What It’s Really Like to Be a Parent in Today’s World

The Parenting 101 handbook needs a major update.

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If there was anyone primed to raise their kids feminist, it was me. My parents treated me no differently from my brother. I was raised to believe I was capable of doing anything I set my mind to. Despite the gender stereotypes in the ’80s, my race car driving dad taught me that I could do whatever my brother could. My dad showed me how to ride a motorcycle when I was six and said I would never need to be a passenger on some drunk guy’s bike, that I could put the drunk guy on the back and ride that motorcycle to safety if need be.

I don’t raise my daughter differently from her twin brother, to the point where she only wanted to wear his clothes—sweatpants, baggy T-shirts, and high-tops—for a year straight. She claims it’s because she needs to be “comfortable and functional,” and who can blame her? I would wear a tracksuit seven out of seven days if I could.

No question there are more opportunities for women than ever before to create a life that is authentically their own. And yet at the same time, the patriarchy is working hard to make sure we stay stuck in the same old gender roles, even if there is a lot of confusion about those roles right now. Women’s roles within the family and workplace have changed so drastically over the last few decades, which is huge progress—but this has also left both men and women uncertain at times about who is doing what.

The reality is that parenting has always been complicated, but given the political landscape today, it feels trickier than ever. The Parenting 101 handbook needs a major update on a list of things and one of them includes making sure our kids understand that there are dozens of gender identities. When a boy shows up to school wearing a dress or big hoop earrings, Ella and Silvan don’t give a crap. Their attitude is just “Oh, Rafi wears dresses, Mom. That’s his style.”

Occasionally my son will ask me, “Why should I let Ella go first? Or why should I hold the door open for Ella—if we’re all equal why shouldn’t she hold the door open for me?” He has a good point. Are traditional manners like a guy holding the door open for a female, or taking her coat just some shit from the ’50s? Can’t a woman open the door herself and hang up her own coat?

She sure as hell can, but it’s nice to have someone who is courteous, and I’m still teaching Silvan the fine line between chivalry and insulting an empowered woman.

I want to raise kids who are curious and engaged with the world around them, and who are aware that the privilege they were born into is not the typical experience for most kids, that they should not take it for granted and should always look for opportunities to use the advantages they’ve been given to help other people.

I guess the proof is in the pudding—we’ll have to wait until they’re grown-ups to find out what effect we’ve had on them. In the meantime, I try not to worry that every little misstep will permanently ruin my kids. There will be plenty of opportunities to set things right and just as many opportunities to fuck things up again. And I’ve come to accept, that’s just parenting.

Reprinted from It’s Messy by Amanda de Cadenet (Harper Wave 2017)

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