Be the Boss

Last night at the dinner table, Antony was joking around with our five year-old daughter, encouraging her to finish up her burger and carrots. “Who’s the boss here?” he asked.

“Daddy and Mama,” Annabel answered, while dipping her pointer finger in ketchup.

“Yep, that’s right, Daddy’s the boss of all of you,” he said.

“Even Mama?” Annabel asked.

“Especially Mama!” Antony joked.

I shot him a look. “That’s not true, Bel, Daddy’s just teasing.”

Antony continued, “She’s right. Mama and Daddy are a team, but Daddy’s the captain!”

My look turned ominous and I actually said out loud, “Is that really what you want to teach your daughter about marriage?”

Now, I know that Antony was completely joking around, and Annabel’s pretty savvy to her father’s sense of humor, but I do think that even jokes can sink into a girl’s psyche. And I don’t want my daughter to ever think that a man, even (and especially) her husband, is the boss of her.

Usually, our talks about gender roles and the sharing of marital responsibilities aren’t so pointed and aren’t conducted in front of our kids. Not that I think that disagreeing or healthy arguing is bad to do in front of your children. In fact, I feel the opposite–when our kids see Antony and I having a disagreement and hear us hash it out, it models a real, honest, sane approach to problem-solving in a marriage.

My parents didn’t out-and-out argue much in front of me, that I recall. My mom’s much more even-tempered (okay, those of you who know my parents are cracking up right now) than my fiery dad. I think half the time, she just ignores any rants or explosive tirades my dad has. Perhaps that’s why they’ve been married for almost 42 years. But I will say that my parents did give me what I see is a huge gift–they showed me the power of a marriage in which two people work together.

My parents, baby-boomers, have mostly stuck to their typical gender roles. My dad works diligently in a nine to five job and came home every night in his suit and tie, ready for dinner. My mom, an award-winning teacher, stopped working when my older sister was born and went back to work just in time for me to get the chicken pox, when I was in second grade. She’s still teaching today.

But even though my mom stayed home with me when I was little, and even though she still takes on more of the “typical female” tasks like grocery shopping, most of the cooking, and cleaning, I never viewed my dad as the boss of my mom. Perhaps it’s because I saw, and still see, my parents work together to create their home. After my mom went back to work, if I was home sick from school, it was Dad who took me to the doctor for the umpteenth sinus infection and Dad who drove me home from having my wisdom teeth removed. My dad will mop the kitchen floor if it’s dirty, my mom will shovel the driveway, and together they’ll ready the house for a party and complete the clean-up afterwards. Since having grandchildren, I can attest to the fact that my dad is just as willing and capable to put the kids to bed as my mom is.

I want my own children to have this same type of view as I do. I want Annabel to know that even though Daddy’s the one who works full-time right now, that Mama’s the one who manages the family’s finances and pays all the bills. I want Luke to know that Mama’s working part-time to help pay those bills, but that she’s choosing to forego a full-fledged career right now. I want my kids to see Antony and I working together as a team, that even though Mama might write that grocery list, that Daddy does the shopping on his way home. That Daddy might catch that fish, but he can also fry it up in a pan himself. And Mama’s pretty good at fixing that garbage disposal, too!

I know that marriage cannot always be equal. There are times of give and take for both of us, and I know (deep down) that keeping a scorecard of who’s winning will only lead to discontent. But by working toward a sense of gender equality and NOT trying to “be the boss,” we’re not only strengthening our own relationship, but we’re also setting our children up for healthier relationships of their own someday.

Some mornings, when Antony helps Annabel get ready for school, she asks him to help do her hair. His only skill in that arena is to shove two barrette-like purple hair bows on either side of her forehead. Is it as beautiful as Mama can manage? No, but by stepping outside of our “typical” gender roles, it’s okay to have effort count for more than skill.

Because I truly believe that our children absorb all of this–our attitudes, our efforts, our conversations about gender roles. And just like I don’t ever want Antony or any other man to “be the boss of me,” I don’t want Annabel and Luke to succumb to that either.

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