By Dana Copeland of Mama Q.0
I don’t know when it started, but I do know when I decided to put an end to it. It was the moment when my 7-year-old son tried to teach my wife how to put toothpaste on a toothbrush. We might have overlooked it, called it one of those funny things he does, if the day before he hadn’t tried to teach me how to properly hang a pair of pants.
I went from speechless to angry to amused before I finally settled on contemplative. While neither of us used the word “mansplain” with him in earshot, we were both thinking it. In my lifetime, I’ve been mansplained to by my father, my brother, exes, and many other men and boys; while I can’t change the past, I refuse to be spoken down to by my own child.
We both acknowledged whether he was right (toothpaste) or wrong (pants), and asked him to stop explaining things we already knew. And we agreed to shut down his condescending tutorials the same way until they had become a thing of the past.
Unfortunately, our resolve was meaningless, because his habit wasn’t going anywhere.
He started to point out things that were broken around our house, then told us how he would fix them, like the basketball goal that wobbles when he shoots, or the prop for the storm door he considers too loose.
And it made us furious. Why? Because there is nothing wrong with any of those objects, and worse, because it seemed he never considered we would be able to fix these imaginary problems ourselves. We would need him to do it for us.
After all, we are merely women.
I realized later how unlikely it was that gender entered his mind at all. His flavor of autism has given him a keen mind, mechanical inclination, and the exhausting inability to determine when he is being insensitive to the needs of others. But it’s also made him oblivious to gender politics excepting when they apply to him.
Besides, we’re his parents, and everyone knows parents are never right about anything.
Armed with the knowledge that our little boy is not a tiny chauvinist, my wife and I quietly changed our tactics. Instead of rolling our eyes when he speaks at length on simple subjects with what seems to be condescension, we decided to congratulate him on learning something new about the confusing world he lives in. Then we try to give him an additional, related fact – mostly for his information, but partly, I admit, to prove we have the knowledge. What can I say? Our family is full of works-in-progress.
I want our little boy to grow into an emotionally competent adult who knows when to share his knowledge (which is impressively vast already) and when to close his mouth to listen to someone who knows something he might not. He is always going to be a little different, but if we do this parenting thing right, he will land on the right side of his privileges.
About the Author
Never one to back down from a challenge, Dana and her wife are raising two kids in a blended, special needs, super gay family in a small, conservative town in Texas. Her work has appeared in parenting, self-help, and LGBTQ spaces. She blogs about life as a queer, work-from-home, work-in-progress parent at Mama Q.0. [mamaqpoint0.wordpress.com]