The dare that had me stop fighting gender stereotypes in favour of fun

She dared me.

My three-year-old daughter dared me.

Sure, she doesn’t know what a dare is, but when I suggested she and I could make her a wooden garden box, she scrunched up her face and said “maybe daddy should do it.”

That’s all she had to say for me to get my back up. Did she think we couldn’t do it because we’re girls?

I feel like there is a lot of pressure on parents these days to bust gender stereotypes. And trust me, I try — even though toy and clothing companies don’t exactly make it easy sometimes.

2016 2700My daughter has a suitcase full of Hot Wheels, and holds Lightening McQueen in the same esteem as Elsa and Anna. When she tells me a toy or activity is “for girls” or “for boys” I explain that anyone can do or like whatever it is they want.

But she also has a bin of pink and purple Mega Blocks (a gift) and when I took her to the store to buy a Little People school bus the only one available was pink (which, of course, she wanted immediately).

How can I make my daughter believe there are no “boy” or “girl” toys when companies market two streams of a product with a clear divide between the two?

Of course, I can’t blame only the toy and clothing marketers; we all have our own biases which kids pick up on. When I think of our household, my husband and I often slip into stereotypical gender roles. For example, my husband is the one who does the heavy lifting – he builds and fixes things, mows the lawn, cuts trees and loves to play cars. Mommy, on the other hand, does the sewing, cooking, crafts and spends more time taking care of the kids so daddy can get all that other stuff done.

So maybe, with that inadvertent dare, it was time for me to bust out of my comfort zone and show my daughter what I — or any girl — could do. I found a perfect project on Pinterest and had my husband grab me some pallets when he was out (I wanted to stay home to cook something for a pot luck).

On Sunday morning, we got down to work. My husband reflexively jumped into action, but I didn’t want to sit this one out so I grabbed a pallet to dismantle.

It was hard work. I hammered and hammered and used the pry bar and hammered some more (I was following a technique I found in this video).2016 1065

I wanted to give up. But more than that, I wanted my daughter to see I could do it. So I pressed on.

Once the planks were free, I started hammering and prying the nails out of each board. There were dozens. My arms ached and the sun was beating down on us. My daughter was wandering aimlessly – nobody to play with. My infant son was playing in the circle of neglect (exercauser) chewing on a tag. Daddy had pulled out the power tools and was cutting pieces to fit along the sides of the box.

Then it hit me. I don’t care if this is “daddy’s work.” Daddy slept in that morning as he does almost every morning because I’d rather have breakfast with the kids than sleep in. And yes, Daddy renovated the bathroom all by himself, but Mommy kept the family fed and clothed and happy while he was busy – oh and she also painted the walls during nap times.

We do different jobs around the house, but we both do our share and I’m pretty sure the jobs we each take on are the ones we both enjoy (or at least prefer).

So, in the end, I’m not going to worry about it. My daughter is learning from both of us. As she gets older, she will see by her chore list that no one job is for a “girl” or “boy.” She will take ballet if she enjoys it or play basketball if she prefers.

Sometimes we have to give ourselves a break from all the pressure. Even so, as I finished removing all the nails and stacked the wood in to neat piles, a feeling of pride crept in when my husband seemed surprised I had finished so quickly.

But nothing could beat how I felt when my daughter looked over and said, “Hmm. I guess I was wrong. Daddy isn’t better than Mommy.”

With that, I went in to the shed, grabbed some old wooden signs, teal paint, paintbrushes and newspaper and sat down with my daughter to make signs for her new garden.

I’m pretty sure Daddy can finish the rest of the garden box himself. And this is way more fun.

(And here are some great tips on talking to your kids about gender stereotypes from Media Smarts)

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