COLUMN: Jessica Iron Joseph — Oct. 19, 2012

Staff ~ The Prince Albert Daily Herald
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Last weekend was a great time to evaluate my life and all my blessings. I try to maintain a sense of gratitude throughout the year, but lately I’ve been especially thankful. My sister and I finally live in the same city again, for the first time in about 15 years. It’s wonderful to be able to see her regularly again.

We drove to my reserve together last week and it’s a fairly long drive which gave us ample time to reconnect. At one point we discussed how we were raised. We laughed and talked about things we once rebelled against and what we appreciate now.

I’ll be the first to admit that I was not a fan of all the rules my mother had for us. She had high expectations, and she imposed them on us regularly. However, today I see the validity and effectiveness of her teachings and I am thankful for the discipline I was taught.

Being Cree meant that there were specific roles for girls and boys. Often it seemed girls had it much harder because we had to cook and clean and help raise the kids, etc. — probably similar to the role of girls in most cultures.

But my brothers weren’t raised with as much discipline because traditionally they were supposed to be taught how to hunt and fish and provide — that sort of thing, but they usually didn’t do those things, likely because we were raised by a single mother.

Frequently my mother would volunteer my services when we were out visiting and I would bitterly do dishes while I stared out the window and watched my brothers playing outside.

Unfair? Absolutely. However, because of this I developed a very strong work ethic. I could never be accused of laziness, and I am grateful for that.

Do I raise my children to follow “roles?” Not at all. Probably because I was raised with “roles” and felt suppressed, and also because I had a German father who believed quite the opposite, that girls could rule the world if they wanted, I became strongly feminist. Later this developed into a “humanist” stance. I believe in the betterment of the human race, not one gender over the other. We are all here for a reason.

Since human beings are the most adaptable creatures in the universe, I believe we are all capable of learning both roles, in which case the idea of “roles” becomes antiquated, freeing people to explore their full potential, boundaries be damned.

In our home, we’ve been teaching our sons to cook, clean and do laundry. They may learn to hunt and provide and pursue more traditional “manly” activities if they like, but they will not need to seek wives as alternate mothers, because they will be capable of taking care of themselves. My hope is that they will seek wives (or partners) for the best reason of all: Love. Following that, they won’t hesitate to help cook and clean and raise their families, which I anticipate will make happier, healthier and more balanced families — something we as parents actively try to model.

The beautiful thing about parenting is that you are able to decide the best way to raise your kids. You can do things differently than your own parents did.

While there are many aspects that I resented while growing up, I’ve grown to appreciate several of them now and I raise my children in a similar fashion. My mother insisted we use our manners at ALL times and offer help to everyone and anyone who needed it, even if it was an inconvenience. Because of this, I learned to be polite and considerate, and these are definitely things I aim to pass down to my own kids.

Yet certain things I do differently out of necessity, because as times change, I believe we ought to change also. For instance, we now have to talk to our children about recycling, and the need for greener options, something that was rarely contemplated when I was younger. We encourage our children to consider the effects of their own carbon footprints because if they don’t, one day they will worry about the health of their own kids who must live on a toxically polluted earth.

I also have to constantly talk about health with my children now, which wasn’t something we talked about when I grew up. It seemed everyone was much healthier then because everyone cooked their own meals, they were much more active and spent time outdoors regularly.

Now, I struggle to get my kids off the wii/Xbox/netflix/computer … and the list of electronics only goes on. Of course I want them to be technologically literate, but that doesn’t mean they need to be on electronics for more than a couple hours each day. So I encourage them to go outside and play with their friends, but it seems, not many other people are doing the same. My kids complain that their friends never play outside, and they’re always on electronics indoors — and usually eating junk food.

So I now have to do another thing that doesn’t come naturally to me: I have to accompany them outside, and play with them, if I am to foster healthy habits. I probably still don’t do it enough, but as I write this, I am making a personal commitment to spend more active time with them outdoors.

I find that talking about parenting really helps, along with periodic self-evaluation. I know I’m not a perfect mother, and I am not trying to raise perfect children — truly I don’t think they exist anyway. But I think if we evaluate how we were raised, we can selectively take from our experiences those things that have enriched us and made us better people — not bitter people, leaving us with something to be thankful for.

Parenting is a journey in which we have choices every single day. Hopefully our children benefit from our decisions.

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