Before I had children, way back when I was wise and all-knowing,
I decided I would parent my children the same way regardless of
gender. Both were going
to play with dolls and trucks; both would learn about kindness and
assertiveness; both would learn to wrestle and love mud. I was going to raise my children in a
genderless utopia, a perfect case study for the nature vs. nurture debate. If my girl and my boy ended up different, it
was going to be all nature.
Then, of course, I had children and began actual
parenting. In some ways I've held on to
my ideal of parenting my kids with zero regard for their gender. But not all. There are certain areas where I adjust my parenting because I'm hoping to counteract the gender-based messages that began
bombarding them before they could talk.
Can one mother combat gender-based stereotyping through sheer force of her will? I don't know, but I'm not going down without a fight.
Here are the top ways I parent my children differently based
on their gender:
For my son I emphasize the following:
I tell my son it's healthy and normal to cry (over and over again).
While I hope both my children know that I support their emotional well-being and the expression of all of their feelings, I work harder to emphasize that it's OK to cry with my son. He's going to be told that "big boys don't cry" and encouraged to stuff his sadness. Given all the societal messages that boys have to be tough and not show their feelings, I want my son to get the opposite message loud and clear: Crying is healthy, natural and something boys should do, too.
I insist my son learns the domestic arts.
Husbands create an extra seven hours of housework for wives, but wives save husbands about an hour of house work per week.
Both my kids are learning to cook, clean and help take care of our home. Here, I work harder to expose my son to the importance of salting pasta water or folding the laundry as soon as it comes out of the dryer. I want him to get the message that taking care of a home is not solely the dominion of the females in the house. The National Science Foundation reported in a study of household trends that "husbands create an extra seven hours of housework for wives, but wives save husbands about an hour of house work per week." To this day, in heterosexual households, women do more housework than men. I'm doing my part to see that his generation reverses those trends.
When it comes to my daughter, I pay extra attention to these habits:
I make my
daughter tell me what she wants.
I've spent too much of my life feeling like I wasn't allowed to ask for what I wanted or that was somehow "not ladylike."
Both of my kids have a habit of hinting around about things that they
want. Instead of coming out and saying
they want a glass of milk or another bite of dessert, they might say, "That was
really good, Mommy, I wish I could have some more." With my daughter especially, I insist that
she affirmatively state what she wants. She can't have it unless she's willing to say, "I want more cake,
please." I've spent too much of my life
feeling like I wasn't allowed to ask for what I wanted or that was somehow "not
ladylike." I let her know that I'm not
going to read her mind and that there's nothing wrong with stepping up and
saying, "I want."
encourage my daughter's interest in math.
I've read enough articles about the dearth of women in scientific fields
to know that our culture gives girls short shrift when it comes to science
education. A 2013 study found that
15-year-old girls around the world outperform boys in science, except for in
the United States, Britain and Canada. The research shows that girls who grow up
with a "strong self-concept regarding their abilities in math or science are
more likely to choose and perform well in elective math and science
courses." I want this for my
daughter. When she asks me to read a
story, we play a math game first. When
we go to Target, I steer her toward the science games and play chemistry sets. I'm more
attentive to and aggressive about stoking her interest in math and science. Because if a mother can't buck world-wide trends, who can?
careful about encouraging my daughter to say, "I'm sorry."
I don't want my daughter running around apologizing for her very existence.
Undoubtedly, children need to learn how
to apologize for their actions (or inactions) and make amends to the people
they have harmed. I'm all for that. But, I'm extremely cautious about when and
where I encourage my daughter to say, "I'm sorry." I've spent my life apologizing for things I
didn't do. If someone steps on my toe,
I apologize for some reason. I don't know why. It's a bad habit. I don't want my daughter running around apologizing for her very existence. Recently, Sloane Crosley took on this topic
in her New York Times column, "Why Women Apologize and Should Stop." I agree with Crosley and hope to spare my daughter a lifetime of apologizing.
My daughter is the
older of my two children. Naturally, she
likes to be in charge of her little brother ... and everyone else on the
planet. Because I've sipped the Sheryl
Sandberg Kool-Aid, I want my daughter to appreciate the qualities that make her
a good leader, her so-called "executive
leadership." I've never once told my
daughter, "Don't be so bossy." I don't
discourage it one bit. I do remind her
to use kindness, respect and to be sure to listen carefully to other people's
opinions, but I'm not going to clip her executive wings just because our
society is ambivalent about strong female leaders.