We all know about gender neutral parenting. That’s the clever idea that girls should be given as many trucks and action figures as barbies, and boys should be assigned to as many household chores as girls. That part all makes sense to me. But what about the old fashioned idea of raising well-mannered ladies and gentlemen? Is that sexist?
A few nights ago, I witnessed such a thing. My family joined another for dinner at their home followed by an outdoor glow-in-the-dark art exhibition. I happen to be a single mother with two daughters and in my house we all do boy and girl behaviors as a necessity — although I admit, my toy chest is seriously lacking in trucks and action figures. The family we joined has two girls and one boy.
During dinner, I noticed that the father (who is from a former British colony and probably had a strict British school education) told his daughters to sit up straight and eat like a “lady.” Okay, so I just tell my girls that it’s gross to show their food when it is half chewed. Except for the semantics, we are on the same course.
We are living in a time when Americans are obsessed with partner selection. Our media is full of dating news, celebrity dating stories, dating TV shows, and dating advice columns (guilty.) The problem is this: While we are consumed with attracting and procuring a mate, we are less concerned with acquiring good relationship tools. In other words, once we find a lover, we have no idea how to maintain the relationship past the sexual chemistry decline, so we blame our “poor choice” and start searching again. This is understandable. We are now dealing with multi-generational divorce patterns so many Americans have not witnessed strong love skills in our parents nor our grandparents.
Recently I posted a simple question to some of my Facebook friends. I asked if you had one perfect tip for long lasting love, what would it be. My followers loved this question. In a matter of minutes I had more than fifty helpful responses.
Last weekend sports reporter Ines Sainz of TV Azteca of Mexico endured a series of cat calls, boyish antics, and was obstructed from walking through the NY Jets locker room because of the barrage of aggressive, male, sexual attention. She tweeted in Spanish that the language was so foul, she had to cover her ears and that she was “dying of embarrassment.”
This event created a public cross between the NFL, the Association for Women in Sports Media and the court of public opinion that seems to have weighed in on the side of the players. The public’s argument: The men’s inappropriate words and actions in the workplace can be excused by Ms. Sainz’s provocative attire. In other words, many are using this incident to breath new life into the old debate about women in professional sports locker rooms.
Except no one blamed the real culprit.
Humans are amazing beings. We have the capacity to cry at TV news stories, feel deep empathy for sports underdogs, and group together in candle light vigils for people we have never met. But why do we do it?
In some ways connecting with the tragedy of strangers is a cathartic act. A selfish house-cleaning of sorts. The webster dictionary definition of catharsis is a purging of the bowels. Therefore, if you will permit me the slang, double entendre, one of the reasons we mourn the losses of strangers is to get our own shit out.
But there’s more to our tears than trash disposal. Communal sharing of emotions, whether it be through television sets, on Facebook, or in person at vigils, is one way that humans heal. We reach out to others, connect, bond, feel empathy, and ultimately become stronger. Connection with others is the best way to feel emotionally better. When I feel turbulence on a plane, I find that I immediately strike up a conversation with my seat mate and notice my anxiety immediately decrease. Last year, I survived an emotionally tortuous stint in a closed MRI tube by the glorious finger tips of a caring friend whose touch helped me overcome my fears.
Recently my twelve-year-old daughter brought me her first real problem. I’ll save you the details of the problem, because the important point is that I felt honored she would disclose such private adolescent material to her dear old ma. In my day, I wouldn’t have dared breath a word about my inner emotional world to my Catholic, admonishing mother. My relationship with my mother revolved around household chores and academic success. Personal problems landed in my diary or with my peers.
But times have changed. Children’s inner voices and emotional lives are being respected and even nurtured. Mothers are in some ways becoming friends with their children. And the relationship is a two-way street with mothers disclosing more and more to their kids, especially their daughters, about their own internal worlds. All this begs a few questions. Like, where should the boundaries be between mothers and daughters? When is close, too close? Are kids (even adult kids) ever ready to hear about parents’ personal problems?
First of all, when children are young, they really need a parent more than another friend. Parents provide boundaries and protection. Disclosing adult problems to small children can give them anxiety. On-the-other hand, children are tiny sponges that soak up their parents’ emotional moods, so trying to hide your feelings is like trying to hide a steak from a canine. Being emotionally open and disclosing the source of your sadness or anxiety in limited, simple terms is the healthy way to go. Assuring children that your emotional state is not their fault and that you are solely responsible for finding a solution is the way to stay a protective parent even when you are distressed.