Sunday 1 July 2012

The Kitchen Cupboard

Having Ebony has totally changed the way I see pretty much everything in life. Now I have to consider things not only from my point of view, but also from Ebony’s. What she sees, hears and experiences now will shape her future behaviours. Sitting in the sling she can see what I see, she can watch me interact with strangers, she can hear my conversations with friends and she can see how I live my life.

I spend almost every minute with Ebony. We get up at the same time, and go to bed at the same time every day. I am very aware that I need to be a good role model for my daughter because she may replicate my behaviours in the future.
One of the ways this has affected my life is with baby groups. For those that don’t know, baby groups are where adult brains go to die. Slow, painful deaths. There is singing, and rhyming, and dancing and lots of other soul destroying activities. For those who don’t me, the aforementioned activities are about as far out of my comfort zone as possible. I’m usually more of a drinking-too-much-while-ranting-and-giving-strangers-shit-eye kind of person. I’m not a huge-smile-jazz-hands-singing-anus. That’s just not me. Or it wasn’t, before Ebony.
Now, I feel like I can’t just sit there, stone-faced, at the back because it sets a bad example for Ebony. I don’t want her to grow up and be an areshole like me. I want her to join in and have fun. I want her to not worry about looking stupid, and just enjoy herself. And so I try, as best I can, to join in. It’s not natural, it certainly doesn’t look natural. It looks awkward, forced and sweaty. But I try my best. I try to join in with the nursery rhymes and I try to look like I’m enjoying it (which I’m not, by the way). This is the price I pay for motherhood.
I want Ebony to grow up confident, so I try to be confident. I want her to grow up happy, so I try to be happy. I want her to grow up kind and compassionate, so I try to be kind and compassionate.  I want her to grow up knowing she can achieve anything so I... ok, this is where I fall down slightly.
My friend shared 7 Ways You’re Hurting Your Daughter’s Future on Facebook. I read it, and while I read it I thought about whether I am making any of these mistakes in pigeon holing Ebony as a “girl”. I mean, she does have a lot of pink clothes, but this is mostly because people buy her clothes as presents, or because they come in eBay clothes bundles. It’s not because I insist on dressing her as a girl, in fact she is often mistaken for a boy because I also dress her in blue and green.
I’m definitely not planning to buy Ebony a cleaning trolley toy - no matter how much they market it to girls. I wouldn’t buy her pink lego, she can have normal lego because girls don’t need toys to be pink in order to like them. I want her to have good toys, fun toys, not just mirrors and jewellery. Why are girls toys so rubbish anyway?
My sister, Rosie, had a mirror that, when you pressed a button, it would say (in a creepy electronic voice) things like “I like your hair.” and “You have nice smile.”
One night my Mum found Rosie in bed upset. She was staring at herself in the mirror, when my Mum asked what was wrong, Rosie told her: “I have a freckle, now I will never be beautiful.”
I don’t ever want to find Ebony staring sadly into a creepy mirror. I want to find her playing with her chemistry set, playing doctors, or practicing her inaugural address. I want her to grow up without being pigeonholed for her gender. I don’t want her to aspire to marry a Prince. I want her to grow up to be self-sufficient and independent. I don’t want her future choices to be restricted because of exposure to gender stereotypes.
The Forbes article states that it’s important for parents to challenge gender stereotypes. And this is where I’m letting my daughter down. UK women earn, on average, 15.5% less than men. I, in fact, earn much, much less than my husband. I work for a charity so perhaps this is unavoidable, but it will still send the message to her that women receive less money than men. Perhaps that my work is less important to the family, that I am more of a caretaker than a provider.
In many ways I want this to be true. I do want to be the caretaker of the family. I want to provide the emotional support and nurturing that Ebony needs, while my husband brings home the bulk of the money. But I don’t want her to think that restricts her future options. Just because that is the role I desire, doesn’t mean it is one she should feel forced into.
I’ve never really been big on cleaning, or tidying, or household chores in general. Before Ebony came along, my husband and I shared these chores. And by shared I mean the house would eventually get so messy we would become unable to function and would be forced to tidy our way to the front door. But now we have to keep the house clean. Pre-children it is amusing if you get your foot caught in the straps of a discarded bra and almost fall down stairs, but carrying a baby it could be quite dangerous and probably best avoided.
And so, because my husband works long (too long, some would say) hours and doesn’t get to spend much time with Ebony as it is, I do the bulk of the cleaning. I also cook most of our meals, and do all of the washing. I don’t want my husband to get home from work and have to get on with chores. I want him to get home and bond with his baby. But it does mean that I am reinforcing the gender stereotype of the housewife.
In fact, all of the gender stereotypes mentioned in the article are in force at my house. A cupboard handle broke last week, and I am awaiting my husband to fix it. I think he is waiting for my Dad to come back from holiday so that he can fix it. When I read the article I thought: “Right, I’m going to go and fix that handle.” I went into the kitchen, got the screwdriver and screws, realised the screws were too short and gave up. After all, Ebony was in the living room so she couldn’t even see me breaking gender stereotypes. If anything she would probably assume I was washing up and I would be doing even more damage to her pink little Princess mind. So, I gave up on the handle. And now my husband, claiming he is defying stereotypes, is refusing to fix it too so getting wine glasses is now rather tricky.

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