This post has been in the works for about two years now, though I've thought about it every day since I wrote my last post about working moms nearly three weeks ago.
The main point of that post was that women who choose to continue working after having children should not feel guilty about making that choice -- nor should others make them feel bad for not staying at home with their children.
But there is a flip side to this coin, and unfortunately it is not as widely spoken about as supporting working mothers is.
Those who misinterpret the phrase "provider for the family" do a disservice to both men and women.
In cultures around the world, women have long been raised to believe that their place in a marriage -- and throughout their life -- is to raise children and take care of the home. This is definitely not a bad thing. In fact, my own mother taught me the importance of learning to take care of a home and of the joys that motherhood bring, and I am grateful for that.
However, the problem comes when girls are told that there's no need for them to get a degree or work toward an education because they won't need it as a wife and mother -- or, worse yet, that they should only pursue degrees or careers that will allow them to fulfill their most important goal of being a mother.
Unfortunately, there's no guarantee that every woman who wants to get married or have children will be able to. There's also no guarantee that every husband and father can immediately provide a steady income to support his wife and children. And he shouldn't have to shoulder that pressure alone.
I want my children to grow up believing that they can achieve whatever they want to achieve, regardless of their gender or the roles they think they need to fill. Here are a few of the things I will be teaching them:
- Marriage is a partnership, and both the wife and the husband have a responsibility to contribute. If you and your husband have the income and flexibility to allow you to stay home with your children, that's wonderful. It works best for your family. If, on the other hand, your husband loses his job or is unable to adequately provide for you, making him feel guilty or refusing to help with income if you can -- whether it means taking a job or cutting back on costs -- is wrong. Assumed gender roles should never be used as an excuse or a cop-out.
- Girls should pursue their career and education goals, regardless of their desire (or lack of desire) to be wives and mothers. It's sad that with the myriad opportunities available to women today in the workplace, there are still many who have been taught that getting a degree is unnecessary or that pursuing what they really love -- if it's not known for being "family-friendly" -- is wrong. Guess what. If you want to have kids AND become a rocket scientist, you can. You can do anything you want to do if you have the passion and commitment.
- Boys should learn to respect ambitious girls and women and support them -- but they should not be taught that they're solely responsible for earning an income. I am grateful to have a husband who supports me in my career and understands that I need to contribute to our family. He has never made me feel like he expects me to stay at home with our children. I also never want him to feel stressed out because he is supposed to be the "provider" and make enough money to single-handedly pay our bills. Unfortunately, with an unstable job market and rising living costs, that kind of pressure can be absolutely crippling to fathers -- and unfair.