I have always considered myself to be a committed, if quiet, feminist. I believe in equality and decency but detest confrontation and therefore often keep my opinion to myself when I should perhaps raise my head above the parapet once in a while. I’ve moseyed along like this for most of my life, but now that I have children to raise, my views have crystallised and I feel protecting and standing up for what’s important belief-wise is of even more consequence.
Having children is a massive responsibility, but until I actually became a mother, I didn’t really consider the full extent of that responsibility and the importance of being instrumental in shaping my children’s moral outlook. I knew my husband and I would need to be responsible with finances to ensure our family were provided for, we’d need to offer a safe home environment, and hopefully bring our children up to be kind and respectful of others (I don’t want any next generation Farages, Trumps or Le Pens on my watch!). But beyond that, how does one go about instilling fundamental decency in little malleable humans? And how can we fight against some of the messages which accost our kids at every turn, arguably more so now - thanks to social media and technology - than ever before? Do we even need to?
I am married to a wonderful man; one whom I’m pretty certain wouldn’t consider himself to be a feminist, but who, by my reckoning, believes in pretty much everything which I hold to be important in terms of equality. He is perhaps just not au fait with the label itself. We have a life balance which works for us: I am currently on maternity leave and look after most of the childcare and housework (when I am able to do any of the latter!), I do the majority of the shopping and my husband the lion’s share of the cooking, although we each step in as and when. I never questioned our partnership before, but now I find myself concerned about the impact this (probably perfectly innocuous) household setup will have on our kids. Will they pick up on the fact that my husband will only clean the bathroom once in a blue moon? Will me leaving everything hardware related to my husband mean my children grow up with skewed expectations about themselves and their roles? Does any of this even matter? Am I second guessing myself too much?
When my son was born just over two years ago, my desire for him to be a positive force in society, as well as worry about the world I’d brought him into, surfaced. These thoughts were then quickly sucked under by the weighty business of actually keeping the little blighter alive. When would I find the bloody time to bring my son up as a decent person? I found it hard enough to keep him fed, clean and healthy! How could I instil in him respect for others, and, as a little patriarch in waiting, in particular for girls and women? I then added to these rhetorical questions by getting pregnant again.
Throughout both pregnancies I distinctly remember thinking that a daughter would really impact on my husband’s life, and for the better. He grew up as one of three boys, has male cousins and predominantly male friends and currently works in a boys’ school. Having another female in his immediate family could only be a good thing, and lo and behold, we now have a seven month old daughter to add to our family mix, and a subsequent host of additional worries and responsibilities for us as parents.
At this stage I feel – probably erroneously – that I’ve lucked out by having a son and a daughter as they will help provide balance to one another’s lives. Their genders may well be fluid as they grow up, but already their little characters are forming and they both seem to be fitting straight into traditional gender stereotypes. Purely by circumstance most of the toddler ‘friends’ my son sees are male and so the optimist in me is hopeful that having a sister will engender a certain degree of awareness and respect towards girls in him almost by osmosis! At the very least I hope the existence of my daughter will encourage both my husband and son to have a greater understanding of the female sex.
I have come to the conclusion that trying to raise my little people to be decent, understanding, fair humans who realise that giving more rights and freedoms to those who lack them needn’t necessarily be at the expense of anyone else, is probably the best I can do. I think it is fundamental that I am also a strong female role model for both of them; I need to lead by example, not through preaching dictats. My own mother is and always has been an indomitable force in my life, something for which I am truly grateful, and so I am working on having the confidence to raise my own head above the parapet when I need to, to stand up for my beliefs, and to show my children what matters in life.
Raising children is unquestionably a responsibility, but it is also an opportunity, or – schmaltz alert - a gift even. As parents and guardians we are in a position to educate and enlighten our children, to encourage them to be decent human beings, hopefully ones who will spread messages of positivity, equality and inclusiveness to society at large. They might just have a profound influence on our own views and choices too.