Since finding out that I was pregnant with my first child I’ve taken my responsibility as a parent very seriously. I don’t just mean in the day-to-day kind of things though. I’m acutely aware that my decisions and actions or in-actions, the way I behave and my own views and morals impact on my children and how they learn and grow.
Girls and boys
As a mother of a girl and three boys I’ve tried to be very balanced in the way I raise them. I tell my children if they work hard they can be anything they want to be and that girls can do everything boys can do and vice versa.
We discuss gender stereotyping if it ever arises and we tackle any challenging viewpoints head on. I think it’s so important, I am keen to explore any bias they might have been subjected to.
I encourage my daughter to be strong and independent and compete with her peers. She believes she can do anything boys can do and has proven herself against her male peers in a range of sports. I have no doubt she will continue to follow this path.
I raise my boys to be equally as confident and independent and I encourage them to follow the paths they feel are best suited to them. As a mother of three boys however, I feel an added responsibility to encourage and support them to grow up to be loving and supportive boyfriends, partners and fathers, and to challenge that male stereotype that can still be seen in some places.
I don’t want my boys to be men who view particular things as a woman’s role. I don’t want my boys to be men who don’t know how to work the washing machine, or iron clothes. I want my boys to know how to cook and enjoy preparing a meal for everyone. I want my boys to know that being a parent should be a shared responsibility and that although fathers can’t breast feed, they can do everything else a mother can do. I want my boys to learn to bake so they too can bake with their children. I want my boys to understand that they can chose to break away from the male stereotype and that women LOVE men who do that. I want them to see challenging gender stereotypes and traditional roles as the cool thing to do AND to understand that parenting is a partnership.
Something I’ve noticed over the years is that whereas some girls will only have friends who are girls and some boys stick with boys – my children never have. The children are 3, 4, 9 and 11 but one of the things they all share in common is that they are equally as popular with girls and boys. My feeling is that this comes from their balanced views of gender roles, which others pick up on.
To overhear my three year old son challenging another boy at playgroup when he told one of the girls “you can’t play with trains” melted my heart. To hear him reply “girls can do anything boys can do” made me feel I was getting the message across.
I witnessed a similar thing with my nine year old son. At a party I watched him defend a girl when a group of boys started chanting that girls can’t play football. He told the group “girls can do anything boys can do, and sometimes they can do it better”.
My children don’t see a huge amount of balance at home in terms of gender roles, I wish they did but that’s not how life has worked out for us. What they do see though is a mummy who will have a go at pretty much anything. They rarely hear me say “I’ll have to get daddy to do that” and that is really important to me.
I have lots of hopes for my children as we all do, but as a woman who has thus far done the bulk of the parenting with minimal male input and considerable inequality, I am on a mission to ensure that my boys do not become ‘those’ types of fathers. I hope to teach them to be supportive and caring partners and involved and attentive fathers.
I hope they grow up to value women and challenge gender inequalities.
I’d love to hear from fathers how you role model behaviour for your sons and encourage gender equality, and from mothers who perhaps adopt a similar approach to me.
Let’s raise amazing boys because these are the fathers of the future.