I am blessed to be the parent of both a son and a daughter. During a recent Shabbat lunch, I commented on the differences I have noticed in their play. A young man at the table quickly voiced, “How much of what you observe is based on what you expect differently of your son and your daughter?” Interesting. It is true that our culture has certain gendered expectations that are perpetuated by TV, magazines, Disney and countless others. At the same time, my kids are barely nine month old twins, and all I really expect of them is to eat, sleep, fill their diapers and be happy. And thankfully, they do all those tasks excellently! I do not necessarily expect my son to like banging and make a lot of noise and expect my daughter to sit with more attention and watch her surroundings with a bit more caution. But that is what they do. Is that a gender difference or a personality difference? Is it nature or nurture? I certainly do not think it is due to my expectations of each of them.
Of course, I have expectations of my children! Every parent does. I expect my son to be a sensitive human being, with empathy and compassion for others. And I expect my daughter to be a strong person who can support herself and navigate challenges with thoughtfulness and resilience. These are expectations I have of them as human beings, regardless of whether these qualities go against gender-based expectations of our cultue or conform to them.
We all have expectations, but is life really what we expect? Absolutely not, at least for me. I never did have a clear vision of what I expected my life to look like “when I got older,” and as I did get older I realized what a gift it was to be open to the unexpected. Life is not necessarily what we expect, but more often what we do with what simply happens along the way.
About Ronit: Ronit Sherwin is the Executive Director of Nishmah:The St. Louis Jewish Women’s Project, which she co-founded in 2005. Ronit has served as an educator in the Jewish communal field for 14 years, teaching families, teens and adults, with a particular focus on girls and women. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Ronit received her Bachelor’s degree in Education from the Ohio State University and then later completed a Master’s in Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School. Ronit is also the glowing mother of boy-girl twins, Natan and Batya.