My mind was full of stereotypes when my wife first told me that she planned to sign us both up for the local chapter of the National Parent Teacher Association… more commonly known as the PTA. Though I had already established a blog about parenting from the “dad perspective”, bucking the established mommy blogger strongholds, the acronym PTA was still something I had to overcome.
Stereotypes are something I’ve come to appreciate. They have a negative connotation, but stereotypes tell a story. Stereotypes are widely held societal norms, images or ideas, that help us understand groups and the world around us. Some stereotypes are positive and some are negative. Often times stereotypes are grossly oversimplified or outdated.
Examples of some common stereotypes are:
– People that wear glasses are intelligent.
– People that play sports (jocks) are dumb.
– Women are in touch with their feelings and sensitive.
– Men do not cry.
– Police officers like donuts.
– Republicans like guns.
– Democrats like taxes.
The list could go on and on and on. There are stereotypes about gender, race, occupation, nationality, religion, politics, and age.
Stereotypes can teach us about the world around us if individuals can research each topic and ask why. Why is it a widely held notion that men do not cry? What social norms were established in the past to support this thought? Is this true and still relevant? What do the percentages and statistics tell us? Who has confirmed or debunked this stereotype and why? What events have been turning points in the world which have help changed or evolve the issue?
On the negative side, stereotypes can make us develop prejudices. We can avoid things we may actually like or be interested in due to preconceived notions. The important takeaway regarding stereotypes is that they are oversimplified and not standard rules.
There are exceptions to each norm. There are people that wear glasses that are not highly intelligent. There are people that play sports that are intelligent. There are Democrats that own guns. There are tattooed grungy looking folk that are quality, caring people with high integrity and there are people that wear fine couture suits each day that are evil minded thieves!
These can be talking points to discuss with your children over the years as they grow older and possibly begin to exhibit, perpetuate or regurgitate stereotypes.
In late October I showed up to spend time with my children and to help the PTA put on a Harvest Party/Halloween Party at their school. It was the first time I had been inside the school during school hours.
Parents/PTA members began showing up outside the school and talking with one another. Many knew each other from PTA meetings in the past and other activities. Generally a relaxed person, I was a little nervous. I had some “first day at a new job” or “first day of school” type butterflies in my stomach. I was happy to see some men/dads in the crowd. By no means did I want to be the only dad there, but I was prepared for it nonetheless. There weren’t tons of dads, but there were a few.
Once inside the classroom, we helped the kids put on Halloween costumes and they participated in an outdoor parade. Teachers, administrators and parents awaited them outside. Kids were given compliments and high fives and many pictures were taken.
We came back to the classroom and set up snacks for the kids at their tables. We then set up a series of games and activities for them to partake in. There was bowling, temporary tattoos, drawing and coloring stations and a bean bag (cornhole) toss game. Now, cornhole… that’s something I knew a little something about. It is a favorite family and friends summer activity. The other five PTA members in the classroom (all moms) asked me if I had a preference for organizing a certain station and I picked the bean bag toss/cornhole station.
All of this was a surprise to the kids who only knew that there would be an event later in the day and they were permitted to wear their costumes to school.
The kids had a blast. My son Cooper was happy to introduce me to some of his friends.
There is something extremely heartwarming about a little boy proudly saying to his friends, “this is my dad” or conversely “this is my mom.”
The PTA moms in the classroom I was at were nice and welcoming to me. They were glad to have the help at the event. During the event, one child went outside without his shoes accidentally. The child was emotionally upset because he did not think he could participate in the event since he forgot his shoes, so I asked him if he would like to be picked up and carried throughout the parade. He obliged and his frown turned to smiles once he was outside showing off his sweet pirate costume. I was his adoptive dad for this situation.
After the event was over, I began to recap the series of events in my head and research more about the PTA. I was interested and happy to find out that PTA membership of males is on the rise. Once close to zero, now the group is made up of over 10% of males.
In June 2007, Charles Saylors was elected the first ever male national president of PTA. A construction worker and father to four children, Charles had previously been a PTA member for 20 years in South Carolina prior to becoming PTA national president.
PTA membership is open to anyone that is concerned about education, health and welfare of today’s youth. Involvement is not limited to biological parents, step-parents or adoptive parents.
More generally, when dads are actively involved in the the lives of their children, they are happier, perform better in school, and have less disciplinary problems… those are facts, not stereotypes.