“Look, guys! Momma’s mowing the lawn!”
I was elated. I proudly marched back and forth in the backyard, pushing that lawnmower with a huge smile on my face.
To some, this might not seem like a victorious act, but this was something I thought I would never do. I grew up in a family where men worked outside and did things like building, hunting, and fixing cars. The women in my family would cook, clean, and shop. I was still told I could be anything, but there was an unspoken insinuation that there were some things girls should not do.
My husband and I do our best to discourage gender stereotypes and promote equality within our parenting. However, it is unavoidable that our children will come know gender stereotyping. It is in media, books, and movies — and in the words or assumptions from a friend or relative who has not given much thought to the issue. My son gets asked often what sport he plays, and my daughter gets praised for being “pretty” or “cute” and gets asked which princess she loves most. There are no bad intentions with those questions, but the repetition of these and similar questions, along with the pink-verses-blue messaging from our culture does speak to that quiet rule that boys and girls are different in their interests and abilities.
We try our best to create an egalitarian environment in our home, to balance what we cannot control outside of it. We are not perfect; we fail often. It is easy to backslide into what was ingrained in us as children. But we continue to try because we see the value in not limiting our children’s potential or imagination due to outdated stereotypes.
So many times, in many ways we are told men are stronger and women are weaker. We explain to our children that strength is not purely physical. I talk about my strength as a woman — how strong my body is to have carried, delivered, and cared for three children. My husband talks about his feelings. He does not hesitate to cry or to talk about being hurt, sad, or joyful. We teach that crying, vulnerability, and asking for help are not signs of weakness but rather a sign of empathy and compassion.
You Do You
We try to dispel the notion that all girls are to be dainty princesses and all boys are rough-and-tumble. Toys, hair styles, clothing, hobbies are not gendered in our home. Whatever our children choose to wear or play with is their call. Our hope for our children is that they try all the things they have a desire to try. Girls can be football players and wrestle, and boys can have long hair and ice-skate. We allow their interests to guide them instead of society’s expectations.
There are no “mom jobs” or “dad jobs.” We cook, clean, and take care of our home together. You might see mom mowing the lawn and dad sewing or cooking for the kids. Anyone with capable hands can and should contribute to the home. We also discipline as a team. I remember when I was young, how often I heard, “Wait until your father gets home.” As a mom, I do not want my words to carry any less weight than my husband’s. I also know he does not want to be the last line of defense and enforcer. We talk about and adjust our disciplinary actions together.
We try to give our children a diverse group of role models. We show them examples of female engineers and politicians and male ballet dancers and fashion designers. We read books about female leaders and have real (age-appropriate) conversations about the history of women’s rights. Both men and women shape our world and should be celebrated. Here are two of our favorites books: Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls and She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clinton.
My husband and I do not shy away from tough conversations. We do not default into “girls need to chat with mom about body stuff” or “boys need to ask dad.” We talk openly about puberty, periods, hormones, and body issues with our all our children as they grow. By doing this, we hope curtail stigma about their bodies’ natural functions. The more they feel comfortable talking about their bodies, the more respect they will have for them and for others’.
I know we have come a long way since I was young. It is not a radical idea to want to push back on stereotypes, not to “gender” toys, or to teach both your sons and daughters about fixing cars. However, we can always do more to promote equality for our children and their future. We can always want for our children to feel limitless in what they can accomplish. The best thing we can do is to model equality for them within our home and give grace to those who are trying.