When I was 5 years old, my teacher gave my kindergarten class toys to play with — from dolls and trucks to wooden blocks. I was drawn to the dolls. When my parents arrived at the end of class, my teacher, signaling to the doll I was still holding, told them that I was preparing to become a mom.
This should have been an insignificant comment. But she made no remark about the boys who were also paying attention to their dolls. Likely in her mind, those boys were not preparing for fatherhood, nor did their playing with dolls insinuate their future roles. Whether consciously or subconsciously, she related gender with parenthood.
Her assumption is often portrayed in American society: women are associated with maternity, whereas men are not. So why is motherhood associated with girls at a young age?
Since I was a child, I’ve been told that I need to prepare to have children. When caring for my dog, I’ve heard, “You’re going to be such a great mom.” Or when helping someone, I’ve heard, “Your kids are going to be so lucky you can help them.”
And as I’ve gotten older, these comments have become more common. What people fail to realize is their seemingly innocuous words deny women and girls the opportunity to consider whether parenthood interests them. After years of hearing these comments, I feel confined to society’s traditional lifestyle expectations and find myself asking if I want kids or if my community does.
So when people around me, including my teacher, comment on my aptitude for motherhood, I feel trapped in a future and position I don’t want.
Given the feminist movements challenging societal shortcomings, from #MeToo to Title IX discussions, how come these comments have not yet been addressed?
According to a study conducted by three psychology professors from the University of Wisconsin, “The role of motherhood is seen by society as central to a woman’s identity. Men perceive fathering as something they ‘do,’ whereas women experience mothering as something they ‘are.’”
These expectations force an interrelation between a woman’s self-identity and parenthood. While people may make this comment about a girl’s future with positive intentions, such comments hurt more than support. So, for those who find themselves relating a girl with parenthood, I encourage you to ask yourself some questions before saying anything.
First, is this what a girl wants to hear? Unless you know she would appreciate the comment, it usually isn’t.
Second, is this what a girl needs to hear? Suggesting parenthood to a young girl is unnecessary and can be confusing or hurtful.
And most importantly, will a girl benefit from your comment? Best case, she won’t. Worst case, you reinforce outdated social roles and bind her to a future she may not even want.
When I was 5 years old, my teacher told me I was going to become a mother. Since then, it seems people have already determined my future, one of motherhood. So my problem is realized: society determines a girl’s whole life when she is a child but allows a boy to determine his own.