With transgender bathrooms now a federally required provision in public schools, I’ve realized how gender roles are naturally investigated by children who look to their parents. My realization was birthed while staring at a family portrait, snapped while we were on vacation.
The photo illustrated an interesting family dynamic. While my son held my hand, his eyes were fixed on his dad; while my daughter held dad’s hand, her eyes were trained on me. The symbolism was rich.
As my son held tight to the assuredly unconditional love of his mother (renowned psychologist, Dr. Emerson Eggerichs discusses this dynamic in his book Mother and Son), he appeared to be intent on observing his dad for direction. While my daughter leaned into the reliable and protective grip of her dad, she looked to me (her mom) for feminine cues. I understand that it doesn’t always work this way, but let’s get the takeaway. Our kids look to us. They observe our actions. They translate our cues. This is literally how we are shaping the next generation. It’s an age-old adage: the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree… but the tree needs to remember this, lest the apples fall unnoticed.
Boys looking to dads and girls looking to moms is not an absolute. I have widowed friends who must be both mom and dad to their children. I have friends with only girls or only boys, which doesn’t mean one parent gets excluded entirely when it comes to being emulated. I have friends whose kids are one of the 0.3 percent of Americans who struggle with gender identity. So, my photo example is not a hard and fast rule. However, I think it contains a reminder for all parents.
They’re watching… while they hold on. As the resident nosy neighbor, I once observed my neighbor — a mom — walk out on her deck to descend the stairs. She walked with her head slightly down and her hair covering part of her face. As she walked down the stairs, she bent down to pick something up from a step and proceeded to place said thing in a pot at the end of her descent. Her teenage daughter came out after her. First, the daughter traversed the deck and then, descended the stairs, with head at the same tilt and hair hanging in front of her face. She also bent down to pick something up and place the thing in the pot at the bottom… just like her mom. They’re watching us, observing our cues and imitating, even as teens.
The late comedienne, Gilda Radner, is quoted as telling the following story in her autobiography, It’s Always Something: “When I was little, my nurse Dibby’s cousin had a dog, just a mutt, and the dog was pregnant. I don’t know how long dogs are pregnant, but she was due to have her puppies in about a week. She was out in the yard one day and got in the way of the lawnmower and her two hind legs got cut off. They rushed her to the vet and he said, ‘I can sew her up, or you can put her to sleep in you want, but the puppies are okay. She’ll be able to deliver the puppies.’ Dibby’s cousin said, ‘Keep her alive.’ So the vet sewed up her backside and over the next week the dog learned to walk. She didn’t spend any time worrying, she just learned to walk by taking two steps in the front and flipping up her backside, and then taking two steps and flipping up her backside again. She gave birth to six little puppies, all in perfect health. She nursed them and then weaned them. And when they learned to walk, they all walked like her.”
Let that be your motivation… remembering your kids are learning how to live and behave by watching you. We all fail to provide the perfect example; however, we can recover. Sometimes, when I realize I’ve provided a bad example to my son, I’ll tell him I handled something poorly and apologize. My husband will do the same thing. Our son has become a good apologizer. When I find I’m gossiping in the car with my daughter, I’ll make a point of resisting the gossip urge next time we’re driving, by deflecting a harsh word or simply staying quiet. Recently, my daughter has begun to correct me when she thinks I’m being too critical of someone.
Think of Titus 2:7: “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity…” and parent with this in mind. Your kids are watching.
How can you remind yourself, on a difficult day, to choose to model the right behavior in front of your child?