Parenting and gender equality

I observe that every time I attend my kids’ school activities, I learn a big thing or two. (As if I never knew that every person with an open mind inevitably does learn that as long as s/he lives.) I feel that kiddie schools are much more blessed because it is in these places where little angels hone their raw talents at the same time involve their mentors for their bouts of innocence and mischief.

This Sunday, I, tagging along Josh as usual, attended the Parents-Teachers Conference called by the school of Martin, my eldest son at 8 years, although I was late by an hour already. As a penalty for myself, I sat outside the classroom where the program was held. And I wouldn’t want to get inside only to disturb the program.

The school’s Director, Dra. Lilia Torres, was a show-stopper for her great input and handling of the forum. She would keep the audience wide awake with comic asides and realistic examples. She said that even though she had majored in counseling, she had been tempted to spank her little kid for a grave misdemeanor. “Ano’ng counseling counseling. Pinalo ko sya sa pwet,” she said. The audience laughed. She said that there’s nothing wrong in punishing a child if that’s done for a valid reason. “If you spanked your child, explain to him or her the reason why you did it. There must be an explanation afterwards so that similar misdemeanor would not happen again. We don’t punish our erring child just because it pleases us.”

After giving her own experience as both a teacher and a mother, she asked the audience for some testimonials about their lives as parents to their schooling kids. A mother volunteered to share the first one. Hers was a revelation of a gender issue in parenting. Here’s her account, as reconstructed:

When my kid was in elementary level, I was the one who focused on guiding him. I attended to his needs in school. He was a consistent top pupil. My husband barely had any role except to provide for the financial requirements of our son’s education.

One day, I decided to work abroad, leaving my husband to take care of our kid. I didn’t realize that my leaving created a problem in our child. It turned out that my husband’s way of guiding him was extremely different from mine. Of course, fathers don’t have the patience and passion as mothers possess. My husband would easily get mad when our son erred big in school. Many times, my husband would yell at our son and force him to get out of the house.

That, i think, rendered our son to lack appreciation for education. From then on, he failed in classes. Until I was forced to go back home and concentrate back on his schooling. However, that did not solve the problem. He still failed in classes even up to college. My husband remained the same, impatient and harsh on our son. We found that our son was hooked to his girlfriend and barkada; he practically lost interest in school. By the decision of my husband, we were forced to stop his schooling for a while, until the time when he’s ready to get back to it.

So what is the gender issue in the testimony? That is the unnecessary attributions (which is also called stereotyping) like the mothers are patient, while the fathers are not. Fathers bring home the bacon, while the mothers just serve it, so to speak. Fathers are “haligi ng tahanan” (who keep the home from breaking down), while the mothers are “ilaw ng tahanan” (who provide light to the home). I’m afraid that both the wife and husband have the equal roles in ministering to the needs of their children. Or to put it more aptly, both the wife and husband can shift roles as they see fit. A woman has the right to work, leaving the husband obliged to fill in the gap in terms of providing more direct guidance to kids in school. Or both can still work, yet be able to upbring their kids with equal attention. I’m not speaking that being a father myself, I perfectly take on the role that my wife has taken. I’m not yet there, but there are inroads already.

Dra. Torres, for her part, particularly raised the issue of a couple being prepared for the task of parenting. It’s high time that couples paid more attention to this. “It’s not right to show mixed signals to your kids. The couple must seriously take up how to handle problem situations involving the kids, so that they will hang on to their studies and still look up to their parents as they grow up,” she advised. She then claimed that if only for the parenting responsibilities, maintaining the marriage becomes equally challenging.

I raised my hand to give my testimonial. But Dra. Torres did not notice me. I was partly thankful that she did not, really. If I were called in, I would say to my co-parents that my wife and I are also challenged to be cool parents to our kids, that we are willing to learn as we have imperfections. I would say that I learned a lot from the first testimony. I would likewise share that my wife and I have to control ourselves in pressuring our son to excel in school as a top pupil, considering the competition in his class. Because that would not help our son any. We need to find more ways to motivate our son than to point out the competition.

We’re now more challenged because Martin is top two for the first grading period. He was consistent top one the previous year. So my wife and I should take it up and unite on a strategy or two to further motivate Martin to “reclaim” the top spot.

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