SAHM No More explores the the ups-and-downs of navigating a new world of parenting, transitioning from married stay-at-home motherhood to a full-time working, divorced motherhood. And there are a lot of adjustments being made—a lot of adjustments and not a lot of sleep.
I received an email from my 11-year-old son’s teacher the other day. The last couple of emails that I’ve received from this teacher have been about my son’s, well, let’s just say substandard organizational skills, so I assumed that this note would be on the same topic. I was incredibly surprised and happy to see that instead the teacher wanted to commend my son on his behavior on a class field trip.
They had taken the subway to a museum and my son had given all of the money in his wallet to some of the buskers his class had come across. His teacher wrote to tell me that she was impressed with his kindness and generosity and by the fact that his eyes teared up when he said he wished he had more money to give. His teacher went on to say that I was clearly raising my son right and that he was a perfect gentlemen, and “not like other boys.”
And that was where I paused.
I completely understand what his teacher was trying to convey, and I know she only had the best intentions. But, it was still a bit startling to see it put as bluntly as “your son did something generous, he’s not like a typical boy.” Because, well, what does that even mean? What is a typical boy supposed to be like? Is a typical boy supposed to lack empathy or not have his eyes fill easily with tears? Is a typical boy not supposed to want to help people in need?
Lately, I feel like I’ve been inundated with gender stereotypes having to do with both my sons and myself. It’s not just about my son being singled out as different from other boys, it’s also me. I feel separate sometimes from what a mom is “supposed” to be. And what a mom is “supposed” to be falls pretty much in line with gender stereotypes that stretch back for decades, stereotypes that don’t lend themselves to the reality of life as a contemporary working mom.
When I picked up my younger son from his after-school program the other day, he mentioned that he wanted to have a playdate with one of his best friends. I had to explain to him that I’ve been trying to set one up, but that it’s been too hard with my work schedule.
He looked at me and said, “Why can’t you be like other moms? They always pick up their kids. You’re more like a dad.”
I immediately pointed out to him that this wasn’t true and that plenty of his friends were picked up by their fathers. But the reality is that there is still this idea ingrained in my son’s head that it’s mothers who ought to be picking up their kids. That there is some fundamental way in which I am not doing my job.
I’ve worked very hard—especially as a single mother—to teach my two boys that while people might be different, they are all equal. They understand this to a certain extent, or, at least, as much as they are intellectually capable of anyway. But I also get afraid of having them fall into the all-too-common societal trap of doing what is expected of them as “boys” and expecting certain behaviors to come out of “girls.”
I just want both of my sons to grow up realizing that mothers and fathers work and boys and girls are empathetic, among other things. Basically, as trite as it sounds, we are all human with the same core responsibilities to other humans and the same moral compasses. We’re just all in this together.