Last week, I had the privilege of speaking at the White House. From morning until the early evening, we heard from panels of educators, researchers, marketers, brand representatives and parents all talking about the topic of gender disparity and stereotypes that face our children. We heard how girls are driven to great lengths to achieve an impossible perfectionism, and boys are being left behind by old models that don’t allow them to be human beings with complex emotions. We heard from the biggest international toy brands and how they can no longer market their products in the same outdated fashion. We learned that our media landscape is as underwhelmingly filled with representations of women, diversity and positive messages as ever.
But how can dads play a part in that discussion? How can men support this movement? Here were a few things I was compelled to share…
To expand on those ideas, I wanted to also dispel the idea that single moms are somehow at a loss when it comes to raising boys. So, to give thanks to my mom and share my experience, here are five ways having a single mom helped me become a better dad:
1. Viewing Women as Partners
Men don’t have to be afraid of women. If you’ve grown up raised by a woman, you’ll see that they’re human beings firsthand. And individuals have nuances about them. Bracketing an entire sex based on stereotypes might make you feel like it’s easier to understand, but what’s lost in translation is truly staggering. You lose the ability to experience life as a participant alongside incredible thinkers, athletes, entrepreneurs, parents and more, who all happen to be women.
2. Understanding Bias
Watching my mom work in a field that was largely a boys club, and seeing her achievement despite obstacles and systemic biases based on her gender was both instructive and frustrating. How could no one see that her gender had no bearing on her ability to lead, inspire and achieve? She went on to become one of the top 10 women in her industry. That gave me a purpose in my own work life. I want to stamp out systemic issues like this.
3. Defining My Own Masculinity
My mother was very diligent in seeking out and providing male role models for me. She wanted me to know that men weren’t one thing and that masculinity could be defined in many ways. Ultimately, it was up to me to continue that journey and it’s something I’m still working on. But self-definition is one of the most powerful tools we have to understand ourselves — that we can express ourselves in our own ways without being tied to archaic tropes.
4. Understanding Marginalization
I remember the rhetoric during my childhood as very divisive when it come to single parenting. Political leaders were condemning single motherhood as some form of abuse against children. It was a soapbox topic. I couldn’t understand where it was coming from. But I understood, in some small way, what it felt like to be marginalized and attacked for your background. This isn’t something I can stand by and watch.
5. Teaching Me To Ignore Gender Roles
In my early childhood my dad left his job and stayed at home. Then I had a working mom. This gave me the permission to seek my own roles as a man, and explore new ones as a father. It’s pretty amazing when what you do and what you’re good at line up. You’ve probably experienced moment where your parenting or career expertise contradicted outdated ideas. Go with it. Feels good.
In the end, my mother taught me so much about myself and my place in the world. She supported my imagination, taught me the meaning of diligence, and what engaged parenting looks like. My sons are better for it.
Did you have a single parent? How did that prepare you for parenthood?