My 3-year-old and I were walking the dog one afternoon and saw a boy walking his dog on the other side of the street. He was by himself.
“Where is his mommy?” my daughter asked.
“I’m not sure,” I said. “It looks like he is old enough to walk the dog by himself.”
“Maybe she is in the kitchen,” she said.
Hold on. What? Her default mommy location is in the kitchen? My feminist alarms blazing, I responded a little drastically.
“Maybe. Or maybe she’s in the garage building something with tools.”
My example had some context. A few weeks earlier, I asked her if she wanted to help me hang a picture on the wall.
“Daddy is the one who uses the hammer,” she said.
Apparently, my preschooler has her gender roles firmly rooted in 1950. This disturbs me but is also somewhat inevitable given the way that our family is structured. My husband is the one who leaves for work every morning while I stay home with the girls. I’m a freelance writer but that rarely means putting on a professional outfit and heading downtown; I usually write in coffee shops two afternoons a week when the sitter comes. Sometimes it’s more of a “blogging in my PJs after the kids go to bed” kind of gig.
I do most of the cooking because I do the meal planning and grocery shopping and I’m the one with the time to do it. But my husband cooks breakfast every morning and about two dinners a week. He’s very capable in the kitchen. It’s not like I’m slinging dinner while he’s kicked back on the couch watching TV.
Also, my daughter is 3. She is comforted when things conform to her worldview because it helps her make sense of what’s happening around her. The fact that some families have mothers who stay home, some who work in offices, some who work construction, and some who are even married to another mommy is a lot more complicated to process than “Mommies cook in kitchens while daddies go to work (and use hammers.)”
Ever since her two comments, I’ve found myself really hamming it up whenever I go to work. I talk about how I have articles due and I need to go write them as I hoist my computer bag up on my shoulder.
The drawbacks of modeling traditional gender roles to my daughters crossed my mind when I decided to become a (mostly) stay-at-home mom three years ago. I have to trust that as they get older, they will understand the nuances of modern gender roles and make their own choices to cook, drill into walls, go to an office—or maybe do all three on the same day.