An interesting thing happens when we have children; we raise them as if the world were the same as it was when we were growing up. Throughout history this has worked quite well, largely because change was such a slow and incremental thing.
Today, however, change is no longer incremental and much of what passed as wisdom 30 years ago is now inappropriate. What that means in more concrete terms is we must develop new skills in preparing our daughters for the world that they now live in. Some of these matters are obvious: Supporting her attempts to grow, not restricting her to traditional female roles, urging her to take risks.
There is one significant area, however, that has gone pretty much undiscussed, and yet lurks in young women’s lives today like the proverbial elephant in the closet: the difficulty associated with living in a time of rapidly changing gender roles. This change is having a major impact on our daughters’ lives, but is not something we tend to talk to our daughters about.
But discussing gender roles with girls is important. Over the last 50 years, we have witnessed the most astonishingly rapid change in gender roles that has ever occurred in human history. Unfortunately, when in their twenties our daughters are looking around for a suitable life partner, too many will find that the dramatic changes in how women understand themselves have not been matched by equal changes in men.
In fact, for a variety of reasons the last five decades of change have left most boys and men lost, confused, and unready to assume a partnering role with today’s women. As a result, when our daughters enter adulthood the odds are good that they will run into all the problems associated with uneven rapid gender change: emotionally trying, unsatisfying, and ultimately heartbreaking relationships.
At the heart of the problem is the sad fact that we are still raising our boys in such a way that their capacity for a deep and meaningful emotional engagement with a woman is seriously impaired. It is no secret that many men are emotionally handicapped, and thus cannot analyze their feeling terribly well. Women used to accept such characteristics, but that is no longer true for our daughters. To the extent that we are raising our daughters well, they are raising their own expectations of what constitutes an appropriate life partner. Yet the corresponding changes are not taking place in men. The result is an increasingly wide gap between our daughters’ capacity for engaging life and the emotionally hobbled capacity of men.
I’m not trying to cast a dark cloud over our daughters’ future love lives, but the facts cannot be ignored. If our girls are to find happiness in love, the sooner we start talking with them about this issue, the better.
Will Glennon is the author of The Collected Wisdom of Fathers and is the father of an adult daughter and son.