"You are the mommy, so you will take the children to school."
That's what I overheard earlier this evening when my son, who is about 2 months shy of 5 years old, and my daughter, age 8, were playing together. He then continued, "I am the daddy, so I will make the pizza." I suppose that's not your stereotypical daddy role, but that's pretty much how it usually plays out in our house (and daddy happened to be making pizza for dinner that night). I often hear him say things like this when they play "house" with my daughter's dolls. We never really bought dolls for my son, because he never explicitly asked for any of his own and we have a gazillion already. We've got lots of assorted baby dolls and their gear: play infant car seats, play baby carriers, clothes, clothes, and more clothes, and, the bottles that often come with them. In the past year, my son and daughter have started playing together (quite nicely, which always warms my heart) with the dolls, with my son being the daddy and my daughter being the mommy. While sometimes I have to question the safety, heck, even the legality, of some of their actions (putting 3 small babies into one infant car seat?) they usually do all the typical caring for baby activities of feeding, bathing, changing clothes or pretend diapers, carrying, putting in a car seat, and rocking to sleep. Each time they play "house" this way I usually get to overhear a little bit of what is obviously ingrained in their heads about what mommies and daddies do and what their roles are, whether we are explicitly telling them or not.
I am the mommy and probably 98% of the time, I am the one taking them to school. And this is true for the vast majority of families at their school. But still, I get a little twitch when I hear my son say that. I don't want him to think that only mommies can or do take their kids to school--but why would I expect him to think differently if that is what he sees day in and day out? Then I think maybe I read too much into what he says; in his mind, because I take him to school and he sees other women taking his friends to school, he associates mommies with the role of getting kids to school. I
am the one who hears a judgement about what role mothers should be playing in that statement, but he probably doesn't think of it that way. He's just reflecting back his reality.
When I do get a little worried, though, is when my daughter says things to me like "mommies do all the work" or something to that effect. I mean, yeah, I think it's great that she recognizes how hard mothers work for their families and it is often accurate that moms are the ones more visibly involved in managing children's schedules and activities, whether they work outside the home or not. But in our family, daddy does a lot around the house. He's the primary doer of laundry, cooking is shared equally, lots of home upkeep and improvement projects fall on daddy, and I fully admit that daddy is better at forcing us to keep the house picked up than am I. So where does my daughter get that "mommies do all the work"? Each time she says this to me, I remind her of all things that her dad does for our family and that he has a job in an office, whereas I have my own business, which means that he has to be at work at specific times and I have more ability to make my own schedule.
How do you feel about teaching children about gender roles in parenting and family life? Do you consciously try to guide them to see your point of view about roles for moms and dads specifically, or men and women in general? Do you feel like media, pop culture, or your community undermines what you are trying to teach them in any way?
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