Medieval society established parental relationships (specifically father-child relationships) that were built around a difference in positions within the family. The father was the head of the household and held ultimate authority. However, this did not mean that affectionate father-child relationships were not possible.
|The Holy Family at Work|
A recent study on parental instincts looked into the common assumption that women are hardwired to be mothers.
“The research implies that the neural underpinnings of the so-called maternal instinct aren't unique to women, or activated solely by hormones, but can be developed by anyone who chooses to be a parent.”
Is this to say that medieval fathers were the primary caregivers for their children and took on the role of the affectionate parent? Most likely not. Socio-economic roles in the middle ages were different than they are now. It was ‘normal’ for the mothers to take care of the children. However, some medieval texts hint at a relationship between father and child in which the father is present and loving.
In Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale, Constance sends news to King Alla that she has given birth to a son. Even though King Alla’s mother intercepts and changes the message, King Alla is still willing to accept the child. Similarly, in the King of Tars, the Sultan appears to be emotionally connected to the child. Although the child is a blob, has no face, and does not move, the Sultan and the child’s mother are certain that it is alive. Furthermore, they are convinced that the blob can be saved and hold hope for their child.
|The King of Tars|
The role that men played in the lives of their children is not very prevalent in medieval texts. However, our idea of what it meant to be a father, especially a medieval father, has been shaped by centuries of social constructs. Modern science has begun to show that gendered parental roles may be socially constructed, but everyone is capable of displaying the ‘maternal instincts.’