Think fast: you’re standing in the kitchen with your kids and your toddler needs someone to help her get her shoes on. You have two daughters and a son who are standing right next to her. Who do you ask to help?
If you’re me, you probably ask one of your girls. And if you’re me, you’re probably also horrified when you realize that you’re guilty of asking your daughters — instead of your son — for help 99 percent of the time.
I grew up watching my brother get out of household chores by protesting that he “didn’t know how” to do them. Even back then, I remember thinking his excuses were a bunch of crap. Women are not naturally “better” at household chores, helping small children put on shoes, being responsible, or doing the 8,571 other little things I’m guilty of asking my daughters, instead of my son, to do.
But as women, we do these things because we are expected to. And because we are expected, we learn. Eventually, it becomes easier to just do things ourselves than ask for help or instruct someone else on how. And you know what that means? The males in our family get to skip over these parts of life completely.
I’m not sure why I automatically rely on my girls to help me, but I do. Maybe it’s because they are older at 7 and 9 years old. Or maybe it’s because they always so willing to pitch in and help, unlike my 5-year-old son who tends to do that limp noodle thing and collapse on the floor whenever I ask him for something.
But in all seriousness, it has dawned on me that the majority of the time, if I need someone to help get a little person’s shoe on, set the table, or pass out chicken nuggets to the back seat of the minivan, I ask one of my daughters.
By defaulting to the easy ask of my girls, I am reinforcing those tired gender stereotypes that play into how our sons will act as men someday. I’ve spent years silently training my girls to “see” what needs to be done. Even as kids, they can spot when a younger child is about to get into something they shouldn’t. They are attuned to when their little sister needs help, and even remind my son when he needs to wear his special shirt to school.
In short, I’ve spent years training them to be, well, mothers. And as a mother myself, I know how frustrated I get when my own husband doesn’t “see” the things that I do — a baby that needs a diaper change, a kid about to hurt themselves, a fridge running low on ketchup. But clearly, that sort of vision — or lack thereof — doesn’t develop overnight. We spend years fine-tuning how we treat our sons and daughters to become adults that will act the same way.
I’m embarrassed by my actions, especially because I know better. In fact, I spent a lot of my childhood vowing that I would never let a boy get away with the excuse that he “didn’t know how” to clean. I’ve even tried to take a stand in my own household that cleaning is not “my” responsibility because I’m female and a mother; and how the invisible work of women demands to be recognized.
I’m also embarrassed because I’m selling my son, daughters, and their potential partners short. I’m selling my son short by not empowering him with the knowledge and pride that comes with learning new skills and contributing to the household. I’m selling my daughters short by silently reinforcing the belief it’s “their” job to look after little kids and be the organized, responsible ones — a belief that adult women know all too well can be very damaging later in life.
So, it’s time to stop.
It’s time to stop defaulting to my daughters to be my right-hand women. It’s time to stop automatically turning to them when I need help on the domestic front. Most importantly, it’s time to start raising my son into the type of man the world needs.
I’ve started small by asking my son to do things I would normally ask my girls to do, such as fetching me something or holding his little sister’s hand as we walk across the parking lot. I’ve gently reminded my daughters that it’s not their job to make sure his backpack gets ready every night. I’ve invited my son to join in on tasks around the house. And last night at dinner, I experimented by giving him a “bigger” chore to sweep the floors after dinner. And wouldn’t you know it? That little stinker did a fantastic job.
Truth be told, he swept the floor better than my husband does. He got into the nooks and crannies and was floating around the kitchen like a ballerina (shaped like a linebacker), blissfully sucking up all the dust bunnies. Heck, he even swept the stray needles from the Christmas tree I had been purposefully ignoring. He had a blast and he was so proud of himself that his dimpled cheeks practically burst open from smiling when I told him what a great job he did.
It was an encouraging moment to see, and while I will happily relinquish all future sweeping to my son, this is about more than dust bunnies. It’s about teaching my son to be the type of man who sees the work that needs to be done without having to be asked to “help.”