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.
Jim Power is principal of Upper Canada College.