“My mom likes to cook. My dad goes to the zoo. My mom likes to clean. My dad goes to the moon.”
Wait, what? The moon? Something doesn’t feel right here.
After a long day at the office, Rachel Ciomcia was shuffling through some papers sent home from her 5-year-old son Carson’s school. The Star Sight Word stories, created by Simply Kinder, caught her attention when she noticed obvious stereotypes in the “My Mom Likes” and “My Dad Went” series. After sharing images of the books on social media, Ciomcia realized she wasn’t alone in her concerns.
“I feel like almost daily, I’m running into subtle and not-so-subtle narratives about what a woman should be in the community and in the home,” says Ciomcia, who works at the Cleveland Leadership Center as vice president of strategic engagement and director of Cleveland Bridge Builders. “To see it so blatantly in my son’s school work was something I felt like I needed to address, especially since so much of what was in that original Mom story is so the opposite of who I am.”
The Star Sight Word stories are a popular online resource used by many teachers to download bundles of worksheets and activities for their students. Knowing the reach of these resources traveled much further than her son’s classroom, Ciomcia decided to contact the creator and share her thoughts about the content. Twenty minutes later, she received a response.
“She was incredibly open to my feedback and instantly said she would work to craft new versions of those books,” recalls Ciomcia of the author. “She even reached out to me later in the day asking for my opinion on a few of her thoughts about the edits.”
The new, revised versions were completed the next day. Mom isn’t just liking things now – she’s visiting places, just like Dad. Mom goes to the park, the vet, the pool, the carwash. As for Dad, instead of the ambitious, yet highly unlikely, visit to outer space, he’s now going to the dentist. Also important.
A simple, constructive email exchange – one that led to real change overnight – will now make a subtle yet lasting impact on the way kids view Mom and Dad. Naturally, we want our children to grow up and learn in an environment that teaches equality and fairness, but speaking up to defend those qualities can be intimidating.
“Reaching out and sharing your perspective can raise a point that someone hadn’t previously thought of,” says Ciomcia. “It doesn’t need to be confrontational, and chances are, most people are really interested in learning, growing, and finding better ways to do what they do.”
As parents, we serve as gatekeepers of the mixed messages our children receive about gender on a daily basis. Fortunately for kids like Carson, some parents take the challenge head on to address how society portrays moms and dads, boys and girls.
“It’s a conversation we have often in our house – toys are for everyone, girls and boys do the same things, moms and dads both work,” says Ciomcia. “Carson has [also] come to work with me and been exposed to my work, so it’s something he is fully aware of, and we do activities together that aren’t gendered, so to speak.”
Our children watch, listen, and absorb everything around them. Each day is an opportunity to show them that girls can like trucks, boys can like dolls, and anyone can go to the moon.