There are so many great book lists out there: ‘the best chapter books for four year olds,’ ‘20 great adventure books,’ ‘100 books you must read to your child’. If you want a list of great book ideas, somewhere out there is a list for you. With the cold months of winter here, and the anticipation of lots of time snuggled up on the couch with a few good books, I’ve been reading through quite a few of these lists lately. The other day I came across a list of independent and powerful princess books, and ordered the Apple Pip Princess by Jane Ray for my daughter. This wonderful book features a young princess who rises to the challenge of ruling a kingdom through the simple act of planting a tree. After reading this book to my four year old boy/girl twins, I realized how easily I had fallen into the gender trap. I bought a book about a princess (albeit a powerful princess) for my daughter. It didn’t even cross my mind that instead of purchasing a book about a powerful princess for my daughter, I should have bought this book for my son.
Yes, I want my daughters to grow up feeling like they are powerful and can take on the world. If they want to play sports, and run for president, or if they want to stay home and raise their children, I want those things for them, and I want them to believe they can do those things. But my girls are already powerful and they already believe they can do those things just as well as boys, and unless they learn differently somewhere else, they don’t need me to teach them that.
But what I want, just as much as I want to empower my daughters, is to teach my son that girls are powerful. I want him to realize that girls are powerful because they choose to play sports, and compete in the job market, but I also want him to know they are powerful because they can cook and mother and sew. I want my son to value those ‘female’ skills that are so devalued in our society: compassion, the arts, crafting, cooking, gardening, etc. He needs to know that sewing clothes for your children is a powerful thing to do. When someone tells him that he throws like a girl, I want him to see it as a compliment not an insult, and I want him to feel empowered if he chooses to become a dancer instead of a football player.
There are countless moments everyday where my four year olds explore the idea of gender; countless times that I have the opportunity to affect my children’s perceptions of themselves and others. A few weeks ago, after picking up my twins from their tap and ballet class, my son, Finley turned to me and announced “I’m the only boy in the whole class.” I resisted the urge to jump right in and tell him all the reasons that this was a good thing, and why it was good for boys to be involved in the arts, and what a shame it is that more boys aren’t given the chance to dance. At which point I’m sure I would get an eye roll and the conversation would have come to an abrupt halt. Instead I bit my tongue and waited to see where this thought would take him. After a moment of silence, he remarked “I guess that makes me special.”
“Yes Finley, it does,” I thought.
Raising girl/boy twins has given me a unique opportunity to see the two genders develop side by side. And while I do my best to treat them the same, they simply aren’t the same, and this isn’t a bad thing. I am raising my son to be a man and maybe a dad and I’m raising my daughters to be women and maybe mothers. The message I’m seeking to pass on is not that boys and girls are the same, but that their skills are equally valued, that they are each in charge of their own destinies, and that they are equally powerful. If my daughter wants to run a company someday and my son wants to be a stay at home dad, I want them to feel comfortable making those choices.
Even when I do my best, there are messages all around, subtly telling children how different genders function in society. Just the fact that I stay home while my husband works sends a message to my children. But I’ve realized that if I really want my son to value ‘female’ traits and skills, it starts with me feeling powerful. When I knead dough, or knit, or drive my children to ballet class, I need do it from a place of power. Like so many things in life, it is all about the actions we take, and how we take them that sends messages to the little ones in our lives.
Tomorrow as I move forward, I will seize some of those moments to empower my children. I will teach my son to see women, not as people who need to be told to be powerful, but people who are powerful: whether they move mountains or tend the garden. I will make sure my son knows that his mom is totally awesome not in spite of being a stay at home mom, but because she is a stay at home mom.
For all of my children, I will model that power does not always come from being strong, it is not reserved exclusively for leaders, and it is not a male or female quality. Power derives from strength, and strength resides within, and this is true whether you are a girl or a boy.
Gretchen Stuppy Carlson spends her days living simply and joyfully in upstate NY with her husband, three young children, a dog, 2 goats and a coop full of chickens. On any given day, you can find her backyard farming, crafting, painting, parenting, and blogging all about it at her space here, and here.
Rhythm of the Home is an online magazine for families that focuses on creating with children, nature explorations, seasonal celebrations, conscious parenting, and mindfulness in all that we do.