriptors did not differ, fathers tended to emphasize the absence of an emotional reaction by their sons, but not their daughters. Results were discussed in terms of concordance with gender stereotypes that describe males as tough and females as fragile.