This past weekend, as I was leaving the shopping mall near my apartment, I overheard a man tell his son and daughter that they needed to rush home for dinner because, "We don't want mommy to get really upset."
For the record, the guy seemed like a kind and gentle father. And I've heard men make comments like his plenty of times. In the past, I always thought, "Well at least they are respectful enough to know what their wife or girlfriend needs. At least they are making an attempt."
But as I watched him and his children run off, it occurred to me that a very small, seemingly innocuous sentence could really place an incredible amount of weight on kids.
I don't know this man and I don't know what he truly intended with his comment, but what he said to his children reminded me of a wider cultural habit: we tend to take action to placate a woman's potential unhappiness rather than taking action to show her respect and love.
When we say something like, "Mommy will get really upset," we are in danger of teaching our kids to do something respectful, like being on-time, as a way to avoid a reaction.
Think about it. How many times have you said to someone, "I have to go, she's gonna rip my head off if I'm not on time for dinner."
Can you imagine if your daughter would say that about her boyfriend or husband?
"If I'm not on time, John is going to rip my head off."
You would assume she is being emotionally or physically abused.
So why are we setting such an example for our sons?
Instead of doing things to honor the women in our lives, we are conditioning our kids to have basic, respectful behavior to avoid potential anger.
But this claim isn't simply about our kids being on time to dinner. This is about asking ourselves a serious question: what is our motivation for our actions?
When you buy an anniversary present for your wife or girlfriend, do you do it because you love her and want to honor the day she came into your life? Or do you do it so she won't "flip out?"
Do you show up to an important event for your wife or girlfriend because you're proud of her and want to stand by her side? Or, are you showing up because you told your friends "there's no way I'm getting out of this one, she'll be so pissed if I'm not there."
I'm not saying you don't love the woman in your life. I'm just asking you to assess your motivation for the things you do for them.
At the end of the day, priority lies in what your kids learn from you, how they perceive your motivations.
You'll be making a big mistake if you think that this issue is too nuanced for them to understand. You might luck out, but chances are, your kids will adopt your behavior and your reasoning.
Is it worth the risk?
I have no doubt that most men are not intentionally taking actions to placate, instead of respecting, their women. And I also know that most men wouldn't want their kids to think and act this way.
But if you're reading this story and think I am overreacting and parsing words, I want you to do one thing: take a look at your children.
Do you want your son to think that all women do is nag, complain, and flip out? Do you want them to think that normal, courteous behavior like being punctual or showing respect are only tools for appeasing a hysterical woman?
What about your daughter? Do you want her to believe she can gain respect and admiration from others because of who she is and what she does? Or do you want her to think the only way for her to ever get noticed is through anger and/or hysteria?
If you answered "no," then you just need to remember one thing.
Next time you are rushing to get home with your kids and they ask why, all you have to say is, "Because we love mommy."
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