A brain full of cooking and childcare?

she-cooksIf you ignore the dog, I am the only female in an all male household. And no, we are not (as all parents of multiple sons are asked time and time again) trying for a girl. And because of this gender imbalance in our house, I feel a sense of responsibility that I fear I am not living up to.


I want my sons to believe, as I do, that women are equal to men. That barring the childbirth/breastfeeding malarkey, I can do anything their dad can do, and vice versa. I want to challenge the shitty gender nonsense they are confronted with every time they turn on the tv or go in a shop. I want them to see humanity first and gender second. I want them to ponder the questions I am still asking myself – like why their dad’s leg hair is somehow suitable for public view, while mine ‘needs’ to be removed, sometimes painfully and often with a financial cost attached. Or why I took their dad’s surname when I married him, instead of him taking mine.


Some days, I think I’m doing alright. Sometimes I have a conversation with my oldest son that makes my heart rise up, as he challenges the tv commercial that suggests that most women are on a life-long mission to find the perfect conditioner for their hair. I start thinking that maybe we’re heading somewhere good.


But then my 4 year old brings me back down to earth with a bump – with his derisive snort at my suggestion that I prefer the picture of the green rocket to the pink ballerina in his story book. He looks at me with clear amusement in his eyes, and tells me “you’re a lady – you like this one” pointing determinedly at the pink ballerina again. This is the 4 year old who still asks for the pink Ikea cup at dinner time, and requested a pink cake for his last birthday. And (temporarily as it turns out) made me feel all smug and right on.


And then the very next day another son makes a throwaway remark that suggests that his dad’s brain is “bigger” than mine. I’m all over this like a rash. “Oh really?” I say. Yup. Apparently, daddy teaches them “about the world”. It’s true. Their dad engages with science and astronomy with a passion I simply don’t share. It’s ok though – he reassures me – apparently sensing the danger he’s in – “your brain is full of cooking and childcare”. Wow. Thing is – he’s got a point (kind of). I do love to cook. I love to bake. Godammit if I don’t love to sew and make stuff too. Parenting also happens to be a professional and personal preoccupation of mine.


But all this sends me into a spiral of self recrimination that our current lifestyle has put paid to the shared care arrangements we were all about when they were younger – meaning that these days the kids see their dad leaving for work every day while my paid work happens behind the scenes while they’re in school. These days I’m consistently the one they see at the school gates, making the dinner, folding the clothes and cleaning the house.


Their comments and assumptions sting and frustrate me. Because they speak to my own personal discomfort that I’m not mothering the way I thought I would. I always imagined (extraordinarily simplistically) my boys would ‘see’ me working outside the home, that they would internalise this as a Good Thing, and go on to be young men who shared my deeply held belief that men and women are equal. Because life’s that straightforward, right?


But then I remember that this parenting lark is ultimately an exercise in hopeful uncertainty. I remember that my behaviour and actions are unlikely to shape their future behaviour and actions in the nice, tidy, linear way I sometimes imagine they will. So as I’m busy tying myself in knots worrying about this stuff, I actually have no clue how my choices will be perceived and interpreted by my kids. Whether their abiding memories of me will be me barefoot in the kitchen or rushing out the door in a business suit, or something completely different I never got round to worrying about. Or whether my pointed remarks in the face of nonsense advertising will make a blind bit of difference in the end.


Buckminster Fuller said “our children and our grandchildren are our elders in universe time. They are born into a more complex, more evolved universe than we can experience or than we can know” which means that in all likelihood, their take on gender roles will be different to ours – as ours are different to the generation that preceded us. They are growing up in a world we could only have imagined when we were their age. They are receiving messages and absorbing information about gender (and everything else) in a way we can barely comprehend. Which is as overwhelming as it is comforting. And either way, reminds me to angst a little less, and trust a little more. Because there’s no time machine to the future with which to reassure myself, about this, or any other of my choices.


My best guess is the most important thing I can offer my sons is a mother who is at peace with herself and her life – whatever that life may look like – and that is where I should be focussing my energies.

12 thoughts on “A brain full of cooking and childcare?

  1. Love it, made me snort out loud.
    I spent 11 years at home, my brother in laws both looked on in confusion when after severely rocking the boat by NOT changing my name I then gave up my job to start a family ( which was how I viewed it, finished up with one job to make room for another ).

    Fast forward 4 kids being born and old enough for school and I am now out at work, doing 2 different jobs in fact and volunteering one evening a work . Big changes all round. Kids initially not embracing too many of those changes and in the process some real kick ass conversations around choices and gender and needs being had. Some steep learning curves for us all on managing expectations and division of labour.

    Viva the revolution , your time will come x

  2. What a fantastic post! As a fellow mother of sons you have beautifully summarised the things I fear on a daily basis. I have just defected from wordpress to blogger but would like to link back to your article (can’t just hit reblog!) Thank you for writing this!

  3. Thank you for a really interesting post. These are the kind of issues I ponder as the stay at home mother of a girl & boy. (Gah I dislike the ‘stay at home’ label but you get my drift!) Am I good role model to my daughter? Am I good role model to my son. Will my son see women as ‘just’ mothers? I was talking to my mum about this thorny issue as she was a working woman in the 1970s with young children which was unusual in our group. ‘Yeah it’s an eternal conundrum’ she said. ‘You only just realising this?’ Thanks mum. As helpful as ever! Sorry I seem to have rambled on. Hmmm it’s a really interesting issue. It’s a conundrum. Arghhh turning into mother!

  4. Great post; I am a divorced mum of five boys and even our pets are male so can identify with being the lone female. I do think though that we need to recognise that there are gender differences and perhaps we need to learn to embrace these rather than fight against them. Equality lies in having the same opportunities not in trying to morph into a single gender. Fundamentally I don’t think it matters to children how the responsibilities are split between parents and I don’t think they will give either parent full credit for what they bring to the family until much later in life (probably when they become parents themselves); all that really matters is that you bring them up to believe that everyone has freedom of choice regardless of gender, race or creed.

  5. I’ve got three boys too. When my eldest was four, I told him I use to work in an office. He asked, “when you were a man mummy?”.
    But I agree with your last point – I hope the kids see me and the Mr chatting about who is going to do what and happily coming to a resolution. Most of our roles we take on happily. I guess that’s a pretty good start.

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