Having It All?

Can women have it all? As principal of a boys’ school, you might judge me a poor candidate to answer such a gender-polarizing question.

But as an educator who strives to prepare young men for adulthood, including the rewards and rigours of fatherhood, I’ve keenly followed the response to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s cover story in The Atlantic on this subject.

First, let’s flip the question around: Can men have it all? It’s not just high-achieving moms having this debate. I teach a lot of boys and I talk to a lot of fathers. The frantic pace of a career-mode family weighs heavily on them, too. They do stress about how the responsibility of fatherhood fits into their own frantic lives – it just manifests differently.

For example, as summer long weekends unfold and the pace of work slows, little gifts of unexpectedly relaxed moments catch families off guard: Having the time to watch your child master some new acrobatic trick at the cottage or local splash pad. The child’s joy at finally having your undivided attention. Your insight that these moments are too few and far between. Men might not fret with their buddies over the effect their professional obligations have on their children, but they might well feel a tug at their heart that they keep to themselves.

As educators, our role is largely about character development. That includes every facet of manhood, including teaching boys to step up in the home and become true partners. In an era of evolving attitudes about the nuclear family (think Modern Family), it’s a disservice to us all to frame the issue with gender-polarizing questions about whether women, specifically, can have it all.

As The Globe’s Elizabeth Renzetti wrote recently, “It’s not women (or men) who are to blame, but a system that is ‘time macho’ – obsessed with hours at the desk – and fails to prioritize family life.” It’s society’s issue, not a women’s issue – and needs to be addressed with utmost concern in the school system. Education is a fundamental for an evolved family unit in which both parties shoulder the parenting burden.

One of our key goals is to teach boys to be men of character, both inside and outside the home. Are we teaching them about work-life balance and preparing them for the emotional tug-of-war they’ll face one day, as well as the sacrifices they’ll need to make as active, engaged fathers? These are the questions I ask myself daily.

The best way to groom young men for fatherhood lies in modelling effective nurturing, not in studying textbooks, according to recent research by Adam Cox, a specialist in cognitive development of school-aged children. He has found that the most meaningful memory for young boys is of building something with their fathers. Peer-to-peer nurturing is also effective.

We owe it to our boys to prepare them not just for careers, but for fatherhood, and the ensuing tugs on their hearts. “Mommy bloggers” may have the most uninhibited and most public discussions on the issue, and we thank them for getting the conversation started, but it’s just not fair to count men out when it comes to authentic concern.

Generations of boys have suffered in conventional families where fathers model strong and silent behaviour. We need to equip our boys with the tools to nurture their own sons with warmth and equal responsibility – without feeling that they’re doing “women’s work” or diluting their masculinity.



4 thoughts on “Having It All?

  1. I wholeheartedly agree that we owe it to our boys to prepare them not just for careers but for fatherhood and that fathers play an essential role in that preparation. In order for that prep to be effective, boys must have time with their fathers – quality time spent away from the distractions of everyday life. With the demands on our boys during the school year, there are precious few moments for fathers to be with their kids – be it building something, playing something or exploring somewhere. Why then, during the only long weekend of the summer when boys and fathers should both have time off, does the UCC football coach schedule varsity team tryouts – not one day, but all three days? And provide a mere one weeks’ notice? Our family had plans to be away that weekend, as I imagine had lots of families. But that is not the point. The point is our boys and fathers need time together. The opportunities are few and far between. Why make them fewer?

  2. I appreciated your recent entry “Having it all?” I met my husband in medical school where there was a strong emphasis on Women in Medicine. I recall attending meetings of the Women in Medicine club where our female professors would confess to eager female medical students the secrets of how they (attempted to) achieve work life balance.

    One professor admitted that she found her oven to be a good storage place for medical journals because she never actually turned the thing on. Another confessed that she fired her nanny and stuck her kids in day care because at the end of a day full of listening to patient complaints, she did not enjoy coming home and listening to her nanny’s life troubles. These nuggets stuck with me more than the actual medical facts I was attempting to learn at the time.

    I mentioned recently to my husband, that I made my specialty choice (primary care) in part because it would allow me to have a regular schedule that would accommodate family life. His response was, “But we didn’t even have kids when you made that decision.” While I can’t imagine a group of male medical students sitting around discussing how to make Saturday morning rounds and finish in time for the soccer game – I am glad to see that you are at least raising awareness of this issue for young men as well.

    On another note – I was reading Tina Fey’s book “Bossypants” – good airplane read. She writes a chapter about her father “That’s Don Fey” – and attributes her success in part to a “Strong Father Figure/Fear Thereof” – so I can see that it must be hard for dad’s to figure out how to be the Don Fey character while also be nurturing. Maybe my job is easier, after all. But I forgot, we are not supposed to keep score.

  3. Dr Power,
    I respect your dedication to your task. That task necessarily requires you to try to perfect the thing in which you are placed in charge.
    You mention in a past article that “our graduates often confess they hustle to get up to speed about deciphering the intricacies of female social cues once they hit universities or the workplace.”
    Well yes they certainly do. For the most fortunate of these young men, it will create a complication from which it may take them a year to adjust.
    For others, it creates a lifelong, crippling handicap, bitter resentment, and everything miserable and terrible associated with that.
    My experiences have informed my position that social skills are best learned throughout childhood, and it ought to be considered crucial, more so than ever, for those skills to be highly developed in order to succeed in tomorrows business environment.
    So, I say to you, that if your school really must insist on being an all-boys institution, then it must at a minimum screen entrants to protect those vulnerable to serious psychological damage due to forced gender segregation.

  4. Good article. I find myself very lucky to have married someone who shares equally in the parenting and is a great model for our kids. Today, he’s at Centreville with Ruthie (on our 10th anniversary). It’s not easy though, it means sacrifice on both our parts. A lot of late nights working, and less time together. That being said, I think it will get easier when the kids get older, or are we delusional?

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