Welcome to Great Moments in Parenting, a series in which fathers explain a parenting hurdle they faced and the unique way they overcame it. Here, Andrew, a 40-year-old dad of two boys and one girl in Cambridge, United Kingdom, talks about the moment he overheard his son engage in some pretty high-level feminist thinking at the age of 11 while playing a board game.
We really tried very hard to raise our children, and especially our boys, as young feminists. We are real believers in the idea that a feminist is not just a bra-burning women that march on Parliament all the time. We believe everyone should be a feminist, really. It’s just pro-equality. So we really kind of batter our children over their heads with that a little bit. We try and teach them stuff like: “There is no such thing as ‘boy colors’ and ‘girl colors,’ there are just colors.” We rail against that quite a lot. They get these messages from peers, from their friends, and even some of our family members, so we have to do what we can do.
My parents are really bad about it. They’re from a different generation. They buy stuff for the grandkids when they come and visit, and they get magazines for them. They get the girly, frilly one with dolls and things to do crafts for my daughter, and they get guns and violent army magazines for the boys, so we try to balance that out in our parenting.
I was coming up the stairs when I heard it. My kids were playing a board game, where they were choosing game pieces to play with. I overheard my daughter say she wanted a pink game piece because ‘it was a girl’s color.’ I heard my son respond: ‘Uh, I think you’re fine, but actually, it’s just a color. You can have it if you want but it’s not a girl’s color.’” I was just standing outside the doorway, air punching. I didn’t interrupt. I don’t interfere when it’s going well. Don’t break the moment. I was just standing outside, like, yeah!
I work in marketing. There’s this phrase, ‘you know your marketing is working when your customers repeat it back to you.’ Like how people say Just Do It for Nike, over and over, all the time. They post on social media about the marathon they just ran and they say #JustDoIt. It felt the same for us.
There’s so much stuff we talk to our kids about which they completely ignore. None of it goes in. When they have those moments where they are repeating what we tell them to their peers or to their siblings, then it’s like “Okay. Maybe they are getting it.” And it wasn’t like they were being observed. My older kids now, they sometimes do performance-like stuff because mom and dad are watching. But there were no adults in the room. I just overheard them playing, and they were doing it naturally, in their own words.
When we had two boys, before we had our daughter, we knew we wanted to raise them to be aware, for lack of a better word, of the privilege that you get just by being a boy. That people will assume you can do things and things will be given to you and that it will all be fine. I wanted them to understand that history. I’m not trying to give them a complete history of women’s liberation, but I want them to know that it wasn’t that long ago that, in this country, you couldn’t vote if you were a woman. It wasn’t long ago that it was assumed that, if you had kids, the wife would stay at home and dad would go to work, and that was just how it was. It wasn’t that granny and grandpa were bad people, it was just how it was. So for them to understand that, especially when we had a daughter, was important to us from the outset.
My wife was out of the house that day, so I was taking care of them alone. Actually, the fact that they were all in a room, playing a game together without killing each other was the first success. I went downstairs to make lunch and going up and hearing that, I just felt totally like I had ‘made it.’ I was like, I’m great at this. Take the next weekend off, darling, it’s fine! Even though probably five seconds later they were fighting like cats and dogs again.
I don’t judge other parents. But we still see plenty of parents, when we go to the playground, telling their daughter off for doing one thing and then ten seconds later, their son is doing the exact same thing and he is fine. And I guess that’s where we just want it to be with our kids. That’s why this moment was such a success for us, my son saying what he did about the game pieces. It’s okay if you’re a girl and you want to choose big frilly things and dolls and be into all that stuff, if that’s what you’re into! Not that you think you should because you’re a girl. Like, my oldest son is really into football. He’s into superheroes, violence, things that boys are into, but that’s what he really likes, and that makes him happy, and that’s okay. And I felt like they finally ‘got that.’