The gender gap is shrinking; we all want our sons to benefit from that.
Women have really struggled to get every inch of headway they have achieved in the workplace. And while that headway is impressive, it is far from perfect. Part of the issue is that women are still gaining equality, but culturally they are still predisposed to running the household and raising the children so many women end up doing double duty.
To continue the march toward a more equally balanced work and home life, it’s important that we illustrate to our children that both women and men can do any kind of work, and a successful home is one in which everyone is helping. Here are some ways we can teach our sons to be more accepting and engaged so that we put them on solid footing to be fathers and partners one day.
- Do away with the myth that you are cheating your children by working. A recent study at Harvard Business School looked at families with working mothers from 24 different countries and found that the daughters of working moms were more likely to be professionals themselves, and to earn more than girls with stay-at-home moms. And while it didn’t seem to affect their income prospects, boys from households with working moms were reported to be kinder and spend more time caring for other family members. The upshot? Working moms improve their daughters’ professional futures and their sons’ caregiving and interpersonal skills.1
- Dad does childcare. Men, to their credit, are recognizing that their homes and relationships are stronger when they pitch in with things like diapers and shopping. According to Pew Research, there was a marked increase of stay-at-home dads from 1989 to 2014, with two million dads as primary caregivers2. A wide range of studies agree that spending time with dad is critical to social, emotional, and leadership skills for both girls and boys.
- Talk to him. A recent article in Forbes interviewed the adult children of working moms. Both men and women reported having respect and appreciation for their mothers’ work ethic and resourcefulness.3 It’s an essential part of education for boys to understand why it is necessary for both men and women to work, not just for financial reasons, but also for a confident sense of self.
- There is a disconnect too, between real life and the way women appear in the movies, TV, and video games. We owe it to our boys to explain the difference between objectified portrayals of females and real people so they are able to see them as equals and have the full range of relationships.
- Degenderize the toys. Our cultural attitudes about gender start young. Parents realize that it is healthy for girls to play with trucks and boys can play with dolls or stuffies. Still, children receive plenty of static and stereotypic messages about gender when they are very young, so bringing unisex, interactive toys into the mix helps to level the field too. There is a brilliant range of toys on the market that have done away with gender-specific targeting. This also encourages more interaction between boys and girls at an age when it’s common for them to pair off by gender.
- Provide good role models. We talk a lot in our society about how boys need positive role models, and this is because numerous studies have been conducted on boys that don’t have positive examples of masculinity. Boys in households with no supportive male figure are more likely to founder academically and socially, which translates to their viability in the job market4.
This does not mean the sons of single moms are doomed, but it does indicate that no matter what the family configuration is, time with adult men is critical to a boy’s success in his future work and relationships. This can be older family members like uncles and granddads, or friends of the family and male teachers. It’s also helpful to point out public figures, both male and female, who are making a contribution or overcoming challenges.
If we really play our part as parents, our children will live in a world where boys and girls are on equal footing, where their attributes, talents, and perspectives are embraced by society. As working moms, we must step up to the plate and ensure that our sons understand historically what we have overcome as women and the value we hold for the world. In essence, this is the job of shaping our boys into outstanding men.