It can be tough to be an enlightened parent in this society. It seems like we’re always coming up against this wall constructed of outdated gender roles, antiquated attitudes, misogyny, and rape culture. Gentle parenting advocates have to hear about how spanking never hurt the previous generation. Breast feeding proponents get body shamed in public. Advocates of gender neutral parenting get told that they are confusing their kids or making them soft, as if soft is some undesirable quality in our world. They don’t seem to understand that we’re trying to raise healthy, happy kids who aren’t being limited by outdated ideas.
Let me give you 3 examples of these kinds of attitudes, although I could easily list 30:
- I worked as a daycare teacher part-time in college. A mother came in to pick up her son one day while he was playing with his friends on the playground. She actually took some cars out of a little girl’s hand and told her that cars are toys for boys. I wondered aloud what exactly she drove up in if not a motor vehicle.
- My eldest child had a flyer in her backpack advertising a sports day. It made clear that dads, grandfathers, and uncles were welcome to attend. Do girls and women not play and/or watch sports? What message does it send to make this day gender-specific?
- A relative is old-fashioned about gender attitudes. When my son cries, she tells him not to. When I ask why it’s a problem, she points out that he doesn’t cry about physical pain, which is acceptable. She takes issue with the fact that he cries when his feelings are hurt. He is 3. She doesn’t think his feelings should be hurt so easily or that crying should result. I don’t know how to explain that our emotions and our tear ducts have no connection to our genitalia and that we do not get to dictate what does and does not hurt the feelings of other people.
We see this all the time. Boys are still getting the message that they shouldn’t experience emotions other than happiness or anger. They’re being told not to cry, to be strong, and to be the man of the house. I’m a single mother, and I can tell you that my son is not the man of my house. He’s a little boy, and I’m the woman of this house- no man required. He gets to be a child because we all deserve that opportunity. He doesn’t have to take care of me or his sister. In fact, because his sister is older, she should look after him; they should look after each other. He doesn’t have to worry about me either; that’s my job.
I don’t have a problem with my son crying. The fact that my children can tell me why they’re upset is a plus in my book. It means that they have emotional intelligence and can communicate about it. We need more people in this world with emotional intelligence and the ability to openly communicate. We’d have less undesirable behaviors like ghosting and game playing if people were more comfortable expressing themselves. We’d also likely see less anger from men when the true underlying emotion is sadness or disappointment.
The world will tell us that we’re raising our kids in the wrong way. We should do it the way that it’s always been done, even if the way it’s always been done involves beating kids, calling them names, or generally making children into little adults rather than letting them be kids. They say that it didn’t hurt them to be raised that way, but if we look closely, we can see all the ways that it did hurt them. Their anger. Their inability to accept change. Their communication issues or their avoidance of conflict. All the signs are there. Saying that it didn’t hurt them is the thing they tell themselves, and that’s fine. Maybe they are well-adjusted now.
But we’re not wrong for trying to raise kids who are body positive, emotionally intelligent, healthy, and happy. We don’t have to follow the outdated gender roles that try to box our kids neatly into categories. We can, instead, tell them that anything is possible, that careers have no gender, that love is love, and that it’s okay for boys to cry, too.