So we were at the park, and my almost three-year-old is playing on this rope ladder. He’s calling it his “work,” and I’m finding it adorable. “I go to work just like Daddy,” he shouts to me over his shoulder, “and I work so hard! Watch me, Mommy, I’m just workin with ALL my muscles.” He’s hilarious–I think to myself–love that kid, so glad I had him.
Then he comes close to me to shed a shirt he no longer needed (all that hard work, ya know), and a little girl starts climbing up on “his” rope ladder. I could see his eyes dart back and forth and his face fill with anxiety. “She–she–SHE CAN’T PLAY ON MY WORK,” he says to me.
“Sweetie, she can play if she wants to. You have to share,” I say, assuming this is a sharing issue.
“But, but GIRLS DON’T WORK, MOMMY.”
It was obvious that this statement required correction, but where do I even start? On the one hand, he’s not even three, and he says a lot of outlandish nonsense, so should I make a big deal of it? Is this the same as him making random, nonsensical toddler statements about candy being “too sour for girls” or how his shoes are “too blue for grown ups?” I don’t know. I do know that the last thing I want to contribute to society is a man who believes women are of any less value in the workforce than men. I took the opportunity to point out that there is a girl who works at Daddy’s work, and she is very important! He nodded with the realization and moved on with his play.
At dinner that night, I told my husband about the exchange. “But Sarah works at your work, Daddy, so I realized that girls do work,” our toddler concluded. My husband looked thoughtfully at him.
“Yes, son. Sarah does work at my work. And many girls like Sarah work just like Daddy. They can work and they do a great job of working.” His eyes shifted lovingly over to me, “but far fewer women work right at home. They choose to devote themselves to the most important work like your Mommy does. Do you know what that most important work is? It’s raising you and your brother. And that’s hard work, buddy, but your Mommy does it so well that it might not even look like work to us.” My eyes filled with tears.
I realized that while I understand the justification behind all of my life choices, they’re far too complex for a two-year-old mind to grasp just yet. While I’m passionate about encouraging moms to realize the eternal value of motherhood, that won’t translate to my young kids until they’re older. They can’t understand just yet that I did go to college and I could have pursued a career and I could feel monetarily validated every day because of it. We might have a nicer house and newer things. But their dad and I decided to set those things aside, to sacrifice income and worldly validation because there is just too much value in their lives. I will not give away the precious hours I get to spend investing in them, shaping them, nourishing them, correcting them, enjoying them, and growing with them. No job pays highly enough for those hours I’d miss.
So it’s great that I am confident in my resolves, but my son sees Daddy going to work and Mommy not going anywhere called “work.” And in his small world, he makes big assumptions about gender norms for everyone. It’s not okay for him to think that women do not work. And while I want to teach my son that women are equal in value to men in every aspect and have every right to work outside the home if they so choose, I deeply appreciate the shift in focus that my husband brought to the table. Because what he wants our sons to see is that our choice for me to make motherhood my primary work is not a sign of weakness but of strength. It is work. Costly, wonderful and 100% valid work. And if we raise our sons to know this truth, then I’m sure they’ll make as great of husbands as their dad someday.