Rules for Raising Girls

post by Jessica

Courtesy of Facebook (where I seem to get most of my news, sports updates, engagement, wedding and birth announcements, etc), I read a series of articles that I have really found interesting about rules for raising boys and girls. Given some of my previous posts, I’m sure none of our readers are particularly surprised by that.

In general, I thought her rules were really good. For instance, for boys “Relationships are important and he needs to be faithful and monogamous.” and “Teach your son laundry, vacuuming, dishes and dusting.” My personal favorite though, was teaching him to dance…and letting him dance in a pink tutu if he feels like it. Her reasoning was great “Either he’ll grow out of it or he’ll never struggle with his identity.”  And for girls, they’re all fabulous, until, of course, you get to number 19.

 19.  Don’t let your daughter marry young.  Encourage her to get out and see the world, live on her own and figure out who she is and what she wants in a partner before she settles down.

I don’t think she meant it as an attack, but I think she might be reacting to something else.

Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand her fears. In general, I think people unconsciously have some old fashioned expectations about marriage, left over, I suspect, from a time when you started having sex when you got married and there was no such thing as birth control. If you get married, you must immediately settle down, buy a house (or move into a bigger apartment), and start pumping out your 2.5 kids. Yesterday, if not sooner. No matter how old you are. So, this reasoning goes, if you get married young, you’ll be saddled with all of that immediately. I have friends who did that – and it’s particularly hard on the wife. Just out of school, small child in tow, very little work experience and struggling to establish themselves in any kind of profession. Possible, of course, just hard.

But that’s not the only model of marriage. I found my partner early, and we understand this part of our life as exploring together. Figuring out who we are and what we want out of our lives. And we made a commitment to do it together. Is it hard? Sure! Is it harder than figuring out all of that stuff and then trying to find someone who fits into your 1200 routines that you’ve developed? I don’t think so. My husband and I have talked about this a lot. When we got married, he hadn’t thought about being a rabbi very seriously. I had a vague idea that I wanted to go back to school. So, we’ve been working to figure all of that out together. And eventually, in a while, we’ll probably start looking for a slightly bigger apartment for a slightly bigger family. Are my experiences different than if I stayed single? Absolutely. But I do think it was the right thing for us. .

Getting married young isn’t for everyone. But I think age shouldn’t disqualify someone from marriage. So, my rule 19 would read something like this.

19. Don’t let your daughter get married before she’s out of college. And encourage her to see the world and find herself before she starts obsessively looking for a mate. But, if she finds someone in college (like lots of us do), make sure they plan on having time together as a couple to live their lives before they bring children into the picture. And for heaven’s sake, make sure they’ve been dating for at least a year before they get married!

So, what do you think? Other rules that need changed? Rules you’d add?

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Making Room for “Ima”

After writing about gender and children, I ran into two blog posts about the other end of the debate – the work-life balance that it takes to be mother and have a career. They come from two very different sources, which I think highlights how prevalent this issue is in society. The first article is from Sisterhood, a blog run by the Forward newspaper (to which we subscribe), entitled “Making Room for Ima on the Bima”. A recent graduate from JTS Rabbinical School laments the difficulty (and outright chauvinism) she experienced during her job search – questions asked about whether she could handle being a mother and being a rabbi, which she suspects prevented both her and her female colleagues from getting jobs at the same rate as their male colleagues, despite being in similar life stages (i.e. with small children). More importantly, she proposed the life experience of being a mother would undoubtedly be helpful in a profession that requires compassion, sympathy and patience, all of which are increased by parenthood. The comments on the post were also particularly interesting – one pointing out that perhaps she would benefit from talking to female Reform rabbis, the earliest of whom are now getting toward the end of their careers, and another pointing out that life experience in general, not just parenthood, should be considered an asset for rabbis joining congregations.

The second article, from the NY Times, intentionally provocatively titled “Should Women Be Doctors?” talks, among other things, about the rising incidence of part-time doctors. The article is particularly interesting because discusses two different conclusions reached by bringing the same data. On the one hand, medical school is an investment both by the schools and by the students, and perhaps we’re not getting our “worth” out of the doctors if they choose to work part-time for any part of their career. It gets pretty deep – should the women have become doctors in the first place, if they can’t or won’t be doctors full-time for their entire career. Should they, instead, let someone else (i.e. male or a woman not wanting to have children) take their spots at schools and in jobs? On the other hand, perhaps part of what’s going on is that the old model was not sustainable. Is it fair on anyone to make them work 100 hours a week? Or to put the pressure on that if they don’t do it, they are somehow misusing their education? My own father is a physician, and the demands on his time have been numerous and varied. Only in the last few years has he stopped having to make hospital calls. My parents plan their vacations months ahead, and when they decide to move or he retires, he is required to give at least three months notice. The first comment to the article also points out something important – since 80% of women become mothers, to discriminate against them in this way is basically to discriminate against women. Consider then, that each of the viewpoints laid out were espoused by women, and you add yet another layer.

I found these articles and the questions they particularly interesting as I am starting grad school in a few months, and preparing to spend a fair amount of money on it. Knowing that there will likely be a period of time in which I won’t be working as well as a period in which I might work part-time, I have asked myself a couple of times if it’s worth it, especially since it’s likely that this might happen fairly soon after I get my degree. The answer, since I’m still going to grad school, is yes. Even if I didn’t work a day in my life after school, it would probably still be worth it for having fulfilled a dream of mine. However, I think I have more to offer than being a mom. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not anti-mom, but I want to keep contributing as an individual as well, in a professional sense. I can’t see what the future will bring, exactly, or what my professional contribution will be exactly. I want to help fix non-profit organizations, and I want to do it well – whether that will be full-time or part-time, it’s hard to say.  It will likely be complicated, especially in the world of non-profits that often expects miracles from three full-time employees doing the work of five. Maybe I will be in the position to make a difference – to help figure out how to get the most from people while still getting what we need from life.

Oh, and one last article that I saw on this subject – Our Lefty Military. I admire the military for a lot of things, and this is definitely one of them.

So, female professionals and family concerns – what’re your thoughts?


The Gender Debate

Many of you have heard about the family who is refusing to tell their friends/family/the world the gender of their baby, Storm. While I only partially understand their premise, it brought all sorts of gender issues right to the forefront. This Shavuot, I had the pleasure of being around several wonderful small children and their parents (even around here there are little Jews afoot!), the combination of which gave R & I an opening to talk about some of the gender issues surrounding parenting.  As I was thinking about it, I stumbled on two related blog posts from two different blogs:  10 Myths about Gender Neutral Parenting.  And Is it a Boy or a Girl?

As we contemplate the next step in our lives (moving and starting grad school), I keep thinking about that next bend in the road that will take us (hopefully) to parenthood.

It took me a while to realize that my parents attitudes about toys and clothing weren’t the norm. I got barbies, baby dolls, frilly princess dresses, the works – when I asked for them. I also got sporting equipment, a mini-toolbox and a (very, very fake looking) toy ray gun. Maybe it was the fact that there were no male siblings (or any siblings forthcoming at all). More likely, I think it was a conscious choice. My bedroom was painted blue, my bedding not stereotypically girly, even when I moved into a big kid room. I embraced a lot of it – my bedroom at my parents house is still blue, although I chose a flowery border and bedding to go with it when I got older.  I clearly remember embracing all of the girly things (until we moved to Canada, I lived in dresses by my own choice),but  my parents had presented the other opportunities to me – legos came in the regular colors and the pinks and pastels kind, my first “baby doll” was really a stuffed rat that I decided was a boy, and so on.

This kind of upbringing left me with this idea that no one would enforce gender stereotypes on their children. Clearly, since the women I know have some kind of occupation, whether they are currently engaging in it or not, they couldn’t buy into it! Life, however, has a way of surprising you.  Several years ago, a  friend had a baby girl. I am fairly certain every single thing in the child’s wardrobe is pink. As was the play kitchen she received at her second birthday, and the play laundry set as well. Not that this means that this wonderful toddler won’t grow up to be a strong woman – it just hit some kind of nerve in me. Parents are the entire world for their children at the beginning. We model every behavior and attitude, and to limit or categorize experiences from the get-go as “boy” experiences or “girl” experiences when so few of them really, truly are,  seems excessive. Society’s strong gender messages will get through to the child, even if the parents aren’t reinforcing them. My parents allowed me to wear dresses and play barbies, even while encouraging other kinds of play, never labeling things. I learned later, both about the weird stereotypes Barbie plays into and that society expected me to like Barbie and my male cousin not to.

I wonder about all of this in the context of more traditional Judaism. With a bris or simchat bat in our future, our potential baby’s gender wouldn’t be a secret. Still, I don’t think I would go for the little blue or pink room based on gender. Especially given the gendered nature of our religion and lifestyle, I would want our children to be allowed to explore as much as they can so that they understand that so much of what is “feminine” or “masculine” is cultural – a skirt in Scotland could be a kilt, and a dress might be a galabiyya, etc. Not that men and women aren’t different – but that the differences are probably way less than we think they are. Maybe this is too naive a hope in a Rabbinic family, where the pressure to conform might be even stronger. At the same time, if I’m not thinking about this and hopefully setting an example…who else will?

Thoughts? Questions? Things to share? There might be more on this subject, and I’d love feedback. I’m hoping to write more regularly from here on out!