It's no secret that gender roles are becoming less rigid in homes around the country. The role of family breadwinner isn't strictly for dads anymore and the role of primary caregiver that has historically belonged to women is being picked up by plenty of stay-at-home dads. The gender binary is crumbling and with it goes the outdated idea that moms belong in the home and dads belong in the office or on the golf course. If Ward and June Cleaver have no place in the world of modern parenting, who exactly is replacing them?
Parents.com executive editor Julia Dennison tackled this complex topic on Daddy Squared, a podcast hosted by husband-team and gay dads Yan Dekel and Alex Maghen. She dropped some knowledge about raising kids without gender stereotypes and the roles of mothers and women within a family dynamic. Here's what she had to say about parenting in a gender-neutral world.
You Don't Have to Be a Mom to Be Maternal
"The general idea of what it means to be maternal is the caregiving side, the cuddly, loving person who's just there for their kids all the time and brings up their kids very centrally to their life. Those are the parents who are talking about feelings and being the one to be really checked in and knowing their teachers names, knowing their friends names, who's making the doctor's appointments, who's going to the PTA meetings—and that is predominantly moms and it continues to be. All of those things are good things. So if being a mother means talking about emotions and nurturing and that cuddly side, it doesn't have to [just] be a woman."
Mommy/Daddy Families Aren't the Only Families
"We're seeing statistics where the nontraditional family is going to start to outnumber the traditional family. What is going to be the norm when these kids grow up? I do think that there's a responsibility that when I am talking about how people fall in love, to be careful. I say a man and a man or a man and a woman or a woman and a woman or just people fall in love and then they can get married. It's just changing the language that you grew up with, too. And being conscious about that. And I feel like I do have a duty as a parent today in 2020 to do that."
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Scrapping the Gender Binary Benefits All Genders
"Moving away from the gender binary—i.e. boys/men are like this and girls/women are like that—in favor of a more fluid idea of what it's like to be a boy or a girl is important for everybody, not just women. When we have expectations about what a boy and girl are like, it can manifest itself negatively in how we treat boys and girls—feeding into narratives like 'boys will be boys,' which has a direct link to the #metoo movement, or that girls actually like doing housework more so, therefore, should be paid less in chores, leading to women not being paid as much in the workplace," she explains. "When we're raising our kids, it's partly our responsibility to help set the ground rules around their relationship with their own gender identity, especially since we live in a society that is filled with messages telling them what they should and shouldn't be like based on what sex they were born as. It's an opportunity for us to raise a more open generation for the future."
You Haven't Failed If Your Daughter Likes Pink or Your Son Likes Trucks ... and Vice Versa
"It's OK if your daughter likes pink and princesses, but make sure you introduce her to other toys as well and be careful about referring to things as being 'for boys' or 'for girls'," Dennison explains, "I think it's also good when praising your child, to be careful about how you describe them. If it's a girl, it's worth considering shying away from using compliments based on her appearance, in favor of ones that praise her character—i.e. 'wow, you really rocked at that math problem' versus 'wow, you're so pretty.' I think books and what media they're exposed to make a big difference, too. Look for books that break gender role stereotypes—my favorite is Julian is a Mermaid. But don't beat yourself up, no matter how hard you try to be gender-neutral in your parenting, society's messages are insidious.
Setting a Good Example Is Key
"I think it's important to listen to how you talk about yourself—things like 'I suck at math' or 'I feel fat' if you're a woman carry huge implications around gender. Think about how you can talk about your interests so they don't subscribe so much to gender norms," she says. "If you kick butt as a boss mama at work, talk to them about it! If you're a dad and you love braiding your daughter's hair, talk about it! It's about setting a good example in all walks of life, and language is a huge part of that."