I came home and found a reorganized home with all of our Valentine’s Day decorations meticulously placed. Some women would flip out. I stood and admired the beauty.

When my husband was small, he loved to decorate his house around the holidays, but his parents didn’t really have the time to complete the tasks. So, he would do most of the decorating, along with his Mom. Later in life, he begrudged the fact that their house was not as festive as desired. He wanted more traditions.

Now, each holiday, he ensures our house is spirited and has a holiday feel to it. He continues the tradition. Some people would say this is not what most men do. I might agree. But, is that because of what they really want, or is that because of what society has helped them feel like wanting?

Amidst gender expectations and cultural berating, we often forget what we want in life. We cave to the norm. We cave to what a man is supposed to do around the house, and to what a woman is supposed to do at work.

The term ‘man up’ is probably one of my least favorite phrases circulating in our culture right now. It depicts a man being less than something. He cannot be what he is. He must be more…more manly, but what is that exactly?

To me, ‘manning up’ means being able to be so comfortable with one’s self that he can show emotion, not care about cultural expectations, and can use his head and heart when making decisions. That is strong, in my opinion, and I find many men unable to be that strong–to go against a societal expectation. Conversely, our media outlets tend to depict ‘manning up’ with different images–ones of bigger trucks, harder emotions, and stronger muscles. Although I am not opposed to any of these things, I believe the wrong impressions can be sent to the girls and boys in our society, and they are the ones trying to figure out what they are supposed to be and how they are supposed to be it.

When these messages get sent to young girls and boys, an incorrect cultural expectation ensues. And, equally disturbing, women end up being trapped in a world with confused men, women try to look like Barbie to gain attention and appreciation, and men end up being in a world where they feel like they cannot cry, show emotion, or decorate their houses for Valentine’s Day.

So, how does this affect the medical world? As women enter the medical profession in greater numbers, the work at home starts to pile up, and it must get done. Who is going to do it? Who is going to raise the kids? Who is going to clean the house? Who is going to get groceries and prep the food? Who is going to clean up? Who is going to schedule family events? Who is going to fix the cars? Who is going to repair the squeaky door? Who is going to take a child to dance lessons or soccer practice? The list goes on and on.

These decisions are perplexing to professionals–especially if raised with deeply seeded gender or cultural expectations. When a higher income is generated and tasks can be outsourced to a cleaning company or auto mechanic, the decisions are easier. But, if money is tight, the adults become the workers at work and become the workers at home. If both adults are working outside of the home, the at-home duties must be divided equally between the partners, or someone builds up resentment and the kids get less parenting.

Resentment divides families and partnerships. The overwhelming amount of work also leads to burnout and stress. Our parenting patience decreases.

As women continue to enter and succeed in the medical profession, our culture is going to have to shift…more. Traditional roles need to continue to evolve to accommodate each person’s needs. It is obvious women want to work outside of the home. (Women continue to enter dental schools in large numbers. http://www.ada.org/en/publications/ada-news/2012-archive/april/number-of-women-dentists-is-on-the-rise. In some instances, women outnumber men at dental schools).

Historically, when men and women had more black and white defined roles, the tasks seemed easier to divide. Currently when women and men share each others duties and have more equal opportunities, our black and white becomes grey. I like grey. It can lead to conflict and requires more communication, but grey allows women and men to be what they want to be.

For women, this may mean, if desired, finding a partner willing to share duties and extend beyond typical comfort zones. The duties and tasks are too great to not divide and share the work equally when two professionals are involved. Creating an agreed upon fluid plan is an essential part to the partnership so that resentment does not build up within the relationship, and so that parenting remains effective.

If we continue to push men and women into particular gender norms and roles, we decrease opportunities for men and women to be at peace with who they are.

Who wants a healthcare professional that is burned out, stressed out, and without peace?

I don’t want that person working with me or on me. It’s in our society’s best interest to help men and women define their own gender roles. It’s in our society’s best interest to help physicians, dentists, and all professionals be themselves. And, then we need to accept them just how they are–and stop portraying them like we did in the 1950’s. Some partnerships work well with a 1950’s style arrangement; that is great as long as both participants are in full agreement. More often, I see women struggling to manage both work and home duties and feeling stress and resentment in the process.

Honest, ethical behavior is something we should expect from our medical professionals. Quality care and guidance is something we should expect from our medical professionals. Beyond that, we should allow our healthcare professionals to be themselves, in any way they choose.

I am very lucky to have a husband who ‘mans up’ to decorate our house, or do the laundry. He also unclogs drains and repairs squeaky doors. He is comfortable with who he is and does what he loves–even if not within the realm of what a stereotypical ‘guy’ might do. That in turn, allows me to do what I love and be who I am. It makes me love him even more.

Being who we are is so romantic!

For this Valentine’s Day, consider doing something for the other person that is atypical of your role in the household; it may free up time so that both of you can get the well-deserved attention you need.

You plus me equals we

After 16 sixteen years in practice, Dr. Lisa Knowles founded IntentionalDental Consulting with the goal of helping dentists and their teams find more peace–in their lives and in their practice of dentistry. She speaks internationally and writes for several dental journals, including Dr. Bicuspid, Dentistry IQ, Dentistry Today, and Dental Products Report. Dr. Knowles also offers in-office consulting on the business side of dentistry. She helps dental offices become peace makers and profit makers. She practices in Okemos, Michigan and Jackson, Michigan. 

Contact Dr. Knowles at IntentionalDental@gmail.com. Her website is IntentionalDental.com.