Why sons need to talk about their dreams for their families, too

  • Children
  • Monday, 14 May 2018

You should never ask a woman how "she copes". Photos: Stocksnap

Tina Fey says the rudest question you can ask women – worse than “How old are you?” or “What do you weigh?” – is “How do you juggle it all?” It’s too accusatory, she maintains.

I wonder if the problem lies less in the question itself and more in whom we ask it of: namely, mums. And whom we don’t ask it of: namely, dads.

We’re quite adept at encouraging girls to imagine fully formed lives for themselves – lives that include a career and a family and all that both entail. With boys, we sometimes think smaller.

It occurred to me recently that I know all about what my daughter wants her home life to look like – how many kids she wants, what she wants to name them, how old she wants to be when she gets married – in addition to what job she wants to pursue.

But I wasn’t really talking to my son about that stuff – how many kids he wants, whether he wants kids, what he would name them. He wasn’t bringing it up and I wasn’t asking.

So I started. And he happily obliged. (He wants twin boys. He’ll name one after himself and one after his friend, Ben.)

I’m afraid a lot of boys go through life not being encouraged to dream up their domestic life. And I don’t think that changes much as they approach adulthood.

I don’t know any men who spent significant time wondering how they’d do it all – until they were actually trying to do it all. I don’t know any men who were told it would be hard, or impossible. “You can have it all ... just not all at once” is a refrain we’ve directed exclusively at women.

It’s shocking, I think, to a lot of men when it’s as hard as it is. Nobody warned them. Everyone warned us.

In Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family, Anne-Marie Slaughter writes about feeling proud of her dad for raising her, in 1960s Virginia, to believe she could do anything and for pushing her to go to law school.

“I grew up believing my father’s work was more important than my mother’s work,” Slaughter told me when her book came out in 2015. “And that to be a liberated woman was to be like my dad and become a lawyer.”

It hit Slaughter, later, when she was a mum of two sons, that her mum’s caretaking contributed just as much to the world – and to their family – as her father’s legal prowess did. It hit her, also, that her father didn’t raise her brothers to be nearly as well-rounded as he’d raised her to be.

“As progressive as he was, it never would have occurred to him to raise his sons – my brothers – to embrace caregiving as much as he raised me to be a breadwinner,” she writes. “That is the world we must now create.”

I think we can get there. We can start by encouraging our daughters and our sons to think about both sides of their lives – family and work. And we can remember to ask the men in our lives how they juggle it all.

It’s not a bad question. It’s a window into a person’s world, where the things they hold dear compete for space and light. We just need to expand whom we’re asking, and I think the answers will illuminate us. — Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service

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