Joe DeProspero reflects on the importance of changing gender roles in the workplace and at home.
Growing up in the early 1980s (and I’m sure even more so decades prior), it was completely common for fathers to remain aloof when it came to their children’s activities and general happiness. Men worked, and they worked long hours while their wives handled the kids’ homework, meals, and every imaginable level of support their children might need. It doesn’t seem that long ago, but the overall mindset in our culture has changed exponentially. I know, because I live that change every single day.
While navigating life as a husband of 10 years and a father for six of them, I’ve rested on one simple conclusion when it comes to my role as a man in the house: In the year 2015, as the gender gap has narrowed in the workplace, so has it narrowed in the home – and only good things can come of that. When I compare my parenting style to those I grew up around (or those I was exposed to on episodic television series), I notice discernible differences between the two that, in general, should yield successful results for my kids (and my marriage).
Dads can and should be just as affectionate as moms
Traditionally, men have never been encouraged or expected to express affection with their children (or at all). That was mom’s gig. And I never, ever understood the rationale behind it. There are few things in life that make me happier than laying down next to my son in bed at the end of a long day, arms wrapped tightly around him, asking how school was. Showing your kids love can only increase the bond between parent and child.
Teaching strength is gender neutral
I’ve written before about how I never use the phrase, “Be a man” with my young sons, simply because it’s a limiting phrase that wrongly characterizes strength as being a male trait. As a father of two boys and now a little girl, I plan to empower each of them with a sense of mental strength, which for my money is far more important than its physical counterpart.
Dividing housework makes a marriage stronger
Certainly nobody truly enjoys doing laundry or washing windows. However, I’ve found that tackling the responsibilities of our household collectively as a unit has made for a stronger bond with my wife. We often pack the boys’ lunches together, connecting in a way we wouldn’t if one of us was left to handle the task solo. Also, sharing a job among two people alleviates potential feelings of resentment when one of the two gets stuck handling literally everything.
My wife makes more money than I do, and that’s OK
I’ll admit, it took my ego a while to get used to this, but it’s true. Currently, she out-earns me. Ward Cleaver would shudder at the thought, I’m sure. But aside from preconceived notions of gender roles, there’s no logical reason why this should be a problem. As long as we’re showing each other respect and collectively working toward the greater goal (a happy childhood for our kids), it works for us just fine.
Children can know their parents aren’t perfect
I think this is an obstacle for most parents. We’re inclined to hide our failures, presenting ourselves to our children as supreme, infallible beings. I can tell you from experience that children react positively to seeing a few cracks in the infrastructure. Both my wife and I have apologized to our sons before. In turn, they were quicker to reciprocate the sentiment themselves. We need to teach our children that acknowledging a mistake is perfectly fine. And there’s no more impactful way to teach them than by doing it ourselves.
I don’t mean to imply that I’m this enlightened, progressive parent who’s got it all figured out. I don’t. My wife and I still argue sometimes, she cooks far more often than I do, taking out the garbage is exclusively my job, etc. I strongly believe that, by turning a blind eye to gender roles that existed decades ago, it yields a healthier, more balanced marriage and ultimately, children who view the world in a way that doesn’t immediately assign them a role in life based on gender.