As one example, when our older daughter was in second degrade, she forgot to take her homework to school. The first time this happened, we took it to her but told her that was the first and last time it would happen. A couple of weeks later, she forgot the assignments once more, and when she arrived at school and realized her mistake, she was quite distraught. She cried, the teacher called and asked if we could bring it. We explained we would not and that it was a life lesson the daughter would not soon forget. I think the school punishment was no recess, but it was enough of a consequence to remain with her since that time. She always remembers her homework now.
While the older daughter remembers this episode, it has really stuck with my partner and me. It is tough to watch your child fail and know that you can prevent it. But, as I mentioned at the beginning of the post, a lesson of responsibility and accountability is much better learned at a young age than when they get older and the stakes are much higher.
I mention all of this because it came up again last night. Our younger daughter was relaying her big plans for recess today. The boys in her class play football during recess, so she and her friends were going to dress up and act as cheerleaders. I saw this as another learning opportunity and explained to her the following:
- For a long time, girls had limited opportunities to be active, so were forced to be on the sidelines.
- Once they did have opportunities to be active, there were entities (friends, parents, teacher, society, etc.) telling them they should be in supportive roles rather than active ones, and this resulted in girls remaining on the sideline.
- She knows as much about football as those boys do, so there is no reason she should not be out there playing with them.
- If her friends want to stand by and cheer on the boys, that is up to them. But I expect her to be a leader--a leader on the playground, in the math class, in the science class, with her friends, and so on. She should not simply do that because her friends want to.
Tears ensued. She thought I was angry with her, and I think she was disappointed that he big plans might not materialize. So, I asked her to repeat back to me what she thought I was telling her. She did, and after some more discussion, we had a common understanding.
Some might take this as being overly strict. Why not just let her do what she wants to when she is at recess? But, I saw it as a teaching opportunity--one of those lessons that is tough to understand or deal with early on but that will help her in the long run (I hope).
Our daughters will have countless social forces telling them how they should conform to gender stereotypes and expectations. This will impact the school and career choices they make, the clothes they wear, how they see their bodies, and how physically active they choose to be. So, if she learns at age 8 that she can do things differently, she can do "what the boys normally do," or that she has choices and can be active, those are good lessons learned, no matter how hard they are for both of us.