As a parent one of your greatest responsibilities is to provide your child with their reality. The life you lead, the words you choose, the opinions you foster – they all become the accepted truth of what life is for the children you are raising. While at some point we all look back and begin to bisect that “truth” and rearrange our viewpoints to fit our own beliefs, for many many years we have the ability as parents to mold that basic foundation.
As a boy mom, I didn’t spend much time at first thinking about what I needed to teach my boys about being a girl. I thought about how down the road I might need to give them a talk about how to treat girls once hormones were at play but I never really gave much time to consider that their viewpoints on females would be forming long before they noticed the girl sitting across from them in 7th grade Science class. Already at 4 years old, I have been noticing that my older son has been focusing quite a bit on the differences of boys vs girls and I have been noting how much my lessons on females need to start now before any damage is done. And so here are my 3 lessons for my 4 year old on girls (and by association the 2 year old is getting his early education too):
- Pink is not a “girl” color – And boys don’t have the market on blue. I have made a point of not pushing the color divisions on my kids. I mean, it’s such a stupid concept. How can a color be gender leaning? There is literally no logic to support that. But that didn’t stop my 4 year old from coming from preschool one day and announcing that he didn’t want the pink plate at dinner because pink is NOT a boy color. Of the many arbitrary rules we have created for ourselves as a society, this is one of my top 10 more anger inducing, especially because of just how recent this trend has popped up. In fact, until recently pink was seen as a masculine color and blue was seen as a “softer” color preferable to little girls. I have not been able to wrap my mind around why we as a society feel the need to create expectations for ourselves about silly things such as colors. Are boys and girls exactly the same? No. Of course not. But why create divisions between the sexes where there does not need to be them? When Target recently decided to back off of separating toys by gender by stripping the pink and blue wall coverings off of the aisles there was a public outcry. How dare we allow little girls to play with transformers or little boys to play with Barbies without them knowing that the toy was not expressly marketed for them. Ever notice how boy targeted dolls are always referred to as “action figures?” Yes – let’s just add the word “action” – how manly. We’ve all been fooled! Ok guys, how about we play a little game of “action tea party?” Better, yeah? I digress, but the fact of the matter is that I take every opportunity to remind my sons that all colors are boy colors and all colors are girl colors and bee tee dubs – you get to eat the dinner I made off the plate I hand you and your little brother looks amazing in pink checkers.
- “Like a Girl” isn’t a bad thing- This is one I was incredibly guilty of myself up until recently. I would accuse boys of running like a girl, hitting like a girl, crying like a girl and so on – as if that was an insult. I was a traitor to my own sex. And what’s worse is I honestly didn’t see the harm. Double Whammy. That is until a commercial by Always shook me awake. In the commercial they ask older teens to “run like a girl” – and they all flip and flop their arms and shake their heads – laughing, a joke to themselves about themselves. When they ask younger girls, elementary age, to run like girls they run with dedication to the finish line. With no comedy value they run as if they are trying to win a race. And it hit me as it was supposed to that at some point we jade the younger generation of girls and that I too had been perpetuating this cycle. I was making these little girls into a joke that they didn’t want to be in on but that they’d eventually accept and repeat back as if truth. And on top of the damage we are doing to young girls by teaching that boys are inherently better simply by having a Y chromosome we also have been implying to boys that if they show emotion or any sign of weakness that they are less masculine (the shock and horror) and who in the world would want to be that? (sarcasm font implied). I’m certainly on that soapbox here, aren’t I? It probably didn’t hurt that I saw this commercial not long after becoming a mother myself – after 9 months of pregnancy, giving birth and surviving life on an average of 3-4 hours of broken sleep each night, I now laugh at the idea that women are somehow a “weaker sex” and my boys will get a look that will prove how much power I have as a woman if they ever imply that doing anything “like a girl” is in any way an insult.
- “I’m not FAT” – For years I threw the word “fat” around to describe my arms, my face, my gut, myself. In my thin years and in my not so thin years, I don’t think a week went by where I didn’t dissect some part of myself as being less than ideal. After having my boys, I admit that my self esteem took many hits and I found myself feeling generally down about myself. I had bags under my eyes from lack of sleep. My pregnancy hair had fallen out and taking some of my pre-pregnancy hair with it. I had done a great job of losing all my babyweight plus a few after my second son was born but after a long rough winter of sickness after sickness where I eventually threw up my white flag and stopped exercising and started ordering pizza (all in the name of survival) I found myself a size up in pants and disheartened by my lack of motivation to do anything about it. Standing in front of the mirror one day I said something along the lines of, “Mama needs to stop eating so much. She’s getting fat.” My 4 year old, always ready to fire the next question out quickly asked me, “what’s fat?” And I realized right then that I was about to define for him the way he saw me, the way he saw mothers, the way he saw women. I was going to imprint on him my self image. I was about to give him a “truth”. Moms and dads know everything right? I paused. When I finally spoke I tried to recover the damage. I replied, “Mama isn’t fat. What I meant to say is that mama needs to exercise so she can have more energy.” Truth be told, I do have a spare tire. I am out of shape. I am fluffier than I’d like. If you could see in my head you’d still probably hear me calling myself fat. But another truth is that a woman’s weight has become a go to way to
shame her without knowing anything at all about her value as a person. Whether you are a size 2 or a size 22, it’s likely that somewhere along the line someone has called you fat simply to hurt your feeling. While I can’t promise that my sons won’t pull this one out of their back pockets one day, I can assure you that I am making every effort to provide an example of positive body image to my sons so they don’t look at me with my little spare tire and hear my self loathing and think, “my mom says she’s fat so she must be fat – and so is that woman and that girl and that woman and…”
As a mom of boys I spend a large amount of my day living in a world full of noise and dirt. My boys are by many definitions “stereotypical little boys” as they are very physical and attracted to cars and trucks and things that go boom. I’ve accepted that despite my desire to not push them into gender stereotypes that sometimes the underlying trends that built that stereotype are stronger than the desire to not feed it. And so I have not in any way tried to stop the dirt digging and truck crashing and super hero playing either. Before getting too deep into this thing called parenthood, I believed that my sons would learn how to respect women by watching how their father treated me. I am now realizing how much I have to do with that life lesson and how important it is that I provide a good example to my boys of a woman who loves and respects herself as much as she loves ands respects her house full of loud, physical, pink shirt wearing boys.