As the mother of three young adult sons, I look to each of them with such admiration. While they are each unique in their interests, personalities, and pursuits in the world – they each share several common threads. They are kind and compassionate. They are relationship oriented and show respect across genders, races, older generations, and cultural differences. They respect and interact with the women in their lives, just as they do with the men.
Raising sons, that value and respect women in a patriarchal society, has been the greatest contribution of my life. These young men are what I consider the ideal for a whole man.
It is not difficult to raise boys that mimic the society at large. Such values would relate pink and delicate with girls and brash with boys. As I look back on how my husband and I raised our sons, there 8 lessons I would like share with you about raising sons in a world that devalues women. While I've made many mistakes along the way, and learned many of these lessons through trial-and-error, they are the lessons that I believe have made a difference raising sons who value and respect both men and women.
- Start by sharing your life with someone who respects women. When I married, I chose a man who valued women and who came from a family where strong women were honored. This was important to me. I knew that I would not be able to change my husband’s attitudes and values about women and that I needed to marry a man who would shared my values about women’s roles and would treat me with kindness, love, and dignity.
- Celebrate “blue” as much as you celebrate “pink”. I grew up with brothers and always wanted a sister. I had hoped that one day I’d have my own girls. The moment I held my first baby boy, my second baby boy and my third baby boy – I knew their gender didn’t matter. I was in love!! I couldn’t wait to share them with our family and friends. AND, I had so much fun shopping for the cutest little boy clothes I could find.
- Let their interests be the guide. One of the things I noticed when my second son was born was how different he was from our first son, even as a newborn. One liked to be held, the other liked to stretch out in his cradle. One loved the car and would fall asleep as soon as he was in his car seat and the other got car sick. One would let me dress him in whatever clothes I picked out and the other, even at 2 years old, had already decided the kind of clothes he liked. While you might think of these as unimportant details, they spoke volumes to me. They taught me that children are more than the product of their environments. They come in with their own “coding”. They are programmed with a set of interests, likes and dislikes, and attitudes. By the time my third son was born (sorry guys, that I had to practice on you), I had learned to look to my child to guide me to understand what he needed to thrive. I have held to this lesson through their entire lives. I had learned that what worked for one as a parenting approach, would not necessarily work for the others.
- Share the child care with your spouse. When my oldest son was born, my husband was squeamish about the diaper changing duty. I remember saying to him “I work too and we need to do this together”. I am blessed to have shared the child caring responsibilities with my husband. When I was at work, I knew the boys’ routine would be maintained. My husband knew to cook “faces” not just mac and cheese. He knew what toys went into the bath, which “blankie” to never forget, and which night time rituals were for each of the boys.
- Know who is interacting with your sons. Having grown up in a home where there was child abuse, I am a vigilant mother. My antennae for how my children were thriving was always on top of my list. I made surprise visits to day care, came home earlier than expected with the babysitter, knew the bullies in the neighborhood. I set boundaries, rather than rules. I met all the school teachers and ran interference only when needed. I taught my sons to not let anyone disrespect them – and if they were disrespected, I also taught them to respond with dignity and mutual respect. I let them walk ahead of me and stretch their wings, but when they turned around to see if I was still there, I was.
- Teach your sons to cook and clean. Housework is often relegated to women in our society. As the only female in a house of five people, a dog, and two cats, it was not possible for one person to do all the cleaning, picking up, laundry, shopping, chauffeuring, and cooking – and maintain a career outside of our home. My children saw my husband and I do this work interchangeably. As they got older, they began to take on some of these activities. Today, we love to cook together in the kitchen over the holidays and most of all they are able to cook and clean for themselves as they’ve moved into their own homes.
- Love your sons for who they are. When we see our sons as whole human beings whose care has been entrusted to us for just a short time, loving them for who they are is the greatest gift I believe a mother can give her sons. When a mother who responds to her son’s emotions, rather than telling them that boys don’t cry; encourages her sons to play as well with girls as they do with a group of boys; doesn’t freak out when he says he wants to dance rather than play soccer; takes their growing up challenges for what they are – character molding opportunities – those sons have the greatest chance of becoming whole human beings who respect and value women.
- Be the female role model in their young lives. Every lesson our sons are learning from their mothers is the training ground for their relationships with women in the future. Let them see you as whole human beings too. Let them see your strength and vulnerability. Let them see your accomplishments and setbacks. Apologize when you make a mistake or lose your cool. Share your stories with them so they understand what made you the woman and mother you are today. And when they grow up and they tell you about the time you did something that “wounded” them, process it with them so they can release it.