Parenting is hard. Especially when you realize you may be reinforcing those stereotypes you don’t believe in.
I was reading an article in the New York Times titled “The Wage Gap Starts With Less Knowledge, and Lower Expectations,” about how parents treating their children differently depending on gender is causing women to not understand money and expect lower salaries. The article contained an alarming statistic, “According to the children surveyed, parents talked to 58 percent of the boys about setting financial goals, but to just 50 percent of the girls. And parents seemed to know it: When the company surveyed them, 80 percent of those who had a boy said they believed their child understood the value of a dollar compared to just 69 percent of those with a girl.”
I’m the father of a son (8), and two daughters (6 and 1). My oldest daughter, Norah, doesn’t really like to spend money. She tends to hold onto it. Her piggy bank always has something in it, and out of our two oldest, she’s the one with the most money in the bank.
My son, Tristan, on the other hand, is another creature entirely when it comes to money. He loves to spend it. He gets money in his pocket, and it lights on fire, burning his leg, eager to get out in exchange for Pokémon cards or candy. My wife and I talk a lot about money with Tristan because of his spending habits. We talk to him about saving money and spending it wisely. We use examples like my father who took out bankruptcy and died in a one-bedroom apartment at forty-nine years old. None of it seems to sink in with the kid, mind you. He just keeps doing what he wants. But what I can say is that his insistent need for more money has caused him to want to seek out ways to make more money. He has set up a lemonade stand or two, and has been reaching out to our elderly neighbors to do this or that as a means of income.
Norah doesn’t seem interested in making money. She takes it when it comes in, but that’s about it. She’s much more interested in Disney princesses and boys and getting married. Mel and I often describe her as our girly girl.
When I read the Times article I started to really think about money and how it plays out with my two oldest, and I wondered if I was, unwittingly adding to my daughter expecting a lower salary. Because here’s the thing, when Tristan wanted more money last summer, I suggested he pull weeds at the neighbor’s house. And when he did, I was really supportive. I thought to myself, “That’s my boy. Going out and making money.” I even told him as much. But my daughter, she’s never shown that sort of initiative, and after reading the above article, I now wonder if it’s because I’ve never presented it as an option.
My kids fit squarely into a stereotypical gender dynamic when it comes to money. My son wants to make money. Norah, on the other hand, wants to marry a rich prince. This dynamic seems so natural that I don’t think I’ve ever really questioned it. And when I think about that, I realize that maybe, just maybe, I’m unwittingly part of the problem. In the grand scheme of gender roles, this all seems normal. But in the changing world of equality, it’s not.
Because here’s the thing. I want Norah to grow up and become a strong-willed woman. I want her to state her mind, and become the best person she can, and should be. And if that happens to be a full time mom, that’s awesome. And if it happens to be the CEO of a fortune 500, that’s wonderful too. But what I don’t want is for her to not have the equal opportunity and skill set to become the one she aspires to be. I don’t want her to be shackled by some outdated gender stereotype that says she’s a woman, and thus doesn’t need to worry about making money because she will be dependent on a man.
Perhaps this sounds like I want her to have it all. But as her father, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. What I think is a bad thing is sending my daughter out into the world without an understanding of money, and how to make it. Because without that she will be crippled and dependent on someone or something.
But the problem is, I’m not 100% sure how to provide her with all that, and I wonder how many parents are in my same situation. But what I do know is that going forward, I’m thinking about it. I am questing how I discuss money when it comes to my daughter. And next time there’s a lemonade stand in my front yard, I’m going to encourage her to be right there. And when we count those quarters, I’m going to have her count them, too. And when it’s all said and done, she’s going to get an equal cut of the profit.
Pick up a copy of Clint’s new book This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things (Parenting. Marriage. Madness.)
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