It was around 9:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. We had been awake for more than two hours. And my son decided that it was time to play “Paw Patrol”.
He quickly gathered the figurines of his beloved collection from the corners of his bedroom floor while I fumbled for another cup of coffee. He sprung onto my bed with robust enthusiasm and pointedly handed me “Sky,” the girliest of the “Paw Patrol” gang.
“Here mommy,” he innocently smiled. “You have to be the girl.”
With some quick yoga breathing I was able to suppress the rage; because as the only parent my son has ever known, I have been everything from the breastfeeding mother to the scary dad voice. How could the recipient of my everything—my time, my tears, my callused hands—assume that I fit within some kind of gender stereotype bubble of pink helmets and slightly higher-toned woofs?
That certainly was not the image I had painted in his mind. I don’t even own an article of pink clothing! And no son of mine was going to grow up thinking that anyone—man or woman, especially his mother—has any limitations of abilities and interests.
When confronted with this kind of youthful ignorance, it is so easy to forget that the application of gender roles is something a 4-year-old is doing simply out of that: ignorance. He had no intention of offending. He had no forethought assigned to the action that sought malice or even argument. In the eyes of a 4-year-old who is just beginning to learn the ways of social decencies (and has quite a way to go), he is perpetually testing boundaries and attempting new approaches to learn what will be best received.
And my response to this unknowingly sexist comment would greatly define his perception of the issue.
It was in that bit of realization that I found great calm. Because as a parent, it is my responsibility to not only teach my child how to not be an asshole, but also to be a reflection of the kind of person I want him to grow up to be.
And for as much as I may bleed the principles of equality and feminism, the polarity of parties in 2018 often leaves individuals void of understanding, and kindness is a regularly ignored expectation. I was so at the ready to defend my cause that my gut reaction was to verbally assault a preschooler. That is not the person I want my son to be.
“Why do you feel I need to be ‘Sky,” buddy?”
“Because you’re a girl.”
“What if I want to be a boy? What if I want to be ‘Rubble?’”
Well, that was easy.
I had anticipated a great debate involving lengthy back-and-forth over the subject. What I got was simple acceptance. My son had no experience in applying gender roles other than in play with kids at daycare. He had received no guidance. After all, I don’t send him out into the world every day with a “and remember, son, don’t be a sexist!”
This was an entirely new topic of discussion—because there was no reason for it to have been discussed before this moment. And as with all lessons he will learn, it is through consistency and repetition that these principles are formed and instilled.
The kid has asked for cookies for breakfast almost every day for two years. I should know by now.
So while I’d like to say that this encounter was the last, it was not. My son was not transformed in that moment to an all-accepting, wise, stereotype-free progressive. The following Monday he was dropped back off at daycare where he picked up an entirely new subset of alternative facts for me to combat. But I learned a lesson that Saturday morning that I have yet to deviate from.
If I want my son, as I imagine most parents hope of their children, to be kind, accepting, empathetic individuals; to be first to listen and second to speak; to consider an alternative perspective before placing judgment; I have to do it first.
We have to do it first.
#3. Boys need to know it’s okay not to be macho.
— The Good Men Project (@GoodMenProject) July 19, 2017
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