I like to think I am not reinforcing gender stereotypes with my kids. Even so, I have to constantly remind myself not to say and do the same things I have been subjected to throughout my own lifetime of fighting pink, dresses, and heels. I learned pretty early on that this is a lot harder to do now that I have both a son and two daughters. Even though I know that I want my kids to be who they are and do what they want, and I feel very strongly about that in my own life and family, I’m realizing it may not always be obvious to my kids. I also recognize I have to be consistent from now until, oh, forever in how I model this, otherwise it just gets confusing. Living with me has to be confusing enough as it is, I don’t have to make it worse.
So, even though I do rely on hubby to kill spiders, I somehow have to model that it’s not because I’m a girl, it’s because SPIDERS ARE CREEPY AND EVIL. And hubby isn’t afraid of that awful squish sound. Not because he’s a boy, but because our fears are different. Spiders. Blech.
So what can I do every day to avoid teaching the wrong lessons? (the stereotypes, not the spider extermination process)
Well, when Bear and Goose wear dresses and anyone tells them they look beautiful, I have to remember to also tell them they are beautiful when they are wearing mismatched outfits they picked on their own and are dirty and digging in mud. I have to tell Bean that he is handsome both when he is dressed for church as well as when he is a sweaty mess. I have to compliment their appearances at a much lower frequency than complimenting other parts of who they are.
When Bean wants to help me cook, wash dishes, or fold laundry, I need to find the patience to let him. Hubby does all of these things as much or more than me, and is already a great example, so I have to be ok with the six-year-old version of helping.
When my daughters imitate me and throw a purse on their shoulder and wave bye-bye, I can’t say “are you going shopping?”, I have to challenge myself to come up with something other than the easy comment. So far I have asked if they are going to the library, to work, to the doctor, to play, to the museum, and for some reason I have to think really hard to say something other than shopping. Why is that? I don’t go shopping, why would I even say that? The point is, I’m looking for more creative activities to suggest than what a girl and a purse are stereotypically assumed to be doing.
(Also, just to be snarky, anything that would normally be a “princess” something I choose to use “queen.” If you’re going to aspire to be part of a royal family, at least shoot for the leadership role.)
When it is time to split resources and have one parent outside playing with the kids and one inside being productive, I can’t always default to being the productive one, even if it soothes my overwhelming need to “catch up.” I need to be the parent playing and running around just as much as hubby needs to be the one being productive, because we are equal partners in this circus and our kids need to know that, too.
I recognize these are all small moments in the thousands that go by every day. I’m trying to focus on the little things now before they get older and the little things turn into big things that are hard and confusing. I may get it wrong more often than I get it right, but thankfully I have kids to be the first to point that out. At least that means they know what the right thing is, and they will never ask me to get rid of the spider.