“The Rockwood Files” on Equality

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and Motherlode mama of 3

A few days ago, my husband Tom was out of town on business and I was busy at home tackling a list of little chores around the house – one of which involved hanging some pictures. I came into the kitchen from our garage carrying the electric drill and was stopped by my 4-year-old son: “Mom, what are you doing? You’re not a Dad,” he said, incredulous.

Well that really ruffled my feminist feathers, so I put a hand on my hip, held up the drill and said “Listen, Jack. Moms know how to use drills, too. We’re just as good as dads, okay?” He just stood there innocently drinking his juice box, and I went back to my project.

I didn’t think much more of it until the next day when his older brother came out of the playroom holding a broken toy. “Mom, when is Dad coming home?” he asked. “In a few days. What’s wrong? Do you want me to help you with that?” I asked. “Well, that’s okay. Dad is the fixer,” he said.

That’s when it hit me. Out of sheer convenience, I’d spent these past few years painting myself into a very traditional corner and had inadvertently led my boys to believe that women can’t be “fixers.” It bothered me. Had my boys become little sexists at such an early age?

Honestly, I do understand how it had happened. When they come to me with broken toys or batteries that need replacing, I’ll usually say something like “You know what? Dad loves to fix things. Go ask Dad to fix it.” They’ll trot off to find Dad and enjoy what I assume is some nice father-son time, usually resulting in a trip to Home Depot.

Hey, it’s not like I’m the only one falling back on stereotypical gender roles when it suits me. When the boys have a scraped knee or stomach ache or fever, Tom often leads them over to me because “Mom can help you feel better.” Because of that habit, it’s my name that’s called out in the middle of the night when a fever spikes. And that’s okay because I realize that each of us has our strengths and preferences. We tend to divide up the parenting tasks along the lines of what each one does best.

I have a friend who said her mother had a serious aversion to dealing with sick people. It was so intense that, when she or her brother were little and got a stomach bug, her mom would put the sick kid into the bathroom, make an emergency call to her husband’s office, and then talk to the kid through a closed door while waiting for Dad to rush home and supervise the stomach flu. It didn’t make her a bad mom. She just had some limits and was smart enough to marry a person who could balance them out.

But I’ve learned a thing or two from the recent comments my boys have made. Their perception of gender roles is based mostly on what they see their parents do – not what they see on television or anywhere else. That’s why, in our house, they think dads are “fixers” who know how to lower the basketball goal, and moms have all the cool Band-aids and know where your favorite Shrek t-shirt is. If I want them to have a broader sense of what women can do, I’ll need to show them (not just tell them) that women are capable in all the areas that matter most. And I hope they see, from watching Tom and me, that when it comes to the most important challenges – like making a home and raising kids – it sure is nice to work as a team.

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