Unlearning the Myths of Gender Stereotyping in Parenting

This week, I want to explore the importance of partnership parenting and the need to unlearn gender-stereotyped parenting in the home.

When I had my first daughter, my parents came over to stay with us from Nigeria to fulfil the “Omugwo” requirement which is an Igbo term in Nigeria for the custom of postpartum care.

My mum had come to look after me and the baby for a period of about 2 months and my dad had come to see his first grandchild. It was such an incredibly exciting time for them both; I mean this was their first grandchild.

Just seeing how they both doted on her gave me so much joy. However, a particular incident I remember, and which influenced this post was my dad’s reaction when he saw my husband changing the baby’s diapers. The expression on his face was priceless; it was one of disbelief that a man was changing a baby’s diaper.


E shock you?

After trying to hold in his feelings, and waiting till my husband had left the room, the question needed to be asked.

“Eremoje” as he fondly called me.

Why is your husband the one changing the baby’s nappy? It shouldn’t be his job to be doing that”.

My initial response was one of shock but on second thought, I realised where this was coming from. You see, my dad is hands down the best father a girl can ask for (I am willing to take anyone up on that) but he was raised up in the era where it was perfectly acceptable for women to be 100% caregiver and homemaker and the man’s role was to be 100% provider. And although over time, his world view on some of these issues has shifted and challenged his core values, there were certain things that still challenged his core belief, and this was one.

Calmly, I responded, “Daddy there’s nothing wrong with Seun changing the baby’s diapers, in fact, he needs to be doing it”. Jokingly I added, at least he is her father.

He smiled and responded, “Well, that’s okay, as long as you both agree and understand each other.” This was his way of saying I don’t agree but if it works for you, then it’s okay.

Although he didn’t fully understand, I think he accepted that the world had definitely moved on from what he was used to.

Weeks later when he was due to return back to Nigeria, we had a sit-down chat and to my surprise, he commended my husband for “being so supportive”.

He was open enough to admit that it all felt foreign to him, but he was happy that we both supported each other.

I have often reflected on this moment when I think about how we sometimes make our parenting roles so exclusive in that certain things are reserved for the mother and vice versa. I know that I don’t have the answers and even now, there are many things I instinctively just do without thinking to ask my husband for help because that was how I was brought up.

My assumption is that he can’t do it, or I am the expert in the role and I automatically don’t think to ask for help.

Over time though, I have learnt (very hard lessons) that many times one parent tends to do more than the other and in reality, this tends to be mothers.

There is almost this sense of disbelief within an African home setting to find a man who is just as invested in sorting out domestic chores; it seems like he has the wow factor.

In fact, my argument is that we should be normalising this level of partnership between parents.
I want to go further and say that when we correct this narrative of gender stereotype roles in parenting, it informs the way we parent our children.

my argument is that we should be normalising this level of partnership between parents

-Musing Pam.

When parents work together in this way, it creates an environment where the child recognises the benefits of partnership which they take into adulthood. The expectation shouldn’t only be on the girl child to carry out chores within the home while the male child nurtured to think his role is limited to providing for his family.

With this generation, we need to be open to the fact that some of these traditional myths do not serve the child with a well-rounded view of the world; it in fact creates limitations that may impact them in their adult life.

Boys are perfectly capable of cooking, cleaning, tending to errands around the home just as much as girls are. The idea that girls are maternal and therefore, we need to nurture these beliefs is truly limiting.

Boys can cook also.

What happens when one parent isn’t available for whatever reason? Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we cannot have our individual strengths as parents, but these should not be limited to gender.

One role is not more important than the other, it is a partnership, not a competition. The role of fathers and mothers is equally important in a child’s life because there may be times that the child only has one parent present (for various reasons). Children don’t have to be at a disadvantage because one parent is not immediately present.

Gender stereotypical parenting informs and influences child development and social interaction, therefore, we need to rethink and unlearn these approaches. “Together, may we give our children the roots to grow and the wings to fly”.

8 thoughts on “Unlearning the Myths of Gender Stereotyping in Parenting”

  1. In a healthy partnership, gender stereotypes exist, they are not as rigid but they present in a more flexible way. We cannot expect full equality in all things because that’s just not how we were designed to be. I remember going on holiday alone with my children and for no physical reason or reasoning by daughter became anxious, when we talked she said she felt scared because her father wasn’t there, and if anything was to happen no one could protect us. To her her father was the protector and I could never play that role in her eyes. Some things are built in to the design of a woman and others is in the make up of a man, these things are unchangeable, house chores however are negotiable.

    1. Indeed. We each have our roles. The premise I think is that we shouldn’t be too rigid with these roles and easily accept some flexibility. I can totally relate with this, I am the one in my family that enjoy DIY work, my husband is perfectly happy playing with the toddler and doing low key jobs around the house. We are lucky to be in an environment where we don’t have too many external influences. I have seen good dynamics starting out, flip to become a horror story because of snide comments from family and friends. Wisdom is applicable in all things.

  2. I’m totally with you Pam. These untold stereotypes do no good for a healthy partnership in child rearing.

    I have been fortunate to grow up seeing my dad, cooking and cleaning. He still enjoys cooking and boasts that he’s a better cook than my mum in some dishes.

    I have also been blessed to have an African husband who has never stereotyped roles and naturally does what need to be done. Perhaps he instinctively knew I would not stand for that. Nonetheless, it has proven invaluable for our partnership.

  3. I totally get this. I would like to imagine how the discussion would have gone if it was your mother in law who came to visit. I’m using experiences such as this to inform my own social construction and to change the narrative for the future of the young generation. I’m still old school in some aspects of gender roles and I believe that’s a story for another day but all in all I agree that we need to move from that prejudice of one shoe is Hannah and the other is for Isaac. The new order is a mix and match order. Thanks for sharing this sis.

  4. The stereotype is real and very evident in our generation. It truly stems from the child’s upbringing. As parents, we have to be purposeful in instilling in our children (male and female) the change that we want to see.
    Pamiseun, great job love!!!

  5. This is very true…. However is it still late for our parents in Nigeria to change certain things about how they see life.
    I think this should be broadcasted for all to see, and encourage a change.
    Nice one Pam….. Partnership is key

  6. I think we as humans subconsciously have this thoughts in our mind that certain role belongs to one gender or the other. For example, within the NHS, an audit took place with a certain regulatory outside body. They found out that a lot of senior roles, such as directors, head of service etc are dominated by males, they have made a turnaround and now consciously advertising this roles, adding in the adverts that they would love to hear from female applicants. I remember when I went for a job interview in 1994 with the city council, the council informed me that I got the job, but my husband also got a role in the same department, however, they can only employ one of us. Guess who stood down? Me! Because we have a 4 month old baby and I’ll be a better caregiver to our child than him, and he’s meant to be the provider like the mentality we grew up with in Naija. I think Nigeria has a long way to go in gender equality. Western world is not so much of an issue. Great subject to tackle. I enjoy reading it. Well done Pam x

  7. I think with gender stereotypes (in this casein parenting/ the home) it can be a tricky one as there will be times where it benefits both parties but most often works against the woman. Generally speaking it’s an archaic concept, which doesn’t fit in with the modern world. Now women are not just educated, but also out there hustling, working hard, doing stressful hours, setting up businesses and bringing in income.
    As well as this, being out of our African countries, we don’t have the help our parents would have enjoyed;nanny, househelp, cook, washman(ppl who come and do your laundry) whatever at our disposal.
    This is where one needs to then realise that things are different and there needs to be a willingness on both sides to help out. We need to see it as supporting one another, being in one team. For example if I’m home late, my husband will take the initiative and get the children bathed and fed. It shouldn’t be a wait for mummy as its her job. Its simply caring for your child. Equally if daddy is not there I will still go and open the garage and get their scooters out etc for play, or attempt to fix their toys :). Sometimes I’ll put the bin out with the kids. This way they see everyone being capable of doing everything. We’re also guilty of leaving men to certain jobs as it suits us. So both parents have to make a conscious effort to go against the grain (usually very uncomfortable). That’s how children learn not just by telling them.

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