This is a question I often wonder based on my first child’s use of mum and dad. When our first one was first using the words she quite accurately proclaimed me to be dad and my wife to be mum. At the time her world consisted of mum looking after her at home while dad worked. There was a clear concept of what mum and dad meant. When she was around one and a half we put her into child care and mum started working a night job. When this happened I was the primary carer making sure she got up early had breakfast took her to childcare picked her up from childcare made sure she had dinner, a bath and got to bed early. In this time the concepts were turned on their head. Our little one started calling me mum and my wife dad. Quite logically I might add. For her mum looks after the baby and dad works. Since I was looking after her I became mum.
The situation has changed again since then. Our little ones are no longer in child care and my wife isn’t working. It will probably change again but for now that is the situation. I am back to being dad or papa and my wife is back to being mum or mama. Our little one’s favourite game at the moment is telling stories using lego block characters. Most of them centre around a mum figure who is also holding a crying baby character. The baby is usually scared of everything. She also often refers to herself as mumma for her anpanman doll. This usually involves carrying anpanman, giving him a piggyback, singing lullaby songs and putting anpanman to sleep. Another game we play is pretending that our hands are characters. Since my hands are bigger than hers they always become mumma or pappa. She will often say mumma or pappa and have our hands hug. It’s very cute. She will also often run away from the pappa character squealing.
What does all this say about what mum and dad means to her? I’m not really sure. She never calls herself pappa or dad when she is role-playing which could mean she knows the concept is based on gender. That or the concept of the primary carer has remained for her and perhaps if i go back to be the main person she sees she’ll go back to calling me mum. I’d be interested to see if that is the case but I’d better keep on working.