Border Mail Column Wednesday 11 May 2011
Another Mother’s Day has been celebrated, but we feel the influence of our mothers and the way they mothered us on a day to day basis.
Some years ago I published a collection of short stories which I dedicated to my mum who had died of cancer just over two years prior to its release.
The dedication read: “To my mother who held the basket and the briefcase in perfect balance’: a reference to the way she was able run a household, go out to work, be a grandmother, but most of all be a positive influence on her children, three daughters and a son, and others around her.
One of her greatest gifts was to instil a sense of confidence in us that, whatever our gender, we could be whatever we wanted to be.
She often reminded us that we had equal opportunity in everything, including sharing in the housework; a necessity in our household because mum returned to work when we were quite small.
Our dad, a sensitive new age guy ahead of his time, would take over the reins in the childcare and housework departments.
I grew up with no delineation of what was women’s work and what was men’s work, which at the time was not the norm.
My mother’s parenting began in the late 1950’s when a woman’s place was mostly in the home.
In fact a popular US publication of the day, ‘Housekeeping Monthly’, released ‘The Good Wife’s Guide’ with handy hints for the wife to ensure that when her husband came home from work all would be calm with the children bathed and fed so that all he had to do was put his feet up.
This gem emerged in the notes I was given as a resource for the women’s studies subject I’m currently teaching.
Although its authenticity has been queried, there’s evidence to show that it is real, and was also included in a 1950’s American high school home economics textbook.
Popular culture of the time also reflected the thinking that it was the wife’s job to ensure that the home the man returned to at night was indeed his castle.
‘Have dinner ready. Prepare yourself. Touch up your makeup, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people. Be a little gay and a little more interesting. Clear away the clutter…run a dust cloth over the tables.”
These were the ‘do’s’, but there were also the ‘don’ts’.
‘Don’t greet him with problems or complaints. Don’t complain if he is late for dinner. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soft, soothing and pleasant voice. Listen to him: You may have dozens of things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first. Make the evening his. Never complain if he does not take you out to dinner or other pleasant entertainments.’
Gender roles were firmly entrenched, except in our household, but I am always intrigued as to whether some of our behaviour is hardwired.
Just how much are we influenced by gender stereotypes which now are continually perpetuated in the media?
My experience of having had two sons has swayed me toward thinking that nature has greater sway, but nurture is the more important in ensuring they have grown up with skills and values that make them caring human beings who, when the time comes, will encourage their own children to be the best they can be.
A quality that is non-gender specific.