There are life skills that all of our children need, regardless of gender. But gender differences in parenting often create gaps in the skill sets children are learning. While it may seem innocent enough at the age of five to gloss over a number of skills, it may become problematic at 25 or even 35 when those skills still haven’t been acquired.
Some of the same things we need to teach our children are the qualities we also look for in a partner. We are likely raising someone’s future partner, but we’re also raising future adults who need to be equipped for independent living. When we think about what we want in a partner, it can help guide how we parent and the life skills we teach our children.
I’m a single mother, raising both a son and daughter. It’s not a responsibility that I take lightly. While they have a father that’s involved in their lives, the major responsibility for learning values and life skills falls to me as the full-time custodial parent. As a person who wants to raise my children without the interference of toxic double standards, I have to examine how I was raised and how I want my children to be raised.
Clearly, not everything we learned from our own upbringing will be ideal, as our parents and caregivers were human, too. We can decide which aspects of our own childhood we want to pass on and also decide which ones we’d like to change. For those of us who grew up in a culture saturated with strict gender norms and double standards, we may want to do a few things differently.
There are some basic life skills that our children need to learn, and these are also skills that are invaluable in our relationships.
How to Clean a House.
This is the first thing to come to mind simply because housework is just a basic part of living. If we live somewhere, we should know how to care for it. In the interest of full disclosure, I am not one of those neat freaks who keeps everything spotless. Far from it! But I do know how to clean and regularly do so to maintain my home. I’d like my children to learn how to tidy their spaces.
How to Cook a Meal.
Hey, I love lazy pizza night, too. Having a few take-out places on speed dial is great, but I want to teach my kids to cook. They actually own aprons for when I let them help me make cookies or pizza. I think having a basic set of cooking skills is one of those things that every child should learn.
Even packing a lunch can be a life skill. I can’t count how many people I’ve met over the years who are incapable of packing their own lunch for the workday and rely instead on a partner- or fast food- to fill this role. Feeding ourselves is a basic survival skill, and we should all learn how to meal plan, shop, and cook something to eat that didn’t come directly from a can or microwave meal.
How to Express Emotions Appropriately.
This is a big one. Our culture tells boys not to cry and girls not to get angry. I want both of my children to learn a full range of emotions that they can express as needed. Instead of funneling sadness or disappointment into rage or vice versa, they can feel free to express their feelings. They can learn how anger should have an outlet of expression that doesn’t involve violence, and they can develop coping skills for managing sadness. When our feelings aren’t expressed in healthy ways, it can be corrosive to relationships.
How to Communicate Effectively.
Communication isn’t just about going along to get along. It involves listening, observing body language, being vulnerable, and addressing conflict directly. Unfortunately, children often model the poor communication patterns of adults and copy aggression, passive aggression, gossiping, and manipulation.
When we teach our children to communicate effectively with others, we give them the best possible chance at healthy relationships in their lives. Instead of teaching our kids to communicate only as well as we do, we can learn to communicate better and teach them that to make them the strongest possible humans they can be.
What Consent Is and What It’s Not.
We need to be teaching consent from a young age. We should never force our children to hug or kiss relatives or friends. We should, instead, teach them that their bodies are their own, and if they don’t feel comfortable being touched, that’s okay. As parents, this also means that we don’t tickle or touch a child who has asked us to stop. As they get older, we begin to discuss how no always means no, in every circumstance.
This is a great time to remind our children that they should not touch anyone without their consent. But it’s also important to teach that when they hear a “no,” it’s important to stop- even when touching isn’t involved. Rejection shouldn’t be met with persistence; that’s called harassment.
I want my children to learn to look at human sexuality as something that’s healthy and normal. Our culture may teach my son that his desires are innate while teaching my daughter that hers aren’t, but they won’t be learning that in my home. In fact, I hope both my children understand the idea of healthy sexuality and learn that every person is worthy of respect. Additionally, how consenting adults choose to express their sexuality is none of their business.
But the double standard often infiltrates our conversations so we need to pay attention to how we talk about, and judge, other people based on the way they dress and the choices they make. Our children are listening. They’re learning by the way we react, not just by what we say. The double standards we perpetuate non-verbally may be as powerful, if not more so, than the ones we say.
How to Nurture Others.
While we’re dismantling the toxic culture of masculinity, it’s important that we encourage our boys to care for themselves and others. Instead of smacking the baby doll out of their hands, we can realize that a nurturing child may later become a loving partner. Teaching children to be generous with their affection and capable of empathizing with another person isn’t somehow making them weak; it makes them a better human and one capable of sustaining a relationship. Nurturing should be taught to all children, regardless of gender.
How to Fix and Maintain Things.
I wasn’t taught how to change a tire, change the oil in my car, or fix things around the house. My family has always advocated so-called traditional gender roles, and it’s taken me until much later in my adulthood than I’d like to learn how to take care of things that need fixing.
But it’s not just our houses and cars that we need to teach our children to fix and maintain. This attitude can also be applied to our interpersonal relationships. We can teach our children how to apologize and make amends, showing them the importance of changed behavior after apologizing. We can teach them how to maintain a relationship. It takes effort, but it will pay off in the long run when our children have the life skills they need to be successful in their relationships.
I could probably spend all day listing the qualities that I want my children to learn so that they can be happy, healthy adults capable of living independently. Those same qualities also cross over into what I’d love to see in a partner. When we conceptualize it in this way, it becomes easier to see why it’s so important that we give our kids as well-rounded an education as we can manage.
The strongest partners are self-sufficient. They aren’t reliant on us to fill their emptiness — or fix something broken in their lives. Instead of just looking for the strongest partners, we learn how to become them, too.
I know I haven’t always been a strong partner, and it’s no coincidence that I had unhealthy relationships when that was the case. Instead, I had one codependent, dysfunctional relationship after another until I learned to be as strong of a partner as I was looking for. Not that my work is done. I’m still learning.
I’m still learning how to be a parent, too. I’m learning that as I go, like everyone else. Instead of just focusing on raising good kids, I’m really trying to look at the bigger picture. I may not be able to teach them everything they need to know, but I can try to give them the best start possible.
I’m not doing it just so that they can one day have healthy relationships. I want them to be the healthiest, happiest humans possible. And to do that, I really believe we need to kiss that gender bias goodbye and teach our kids an equal set of life skills.
Previously published on medium
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