Thursday, January 3, 2013

Knowing Your Roles

"Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else." -Judy Garland

We all have a job as parents. Moms and dads. No matter how our families happen to be constructed. No matter which roles in the family we hold, we are responsible for teaching our children. Showing them the way. Whether we like it or not, they are watching us. Watching us for how to be and how to act.

My parents had traditional roles. My mom was a housewife for most of my childhood, before they opened their swimming pool business. Before that, my dad worked a lot to support us. There were a lot of late nights where I remember him coming home as I was laying in bed.

To a certain extent, My Director and I have turned those roles around. We both work. We divide cleaning evenly. The kitchen and bathrooms are my responsibility. She handles the finances and is even better than me at fixing certain most things. I do the cooking. We don't follow traditional roles for a mom and dad.

Two examples from Christmas, one past and one present, tell the story...

My Director fixing the tree.
(Me taking picture.)
A couple of weeks ago, our Christmas tree fell down while we were at work. My Director was the first one home and didn't hesitate to jump in and assess the tree stand situation. Meanwhile, once I arrived on the scene, I took pictures for the blog and attended to the more pressing matter of figuring out how to save Googily, our Elf on the Shelf. Googily was sitting in the tree at the time it fell. (The big thing about the Elf is if you touch him he loses his magic. You can read more about this hilarious and potentially catastrophic adventure HERE.) I was also concerned about how long this disaster would delay dinner.

She was the repair person. Once the Elf was safely tucked away at an alternate location, with the use of grilling tongs, I announced that dinner had to be started. By me. A few minutes later My Director, having swapped out the new stand that we just bought thinking it was better than the old reliable one, called me over to "hold the tree" while she tightened the screws on the old reliable one. I may not be handy, but I'm still strong and (somewhat) muscular. I can lift heavy things with the best of them. Only to a point...

Before I lifted, I warned her that I only had two minutes for this endeavor. At the most. I was at a crucial point in the cooking process. My hands and face full of tree, getting an effective if unexpected shoulder workout, I heard what I knew I'd hear at some point during this nuisance of a project and said:
"I hear my olive oil crackling..."
"This'll just take a minute..."
Famous last words. I didn't want my oil to burn. Thankfully, it didn't. She tightened the last bolt, I let go, the tree stood on its own, and I sauteed my tilapia. (And it was delicious.) Not only do I not enjoy handy work, I don't like being the helper either. When my dad would ask me to "hold this" when he was fixing something in or around our home growing up, I would roll my eyes and groan. I found it incredibly boring and tedious. In hindsight, I wish I had absorbed some of that do-it-yourself knowledge. But I didn't. What I did absorb is everything my mom was doing in the kitchen. Turns out, I'd rather cook something than fix something. Although, one might argue that in cooking I am fixing something. And something pretty big at that.

Christmas morning 2008.
Peanut sees me doing the cooking, and she knows no different. So if she herself likes to pretend to cook, it is not an assault on the women's movement. That brings me to my example from Christmas past: For her second Christmas - her first real Christmas - we bought her a play kitchen. Four years later, it remains a centerpiece of her playroom, of her play life. Shortly after that Christmas, one of our friends - someone without children - came to visit and made a snarky comment about the kitchen re-enforcing traditional, subservient roles for women. This friend voiced concerns about the message we were sending to our daughter. I responded with the obvious:
"Who does she see cooking in our REAL kitchen every night?"
Me making crab cakes
for Christmas Eve.
(Recipe HERE.)
Score one for daddy. Still, even last month at the dentist's office, the hygienist cleaning Peanut's teeth was surprised to hear that I'm the cook in the family. It's unfortunate that it's so surprising, but not a lot of men do the cooking I guess. That's fine. Whatever works in your house. Just know that those of us who do cook have to bear the brunt of the shock because of all of those who don't. That's annoying, but Peanut knows what's up.

She's watching. She's watching both of us, observing and absorbing. She looks up to her mom because she has the same hair as her and works in the fun school with the older girls and the cool office. That's fine with me. She sees me cooking, and when she pretends to prepare us a meal, I beam with pride. Not because a woman belongs in the kitchen, but because she's acquiring a love of cooking from me, a boy who got his love of cooking from his mom.

I want her to believe she can do anything she wants, do it well, and do it just as well if not better than any other boy or girl.

Peanut is not only watching us, she's listening as well. I learned that lesson the hard way recently. I wrote about that HERE.


  1. This whole notion of women in the kitchen I'm fairly certain is strictly an American stereotype. Reason being is, I come from a large Italian family, and the majority of the men cooked. My Grandfathers on both sides were the cooks in the house. My husband tries cooking, but we've since established that is NOT his forte. So he sticks with computer repairs and assembling Ikea/electronics... Marriage, and families, are about supporting one another, so if your strength is in the kitchen, and your spouses isn't, then, that's your job. Hi5 for being comfortable with who you are and not trying to live up to stereotypes.

    1. 100% Italian-American right here... guilty as charged. ;-)

    2. You grew up in Toms River too! I swear the whole area is nothing but Italians. *laughs*

  2. This is great! I, too, do 99% of the cooking in our house. My wife helps with my son's homework while I make dinner. We both work and that's just how it worked out. It's kind of funny that too many men never cook and then complain that their wives are too tired for sex. Duh. My wife is also the handy one! Our house may be held together with velcro and zip ties, but it's better than I could do! Happy New Year!
    Justin- Writing Pad Dad
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    1. Funny how that works out sometimes, eh?

      And if I didn't cook, he would eat. Eat well, at least.

  3. One of my sons always points out to his teacher that his "Daddy" does all the cooking and cleaning. Apparently to the point of annoyance. I wish there was a way to get into schools and help boys understand that there are alternatives to the "traditional" roles still espoused in some schools.
    Great post as usual

    1. That's great that you do the cooking in your house! I do, too! However, I am not sure how a post on gender roles in the home became a slam against schools. As a teacher, I can assure you that the annoying part wasn't your son going up against the "traditional roles" being "espoused" by "some schools". Rather, the annoying part was either your son sharing the same thing over and over again and/or sharing while the teacher was trying to teach.

    2. No "slam" intended. Gosh, I always get myself in trouble. I volunteer regularly at my sons school and am always told that it is so nice to see a Dad in the classroom, as if it is a surprise. Moms are asked to make sure the kids have a snack tomorrow in the e-mails every teacher my kid has had sent home. It's a real thing. Oh, and thanks for disciplining my kid...

    3. A couple of things:

      1: On the original point: Peanut's class has a dad who's one of the "class parents." That's pretty cool. Personally, after volunteering at the pancake breakfast in October I realized I wanted very little if nothing to do with PTA/school involvement. That's just me. Maybe a lot of other dads as well. (And a subject for another blog post.)

      2: Knowing IHIWAT, I can attest that he's a stand up guy and meant no harm with his comment.

      3: No one will be winning an internet argument here except me.

  4. Great post and comments which solidify that most often we become our parents in one way or another. I saw my mom do much of the handy work in the house since my dad worked very long hours. I too did/still do all the handy work since grampy works long hours. Hey someone has to do it and I like to get it done. Can't wait for 'whenever'. As for the PTA, they are too catty and cliqueie(sp?) you don't want to get into their hairpulling, it's too ugly and we can better serve the kids on our own volunteering terms.

    You are all doing great things and I know your partners are very happy! It's the 21st century and about time society realizes we should play to our strengths though they may be unconventional.

    Happy New Year! and continued success.

    Joanne/Winelady Cooks

    1. Thanks, Joanne. You are so right... especially about the PTA. No. Thanks.

  5. This is so awesome. I let my son do girl things and my daughter do boy things. We both work as well and it seems many people don't understand when a man does woman's work and vice versa. One day, we will not even bat an eye at gender role reversal.

    1. Peanut played tee-ball this fall. Because SHE wanted to. And you're right... hopefully one day it will be so common it won't even be worth writing about.

  6. Just wanted to say how much I LOVE this post. You and your Director are teaching your daughter such a wonderful lesson. Peanut couldn't ask for better roll models. I do all the cooking in our family but not because of some silly roll I have to play but because I am passionate about food and preparing it. If I ever have a boy I hope to teach him to be just as passionate about cooking as I will teach my daughter. But if in the end she just wants to write code and build computers with her dad I will be equally as proud.

  7. Great post. My husband and I have very traditional roles in our home which suits me just fine. However, I find myself trying very hard to make sure my three daughters know that is not the way it HAS to be. Like you said in the last line, I want them to know they can do anything and that they do not have to be defined by "traditional" feminine roles - even though that is what they typically see.

    1. Exactly. We do what works for us... and give them all the options to do what works for them. And help them figure it out.


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