When moms and dads play
What is the way you play telling your child about men and women’s roles?
My mother and father both made it clear that they loved me very much, and because they both worked, my father was involved in childcare chores like cooking and doing our washing. There was never any doubt in our minds that Dad could take care of his share of parenting duties – looking back I think he was quite a pioneer compared to many other men of his generation.

Neither of my parents had that much time to spend playing make believe or building castles out of cushions. That role was mostly filled by my long-suffering grandmother, who played Jane to my Tarzan while shelling peas on her kitchen doorstep.

I give great respect to all three of my parents, because they all helped me to grow and see the world in slightly different ways. I was left believing that love comes in many shapes and guises, and that polishing a school shoe can be a powerful statement of commitment.

Few modern parents would argue that a dad can’t change a nappy or bath his baby with the same care and nurturing that a mother can. Breastfeeding aside, mothers do not have any superpowers that an equally devoted father doesn’t have.

But if the roles are so interchangeable, why do children still grow up with a strong sense of difference between men and women?

Different play styles

Turns out our gender differences don’t show themselves as much when we’re offering care as they do when we’re playing a game.

According to recent research, mothers and father play differently. It’s when we’re sitting on the floor with a toy and a child that those subtle differences come to the fore.

Dads, it seems, have more of an assertive, take charge attitude when it comes to playing games with their kids. Moms, on the other hand, tend to be more cooperative and helpful. Both parents were more likely to take the lead with the child when in a nurturing role like offering food, but allow the child to join in decision-making while playing.

The differences, according to the study, may be the key to how children learn to determine gender roles – with females being seen as more cooperative, and males as more dominant.

But what of families were both parents are male, or both female, or there is only one role model?

Ideally we should offer children a variety of different role models of how men and women can behave and relate to others.

I for one would love to move away from some of the gender stereotypes our children are still often faced with: dad works hard for his family, mom kisses a sore knee. Because in real life mom and dad do both of those things well.

And when we play, let’s make sure we’re not telling children through our attitudes that being assertive is good for men, but cooperation is good for women. Because mom and dad can do both of those things well too.

Read more by Adele Hamilton

Should men and women stick to traditional ways of handling childcare and playing?

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