Picture a Catholic family of five headed by an Italian father and Mormon convert mother. Welcome to my childhood. I grew up in a pretty traditional household; my father was the head of the house and made all the decisions, despite the fact he was emotionally unavailable as my two sisters and I got older. Although my mother was the one with a secure job and more a part of our lives, it has taken her years to learn to assert herself and prioritize her needs and dreams.
We went to church every Sunday, were instilled with morals growing up and understood the importance of an education and giving back to ones’ community. Despite how uniform and consistent my parents tried to make their stances appear to the three of us, I didn’t realize until I was older how vastly different my parents felt about such issues, and how destructive this was.
What I have come to realize is that we are a prime example of a modern day, dysfunctional family caught in the trap of traditional family “values.”
In a time not long ago, fathers were the breadwinners and ultimate authority on everything having to do with the family. Mothers were the nurturers who were in charge of the household and kids. Children were expected to be well behaved and respectful.
Underneath the seemingly perfect lives, smiles, warm casseroles for the neighbors and white picket fences, these family roles were often a recipe for disaster: secrets, failed marriages, emotional stress and family disconnect.
Men were often uncompromising, emotionally detached and had strict expectations for their lives, the household, and their families. Women were subservient, tended to place their needs last, and the word assertive was not in their vocabulary. If there were marital problems, they stuck through them despite any costs to the children and their own psychological well-being. Back then you just did not get a divorce.
Long story short, the roles and structures of families back in the day did not work.
Fast forward to modern day America, where gender roles still exist but are much more fluid and, as some would even say, backward.
There are more women in the workforce than ever before and it is not uncommon for them to be the breadwinners. More fathers stay at home to take care of the kids and children are treated more like equals.
Although there is nothing wrong with men and women adopting some traits of the other gender, there must be a balance. Some people still hold “old world” notions and others are on the opposite end of the spectrum. While the opportunity to contribute to society through a career is wonderful, women must put their families first because functional, happy families are the foundation of a healthy society. While there is nothing wrong with a stay at home dad, men need to be able to provide security and stability. Divorce may have offered many people the chance out of a disastrous relationship and a better life, but has become too easy today; marriage isn’t as valued and people don’t work as diligently at saving relationships.
I know when I decide to get married one day, my ideal partner would be someone who can provide for the family and help with cleaning and cooking. He’ll be unafraid to take ballroom dancing classes with me or take his daughter shopping. Our relationship will have plenty of compromising, flexibility, open communication and expressiveness.
A relationship must be in equilibrium. Holding too much to a particular role or expectation can breed resentment and trouble. As much as I love my parents, modeling their own parents’ traditional lifestyle did not work in this new day and age. In the end, such roles exist because society has created them that way. There is no real reason why guys can’t play with Barbies or why girls aren’t supposed to play Football.
No relationship is perfect and everything takes work, which includes ensuring you and your partner are eye-to-eye on crucial issues before making the walk to the altar.