“So, you’re saying that your presentation was more important than my concert?” asked my 12-year-old son at the dinner table one evening.
My breath stopped. Everything slowed down, from the beat of my heart to my son slurping a spaghetti noodle. My vision tightened down to a small tunnel and sounds blurred.
It was just your typical Post Traumatic Stress Disorder trigger, along with some good old-fashioned woman-rage.
The You’re Not Good Enough Trigger
One of my big PTSD triggers is the belief that I’m not good enough. Anything I am and will be and try and do will simply never be good enough.
I understand where it comes from logically. Logic does not take the trigger away. Especially when your youngest child asks, “So your presentation was more important than my concert?”
I missed his concert due to a calendar conflict, like so many that have come before. Years ago, my husband and I decided that our boys have two parents, and we were going to take advantage of that. We work together, filling in for each other. He has missed recitals and games and concerts, as have I, but never both of us at the same time. We have also had many conversations with the children as these calendar conflicts have come up over the years.
And yes, I had another conversation about it that night, reminding our youngest of our past agreements and behavior and that his dad taped the concert so that we could watch it together the next day.
The next day, his words echoed around the inside of my skull – “So your presentation was more important than my concert?” Along with the leftovers of the trigger – the immediate anger, the hurt, the “you’re not good enough and you’ll never be.”
And the 97% certainty that he would not say something like this to his father.
Is a Form of Sexism Inherent?
In college, I studied to be a teacher, which meant that I took all of the human development classes in the history of the earth. I am well aware that children will bond deeply with their mothers during the first years of life. Then I think I remember something about them bonding more with their fathers, especially boys.
I have seen this play out with our two boys as they have grown up. Now fifteen and twelve years old, they appear to listen more to him, to take him seriously, to require less – how should I say this – volume and repetition when requests are made. After our youngest’s comment about the concert, I have been reflecting on several questions:
Do all kids listen better to the man of the house? Or is that only boys? Do children relate more with the parent of the same gender? Have I helped raise sexist kids, despite my core beliefs?
There’s a story in our family about, “That One Time Dad Yelled at Us.” We have a basement with a common area on purpose. We bought this house so that we could send the boys and their friends downstairs whenever we wanted. There are obvious advantages to this – that is where all the instruments are, including the drumset. There’s also a TV with some chairs and a couch.
It turns out that when you’re not looking, kids can be disgusting slobs. They had left wrappers, banana peels, plates, forks, cups, and even food open down there. There were blankets and dirty clothes and detritus stuffed in the cushions of the couch. Husband was pissed.
He called them down and went off about putting garbage in the garbage can and mice infestations and that they need to pick up after themselves. Yes, his voice was raised.
If you ask the boys today, they still remember that event. They remember what my husband said and even why he was so upset.
That was four years ago.
My husband and I use similar vocabulary with the children. I have used the same tone, volume, and pitch. I have been at the end of my rope and yelled. I have been thoroughly and visibly disgusted.
And nobody cares. There is no story about That One Time Mom Yelled at Us.
My boys have always listened to their dad. The first time, every time. And I fume.
Should Parents Stick Up for Each Other?
Our youngest, entering the teen years, is starting to really chap my hide. Behaviors like not acknowledging me when I speak, walking away from conversations, and giving me “The Tone” when he talks with me are kind of driving me crazy.
Over breakfast one morning, I said to my husband, “I need you to say something when you see behavior like that,” I said.
“Really?” he asked.
I nodded. “They listen to you. It’s some kind of boys-relating-with-their-father thing,” I said.
“Well, what I don’t want to do is to communicate that you can’t handle yourself,” he said.
“Handle myself? That’s what she said.”
He rolled his eyes. “I really don’t want to look like I’m swooping in and completely undermining you,” he said.
I nodded. “I see where you’re coming from. But they listen to you.”
“How about this? What has worked in the past is that I approach them after the initial conflict,” he said. “Then we talk about their behavior and any adjustments that need to be made. And you don’t have the benefit of seeing that happen all the time.”
I nodded, processing this idea, which brought up a whole different set of questions. Is it necessary for him to stick up for me? Is that still undermining my authority? Do I need to see him do it? Would it be bad if my husband interrupted a conflict that I was having with one of our boys and said, “Listen to your mother?”
Calling Them Out on Their Sexism
It wasn’t but a few days later when my youngest brought up that I had missed his concert. Again. At the dinner table.
Our oldest chimed in on the conversation, making some comment about how I was absent. I looked at my husband. He seemed unperturbed.
This time, there was no tunnel vision or roaring in my ears, no PTSD trigger. Now there was just disbelief and anger.
“You have got to be kidding me!” I yelled. “I grew both of you in my body. I literally grew humans in my body and almost died doing it! Then I fed you from this same body and missed sleep in order to keep you alive, safe, and loved. I have supported you to the extent that easily 83% of my life has been filled with crap that I didn’t even want to do! I have worked and budgeted and shopped and fundraised and cooked and cleaned and coordinated, and all you can say is that I missed one fricking concert? That is all you remember? Perhaps it is time to check yourself, because I’m pretty sure that you have not stopped to take into account anything that your dad has missed. You know how I know?”
Both boy-children stared at me, eyes wide.
“Because you have never said anything like that to him! How is that fair? How dare you harass me and not hold him accountable to the same standard. How dare you single me out as if my life is for your convenience. Do you know what that is?”
They shook their heads.
“That, my friends, is sexism. And it is unacceptable.”
I still have a lot of questions about the white-privileged males in my household, but I have one answer. When you realize your kids are sexist, you put a stop to it. Every time.