Many cultures push some life skills on women, such as domestic chores and housework. In 2020, are we still bound by these outdated gender roles? Is a traditional upbringing relevant in today’s modern families and living arrangements? We may be missing the true meaning and benefit of being able to complete basic life skills no matter what gender you identify with.
Basic life skills include cooking, grooming, bathing, dressing, toileting, cleaning and tidying up, managing finances, and using your own or public transportation to get from place to place, among others. From the objective point of view of someone who works with individuals to help them gain independence in everyday life, these skills are not dependent on gender — and everyone benefits from experience in as many as possible. Cesar Cespedes, OTR, MS, at Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen works with men and women desiring to regain or acquire increased independence in their everyday lives due to illness, injury, or who are there learning how to care for a loved one.
“When an illness or injury limits one’s meaningful life activities, the occupational therapist will work together with the individual and their family to establish goals that will assist the person to re-integrate their meaningful daily activities and live life to its fullest,” he said. “These activities and skills are not gender-biased or limited to the individual performing them, but are used when needing to care for someone else.”
For example, the tasks of caring for a newborn, assisting someone who has acquired an illness or injury, or supporting a terminally ill individual are all instances where knowing how to perform basic life skills becomes essential for someone’s well being. “This is why it is very important to be open-minded when it comes to learning new activities and life skills,” Cespedes said. “I have seen an individual that could no longer perform their ‘normal’ household duties due to an injury. This leads to the other members of the household to take on roles and responsibilities that may be viewed as non-traditional.”
But learning how to perform basic life skills is not exclusively beneficial in situations of hardship. Most committed partnerships today are made up of individuals who work and enjoy hobbies and social engagement with others. Some decide to enter parenthood and new roles and responsibilities emerge. Being capable at performing basic life skills makes a well-rounded adult who can support their partner and loved ones when they may be in a phase of rest and recovery, such as new motherhood, or if one partner travels often for work or is the main caregiver for their children or a family member. If someone gets sick and needs to recover for a few days, the other partner can take over roles without hesitation, allowing the household to continue to function and flow without too much added stress. There are also individuals who choose to enjoy life as single adults for whom the traditional way of upbringing hinders their independence.
How do we support universal life skills to raise well-rounded adults? It starts at home — not so much by what we teach as by what we model. If you have children, remember that little minds are the most curious and eager to help and get involved. Boys and girls both enjoy helping mom and dad no matter what task it is. Allow them to wash dishes, sweep, mop, help repair something, assist in diaper changes — whatever it is as long as it is age appropriate. Take turns with your partner doing different house chores and responsibilities. This way, children observe that life skills are everyone’s responsibility. If you know there are skills you could learn to increase your independence or help a loved one, you could be proactive and take initiative by asking a friend or parent to help you learn and fill in the gap of essential life skills.
We no longer attribute self-worth or judge others’ worthiness by how skillful they are in outdated gender roles. Women and men are both individuals with different and equal roles in society. Everyone benefits at the individual and the societal level from knowing how to perform basic life skills, modeling these for children, and using them to help others.