About Why I’m Raising My Sons to Think Like Women

As I was cleaning up my sons’ toys last night and muttering to myself about the entitlement of my boys, a thought suddenly struck me: ‘if I don’t do this, then who will’? As in, I have implored every member of this household to tidy up after themselves and I still f**king get stuck doing it because if I don’t do it, clearly no one else will.  That’s how I spent International Women’s Day, essentially doing what women do: all the stuff, big and small, that needs to get done because if we don’t do it, who will?

Now make no mistake; I’m one of the lucky ones.  My husband is one of the good ones.  He cooks some weekends, cleans up after dinner, is on toddler duty as soon as steps through the door in the evening and his shift doesn’t end until about 6 the next morning.  I know I’m lucky.  But still, I find myself doing things and thinking ahead in ways my (useful) husband never would.  I often ask myself ‘why’ because I am raising boys and I want them to be good partners to people someday and contribute to the world.  What I’ve realized about the many wonderful men in my life is that most of them are good at the big things.  So they’re good at excelling at their jobs or doing well in academia or being assertive when needed.  But when it comes to the details of life like managing the family calendar, dressing the kids so they don’t look shipwrecked, or running a household they are, as my cousin so aptly put it ‘Mr. 70%’.

As women, we all know how much we do and how much is expected of us.  We’ve obviously known all along, whether it was watching our mothers, aunts, sisters, etc or doing it our damn selves.  But now that it’s hip to talk about women and the unique ways in which we ‘add’ to work environments and ‘contribute’ to society, I’ve been trying to understand what it is about women (and mothers especially) that makes them so impactful.  It’s all the rage to talk about women-owned businesses being more successful than standard ones and the need for flexible working precisely because women’s contributions mean so much to the labour force that we can no longer afford to exclude them.  But these articles, research studies, and statistics don’t answer the ‘why’ of this female contribution.  Why are female employees so productive and why do female entrepreneurs get it right more often?

Quite simply because women learn from a young age that if they don’t make it happen for themselves, pretty much no one else will.  Your parents will try.  Your teachers might encourage you.  Your (female) colleagues may go to bat for you.  Ultimately, though, you’re working in a system that expects you to be a loving and supportive (read submissive) wife or partner, a perfect mum, a flawless homemaker, and a model employee who isn’t too threatening to the higher-ups.

Now of course this isn’t true for everyone.  There are plenty of entitled women and a growing number of men who truly want to see their wives, partners, sisters, female colleagues, etc excel at whatever they choose to do.  And then of course there’s race and social class that transcend gender and quash peoples’ ambitious in horrible ways.  But we know being born a woman can put you at a disadvantage if you don’t find a way to fight the system, whether you’re born in Europe or Asia (although the stakes may be significantly different).

So why can mothers do so much and why are females so successful in the workplace when they are given the opportunity to stay instead of being forced into the home by a desire to have children?  Because as women we approach everything we do with an ‘if I don’t do this, then who will’ attitude.  If I don’t make dinner for this family, then who else will?  If I don’t complete this project thoroughly, then who will?  If I don’t fix the problems in the workplace that I experienced at all my previous jobs, then who will?  If I don’t make a stand for other mothers, working mothers, older mothers, etc, then who will?  We know the answers to these questions are often ‘no one’ and that is what drives us to success when we are given the chance or when we are able to carve that chance out for ourselves.

I have the good fortune of working for a women-owned business and what I’ve noticed is that the female leaders not only slay it in the creativity and idea department, they actually follow all the way through with their projects.  When needed they delegate but often, they will birth and raise an entire project from start to finish without needing to drag an unnecessary number of employees into the situation.  It’s a skill because not only is it highly efficient, it’s inspiring to watch people so committed to an idea that they work doggedly to turn it into something real and beneficial, whether that’s made up of tiny components or outward facing tasks.  One of my siblings also runs a company with two other women and together these three women are completely shaking up their industry from attracting new business to fundamentally changing working practices for parents and employees who want a life outside of work.  I believe it’s because all these women, intentionally or otherwise, approach their lives from an ‘if I don’t disrupt this industry, then who will’ attitude.

So my new mantra to my children is ‘if you don’t do this, then who will?’ I hope this will serve the dual purpose of teaching my sons to think like women so that they’re not just good at the big things, but at all the things that make a home-life and work-life so rich. (And also so that they can walk from one end of the living room to the other without tripping over 18 different toys.) But then also instill in them that fighting instinct that so many women have because they know nothing will be handed to them.  When you’re forced to answer the question ‘if you don’t do this, then who will’, you’re forced to think about who picks up the slack when you fall short.  I want my boys to be the answer to that question, just like so many women before them.


About Women Being Bossy and Men Being Leaders

Strong women make easy targets.  They refuse to bow down, conform, or blend into a crowd making it easy to scapegoat them.  In theory, people love supporting the idea of a strong woman; in practice, not so much.  Here’s the thing about strong women though: we just don’t give a f*ck about your nonsense and just as soon as there are enough of us, your nonsense won’t matter.

I was brought up by an exceptionally strong mum and six larger-than-life aunts, each one strong, talented, and successful.  My mother only let the strongest women into her life, which thankfully added to the positive female role models in my life.  I assumed all women were this powerful because even in the face of so much negativity, these women remained true to themselves.  It’s simply been a part of me to be surrounded by women of strength.  Sometimes that strength is outward and loud.  Other times it’s quiet, watchful, and patient.  Regardless of what form it takes, it’s always awe inspiring.

If you’re not used to being around strong women it can be off-putting.  We are a threat to the status quo.  We demand more from the people around us, male and female, and just as we stand our ground on issues of importance, we expect that same strength and commitment from those we interact with.  Anything that challenges the norm is seen as threatening though and so people will attempt to put distance between you and themselves.  Let them.  They are, in essence, trimming the fat for you and would have cracked under the pressure to hide their weakness.

If this post is off-putting to you that’s also fine.  If I were a man writing this and saying ‘I don’t care what you think about me because either way I’m living my life’ would you be affronted?  Would you think I’m tooting my own horn?  Would it seem that abnormal?  The truth is, if you’re unsettled by this post, you probably wouldn’t care if I were a man writing this.  But because I’m a woman, asserting myself outwardly and publicly, it’s almost cringe worthy.  Well let me say it again, I’m not trying to be rude to you.  The truth is I just don’t give a f*ck about nonsense and your being unsettled by female confidence is nonsense.  Anytime someone exhibits behavior that is perceived to belong to another gender they are ridiculed, mocked, and bullied.  Female confidence, assertiveness, and strength are no different and until these traits are seen as both male and female (or simply human), women will be singled out and demonized for possessing these qualities.

Strength is not drawn from a finite source.  If I show strength that clearly doesn’t lessen the strength you’re able to have or show.  What I’m now just starting to realize, though, is that female strength is not always about the strength that I’m showing as a woman but about the perceived weakness my strength is highlighting in you.  As a woman, I’m meant to be meeker, more accepting, less argumentative.  As a strong woman, however, I won’t stand idly by while some bullsh*t is being played out.  Calling out that bs is what is so unnerving about a strong woman and it’s what scares people.

As with all stereotyping, demonizing a woman for being strong and confident is lazy.  It’s unoriginal, it requires minimal use of brain cells, is born out of ignorance, and is just so tired.  But until and unless we embrace women for all the ways in which they show strength – leaving children to earn a living, staying at home with children, earning PhDs, breaking barriers by engaging in every type of job out there, defending women’s right to choose what happens to their bodies, etc. – this will never be accepted as a female trait.  It will instead be called bitchiness, affirmative action, controlling, whatever to detract from the path that woman is forging for herself.

As far as possible, I’m raising my son and nephews to be gender-blind.  I imagine this may one day morph into highlighting the nonsensical way in which certain attributes are assigned to different genders but for now, it’s gender blindness.  I remember having a conversation with a friend where she was explaining to me how her daughter is essentially a leader at daycare.  She laughed and jokingly said ‘I’m worried about what the other parents will say about her bossiness.’  I was exactly the same in preschool (surprising, no?) and I’ve been called every name under the sun: bossy, bitchy, controlling, you name it.  At the end of the day though the question shouldn’t be ‘why is this girl so bossy?’ but ‘what is this girl (or parent) doing so right that she is a leader?’ Also ps, according to the status quo women are bossy but men are leaders; no thank you.

Showing female strength can sometimes feel like you’re shouting into the wind; no one wants to hear you and they use the blowing wind as an excuse to keep you silenced.  But it’s also possible for the wind to change direction.  We can be that change.  We can raise our children, male and female, to see strength as strength, regardless of whether it comes from a man or a woman.  We can make that an appealing, attractive, and genderless quality.  And for our generation now we can support each other.  This doesn’t mean everyone has to take a stand on everything.  It simply means that we don’t have to let our fear of female strength drive our desire to tear down and destroy those who show strength.  That can actually happen.  Strong women are only a threat to you if you’re benefiting from keeping women down.  Otherwise we’re just wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, colleagues, bosses, friends, neighbors attempting to carve out a space for ourselves.

FYI : if you do continue to hate on strong women, we still don’t give a f*ck and you won’t change us. 

About Parenting?

I remember the first time I was left alone with my son. By alone I mean I was still in the hospital with staff coming into my room every half an hour but my husband was taking an exam, my sister was at work, and my mum and in-laws were at home. I so clearly remember thinking ‘what is wrong with everyone? Why have they left me alone with my baby? I clearly have no idea what I’m doing or what I’m supposed to do’. I thought I was magically meant to be this Super Mum like in the Pampers adverts. In reality, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing BECAUSE I WAS A FIRST TIME MUM. But we have a romanticized notion of parenthood and it’s a big frigging shock to the system when you realize you’re not like any of the parents on tv or in parenting books. Since the birth of my son more than two and half years ago (already?!), I feel like I’ve haphazardly stumbled through sleep regressions, tantrums, growth spurts, owies, uneaten meals, endless episodes of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, 8 million boxes of Goldfish (wholegrain, of course), and countless other milestones and events. My intentions have been good but I’ve stumbled a lot.  Stumbling as a parent is hard to admit to even though we all do it. I wish someone had told me the less romantic, more accurate version of parenting before I had my own kids. If I had to tell my own children the truth about parenting here are the top 5 things I would say (as of June, 2015):

  1. You better like the feeling of guilt because it will be the most constant emotion in your life. When my son is at daycare I feel guilty that I’m not with him. When he’s at home I feel guilty that I’m not challenging him enough. When I let him have a treat, I feel guilty that rather than make him work for the treat, it’s simply been handed to him. If he’s earned said treat, I feel guilty that the lesson I’m teaching him is that if you work hard, it’ll pay off when in reality that isn’t always the case. Ugh! THE GUILT IS ENDLESS. And I imagine this only gets worse as the stakes grow. I wish as parents we talked about this more. I was so unprepared for the relentless guilt and it was isolating initially because I felt like everyone else was winning at parenting. Now that I’ve opened up to other mums I realize every good parent I know feels this guilt acutely. What I see are strong, inspirational, brilliant mothers but what they think is that they’re being pulled in so many different directions that they never quite succeed at anything. In my mind that’s ridiculous because they have these fabulous careers or at least life trajectories, cozy yet immaculate homes, and children who are excelling even as toddlers. Basically they seem to have their sh*t all the way together while I’m at home feeding my son Goldfish (again wholegrain so it’s not a total loss) out of a cup because we have no more clean bowls.
  2. Do not be a terrible human because you will get called on it. The other day as I was rushing to get my son out of the door, I snapped and said ‘hurry up and get in the car please’. I thought I was pretty clever speaking sternly but adding a ‘please’. My son looked me straight in the eye and said ‘talk nicely, Mama’. I stopped my rushing about and laughed. He was right; getting to daycare 3 minutes sooner as a result of a snippy attitude was not worth it and my son was not afraid to tell me that. Through my laughter I was forced to apologize and restart the entire process of trying to leave the house. *please note, being called on your behavior is not always this ‘fun’. It is, at times, painful, degrading, and this honesty is not refreshing.
  3. Anyone can be a parent. I’m not saying a good parent, just a parent in general. So to be a parent you technically don’t have to change yourself. Here’s the thing though: becoming a parent makes you want to be better. At everything. At every little, stupid, big, irrelevant, important, menial, whatever thing. I imagine (largely to keep myself sane) that one day it all kind of comes together and you see your hard work pay off, but while your kids are still growing, you will often feel like you don’t measure up. That short temper you’re always working so hard to control will be tested and flare up (often). Those terrible eating habits will be watched, scrutinized, and God forbid, mimicked if you’re not careful. Having children is like holding a giant mirror up to yourself that reflects e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. about you. That harsh and truthful reflection will make you want to be a better version of yourself. The flipside, of course, is that mirror also highlights the things that you do well and gives you a shot of confidence like nothing else can (for example, you don’t like my body? Well that’s just fine because I’m healthy and I want my children to have a healthy relationship with body image so take your size 00 and shove it).
  4. Having children is intoxicating. I come from a big family and I always wanted lots of kids. My husband is an only child (also referred to as a ‘lonely child’ in Scandinavia, apparently) and I always thought having just one was kind of cruel. Now that I do have the one kid, I am utterly intoxicated with the endless amounts of attention and energy I can spend on this single human. Even though in the weeks following his birth, I wanted to have more kids straight away, I’m currently unwilling to share my son with anyone else. I know as soon as I have another child and see him or her interact with my son, I’ll wonder why on earth I waited so long, but for now I’m all Beyoncé and Drunk in Love (well maybe the Will Ferrell version).
  5. You will think to yourself that your kids depend on you for everything. What I’m learning, though, is that actually I need my kids. Every bit of my identity, happiness, and future is tied into their healthy, successful growth. I can be irritated and complain that no one’s gotten any sleep for weeks because of the latest sleep regression, but actually, my world won’t be right until my son can sleep through the night like his body needs him to. Or eats three meals a day because he’s growing and needs nutrients. So as much as I like to think he needs me to help him grow and flourish, actually I need him because he’s my world. Everything else that happens is, when I really think about it, scenery for this diva that has filled up every bit of my heart and my head.

Like so many other things in life, I feel like parenting is being romanticized, which is so dangerous because when parenting isn’t this glorious, endless stream of cuddles and giggles and love, it can be crushing. It can make you doubt everything you thought you knew about yourself and knock your confidence to the point where you feel unable to commit to a decision. But actually, if we’re honest with each other about how wonderful AND trying parenting can be, we’re opening up a space where it’s possible to safely voice our parenting concerns and get advice on how to manage it all. My (limited) experience has taught me that when I’ve opened up about my doubts as a mother (like my son hit with me a shoe today. Is that a reflection of his love for me?), other mums have felt and overcome those same doubts. And I too have been able to offer fellow mums reassuring words because we’ve decided to communicate honestly about parenting.

For me the bottom line when it comes to parenting is this: parenting is like being in labor. The experience is almost unreal, it pushes you to your absolute limit, and it forces you to behave in ways you never normally would. BUT it is worth every second. It doesn’t matter what journey you took to get there. What matters is the beautiful end result and despite all the pain and work associated with it, you not only want to go through it again but you look back on it and think that is absolutely one of the most worthwhile things I have ever, ever done. Being a good parent is something I’m still trying to figure out, but it’s a lot easier with honest, open parents in my corner.