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Opinion: Raising my son without reinforcing gender stereotypes

When I was in college I lived at home, and sometimes I’d get a phone call from my mom who was at work. It went something like this: “When your brother gets home, can you heat and serve him the leftovers that are in the fridge?” Me: (In Spanish) “Um no, why can’t he do it himself?”

Then I’d tell her how she was enabling him and reinforcing stereotypes. I told her boys could do things around the house too, and my brother was certainly capable of heating up a plate of leftovers. She’d respond something along the lines of me being “muy feminista” or something like that.

I grew up with a mom who believed in traditional gender roles. I hated it—being told my brother could do something I couldn’t do, or that “Las niñas son de la casa.”  (Girls belong at home.)

I always told myself that I’d be different when I had kids.

Now that I’m a mom to a little boy, I know what I want to teach him. I don’t want to reinforce the traditional gender roles I knew growing up.

I want him to learn how to do his own laundry, without turning his whites into pinks.

I want him to be able to be a stay-at-home dad if he so chooses, and if his financial means allow him to do so.

I want him to be involved in his children’s school activities—it’s not only the mom’s job!

I want him to grow up knowing that a good husband shares in domestic responsibilities; the home is not only a woman’s domain. I want him to support his wife if she wants to work. I want him to know that if he wants his shirts ironed, he should learn how to iron (or send to the laundromat). He shouldn’t expect his wife to do it.

I want him to know that la cocina is not only for women. Luckily, he has an excellent example in his father, who is the chef in our home. If he followed my example, he’d be eating arroz con huevo every other day, ha!

Enzo already loves to pretend cook with dry pasta or play food. He also loves being in the kitchen, be it a play kitchen or the real deal. When he started Toddler Time last year, the play kitchen was his favorite place. (And, there’s nothing wrong with that!)

I don’t have a daughter, but if one day I do, I vow to:

Make her brother do chores around the house; it’s not only her job to clean up.

Never say “You can’t do it because you’re a girl.” Or, “Your brother can because he is a boy.”

Give both kids the same curfew regardless of gender.

Not let her overprotective brother make her crazy.

Teach her to be assertive, and that she can be a leader, even if people call her bossy.

Give her an education and the tools so that she is self-sufficient and not dependent on a spouse for financial support (unless she chooses to do so.)

Encourage her to find a spouse who will be supportive of her ambitions and goals, whatever those may be.

Growing up it was really hard for me to accept there were two sets of rules and expectations. Luckily, times have changed. Today we can teach our kids that they can be all they want to be; for little girls, that isn’t only en la cocina and for little boys, it can mean being a stay-at-home dad.

NBC Latino contributor Diana Limongi

Diana Limongi-Gabriele works hard juggling a full-time job, motherhood, family, grad school and her blog, LadydeeLG, where she writes about issues she is passionate about including teaching her son Spanish, motherhood, parenting, Latino issues, good quality food and women’s issues. Diana is a regular contributor for Mamiverse. She has a MA in Migration Studies, and is pursuing an MPA in Nonprofit Management. Her most important job however, is being mommy to Enzo, a French/Hispanic/American (one day trilingual) 2-year-old boy. You can connect with her via Twitter, @dianalimongi or on Facebook.

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