There’s a script many of us hear from birth about our roles as men and women. It often begins in churches, but the message is ingrained in our schooling, our homes, our sports, and our workplaces. It goes like this…
A woman’s life often is often described in terms of either/or. A woman can either be a mom or pursue a career. Women can either be homemakers or participate in the workplace. A woman’s pursuits can either benefit her family or the world. She can either be feminine or a tomboy. A woman is the defender of the home or she is failing.
A man, on the other hand, is prepared for a life of “and.” A man will be a provider and a father. He should pursue education and a career and a family. Men are expected to lead at church and at home and at work. A man is a Christian soldier, fighting on multiple fronts, with a litany of “ands” before him. One notable exception? A man can be masculine. Period.
This black and white description of adulthood feels comfortable for many of us until we grow up and realize how much of life’s complexity is missing from the script. The script isn’t all bad and is in many ways beautiful, but we look around us and see how ill-fitting a one-size-fits-all description is for most people. Our lives are organized around a supposed ideal. In reality, women’s lives are full of complex “ands” and men are regularly faced with “ors.”
Women often find themselves pursuing a career and taking on the primary responsibilities of homemaking and parenting. Men find themselves choosing between prioritizing their career or their family or (sometimes) their religious life. They’re following the script, but the realities of workplace policies, societal rules, and juggling expectations prove challenging.
When unexpected events, such as death, divorce, infertility, or remaining single interrupt the supposed ideal, people are caught unprepared. Some don’t fit into the claustrophobic confines of gender roles or societal expectations to begin with. Many find themselves trying to make edits to an outdated script when much of it needs to be rewritten altogether.
This leads me to ask, how do I raise my kids to write their own script? What personal and societal changes would they need to champion? What does teaching kids to rewrite the life script look like? I want them to imagine and work toward a world where:
- Affordable education is for everyone. Education should be question of where and when, not if or how. Education fosters critical thinking, independence, self-sufficiency, and more. Access to education is essential for everyone to pursue a world of “and.”
- Flexible, Family Friendly Workplaces. What if workplaces assumed that a couple with children would both take on primary parenting and home responsibilities? What if both men and women had a year’s paid maternity/paternity leave? What if more part-time, telecommuting, flexible work options were made available for men and women?
- Homemaking has no gender. How-to manuals for vacuums, mixers, washing machines, or cleaning products don’t reference reproductive organs. Anyone can and should be confident using them. No one person should feel the burden of work/household/childcare. Plus, many of the arguments against women taking on more leadership roles outside of the home hinge on women simply having too much to do already. This wouldn’t be the case if homemaking was more equally shared.
- Prioritize Co-Parenting. Let’s take mothers off their pedestals and stop labeling men as clueless. I want my children to live in a society where stay at home dads are not unusual or, better yet, workplace flexibility changes the way we view parenting altogether. Let’s raise both our girls and boys to be strong, committed, primary caretakers.
- Let Go of Labels. While we’ve come a long way in welcoming girls into the world of traditionally masculine hobbies and pursuits, we are way behind with boys. It’s time to stop pink washing dolls, mini kitchens, and animals and labeling boys who enjoy cooking, art, sewing, and fashion in derogatory ways. Why are books with male leads for everyone and books with female leads for girls? Why do we champion a girl crossing gender lines, but cringe when a boy does it? Let’s encourage our children to be multi-faceted individuals, prepared to pursue whatever interests them without shame or judgment.
What would I like the script to look like for my kids?
Women and men can pursue an education of their choosing and prepare for a fulfilling career. They can be confident in caring for a home and plan to share responsibilities with their partner (if they choose to have one). When a couple plans to have children, there are many ways open to them for prioritizing family. If a parent choose to stay home for a time, they can continue to pursue activities that will help them be prepared to re enter the workplace out of either necessity or desire. Both men and women can be active, confident, successful participants in all aspects of life – parenting, working, education, homemaking, community, schools, religious life, and neighborhoods.