My father died when I was seven, and my mother never re-married. Even when she dated, she kept those men out of our lives. So growing up, much of my understanding of parental duties and responsibilities can be easily summed up with, Mom runs things. Other than clean your own room, all household jobs were shared between my mom, my siblings, and me. I took out the trash as often as my brother, and we negotiated tasks if we had preferences. I wasn’t going near the dog poo clean up, and he wasn’t going near litter box detail so that was easily decided.
I used to imagine that when I grew up and had kids of my own that life would be similar in that everyone would do their part to keep the household running. I didn’t have the idea of gender assigned jobs. Anything I saw on TV, in movies, or read in books was all fake. I even thought of the idea of gender assigned jobs as silly, and if they really did exist in someone’s mind then they were probably older than dirt. Then I met the man I ended up marrying.
He came from a traditional two parent home, with a brother and sister. His father did most of the working, and his mother did most of the caretaking. However, my husband never spoke strongly about gender differences. In fact, he was adamant that women and men could work together and should share responsibilities. I was sold. Not only did I fall in love with him, but I felt mutual respect existed between us. Then we had our first child.
That was when comments like “But you’re the mom” and “But you know what to do better” started becoming commonly used to shift certain responsibilities my way. Fortunately, he wasn’t being sexist. Most of those comments were made out of uncertainty for the task, and a fear of screwing up our daughter. That was when the feminist in me reared up and roared.
As a first time mother I had no more clue than he did as a first time father. We were in this together, and by golly that meant I could not assume all the caretaking. We both worked full-time jobs, and now we were also going to be full-time parents. Part of our problem in the early days of parenthood was admittedly me. When he had a question I had the answer. When I had a question I researched. This resulted in the misperception he had that I did indeed know everything there was to know about our baby because he never heard me express any doubt about what I was doing.
Finally, I had to admit that if I wanted my daughter to grow up believing that she had two competent, capable parents then I was going to have to believe it too. In order to believe it I was going to have to trust him, and give him a chance to figure things out the way I did. So I showed him all the books, websites, and started talking to him about what might work best for our daughter. We started learning and making decisions together.
Now we have two kids, a daughter and a son. I want them to grow up believing that their gender does not make one smarter or better than the other. As age permits they will begin to assume more responsibilities around the house, which means each of them will take turns doing everything so that they learn how to take care of themselves. It also means that they have to see their father and me do everything equally too because that is true feminist parenting, equality.