Tuesday, May 27, 2014

On Raising a Son

I've been raising girls for five years now, and I'm often discouraged by the blatant discrimination between boys and girls.

When we found out we were having a boy, I was beyond elated. I was going to have daughters, and a son. I was going to be able to have that special bond between a mother and her son, and I was going to be able to watch my husband raise a boy. However, it didn't take long to become defensive when people would make comments to me or my husband, such as:

"You are finally giving Adam a boy!"
"Wow! I bet Adam is so happy!" 
"Real men have boys!" 
and the absolute worst:
"Way to go, Adam! You did it!" 
(Which is horrific on so many levels)

As I prepare to meet my boy, I've been pondering some of the things I want to teach him about being a boy, that sometimes deviate from the things I've observed in society. According to Brene Brown's research on our cultural ideals for men, men are expected to always win, be in emotional control, take risks, assert dominance, be competently self-reliant, have power over women, and pursue status. I want my son to know that cultural expectations don't determine his masculinity.

1) Don't be afraid to be vulnerable. There is real strength in being open and honest, rather than pretending everything is under control all the time. Because it's not going to be okay all the time. You will be scared, hurt, and lonely, and learning to appropriately express and process these emotions will give you a balance and power that will allow you to thrive. Developing this skill will serve you well in adulthood.

2) Learn to control your thoughts. Your actions are ultimately dictated by your thoughts.Nobody else is responsible for the way you think or act. Becoming accountable for your own thoughts will teach you responsibility and control.

3) Learn to apologize. Nobody is perfect, and I don't expect you to be. I do expect you to own up to your mistakes, and recognize when you've done something wrong.

4) Honor women. I expect you to respect all people, but just as I want your sisters to learn to have respect for men, I expect you to respect women. Sometimes they will be difficult to understand, and that's okay.

5) I expect you to do the dishes, make meals, fold laundry, and vacuum the house. There is no such thing as "women's work" vs "men's work." As a member of this household, you are expected to pitch in and help out with whatever needs getting done.

6) In our house, there is no "Boys vs. Girls." As you get older, you'll notice lots of comparisons being made between boys and girls. Some people might even try to tell you that boys are better than girls. You'll know how silly that is. You'll know that every individual person is inherently born with qualities which allow them to contribute in significant ways to society.

7) Always be polite. Manners are important. I've raised your sisters to say please, thank you, and excuse me. I expect you to do the same. Just because you are a boy it doesn't mean you can get away with being crude. Not in my house, buster.

8) Don't feel like you have to be macho. Some people will define masculinity based on certain ideals, activities, or attributes. You're inherent manliness is not defined by how good you are at sports, or how well you can barbecue. You may be an excellent baseball player, and that will be wonderful. Or, you may be a tech nerd like your father, which will be just as wonderful, and just as manly.

9) Be loving. Serve others. Hug your sisters. Kiss your mommy. Did you know there isn't a single conversation that my brother, your uncle Sean, doesn't tell me that he loves me? It's always appreciated.

10) Be smart. Studies show that in the earlier school years, girls far surpass boys academically. Did you know that a large part of this is due to the fact that parents often place different expectations on girls academically than boys? Did you also know that parents read to their daughters more than twice as much as they read to their sons? Fortunately for you, your mother places an extreme emphasis on reading, and you'll have the benefit of many stories.

Bonus: We'll get our share of Cars, Planes, Monsters Inc, and Toy Story, but you are also going to be watching Frozen, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. Good storytelling is good storytelling, and you shouldn't discriminate because someone tells you that something is a "girl" movie.

Of course, there are hundreds of things I want to teach my son, and I'm sure hundreds more he'll learn from his father. One thing I never want is to discourage him from being who he innately is, and to be able to find joy and happiness in life.

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