How we raise our children is deeply connected to the kind of world we are creating. Future generations will have a lot on their plate.
In this article, I would like to focus on boys. Why? Well, as the mother of a sixteen-year-old boy, I am faced with some challenges that our present culture seems to ignore. We have grown up in a patriarchy, a male dominated world, so it’s been a slow and painful process for many women. The oppression of females is still alive and obvious in many cultures, but the oppression of any human being is not sustainable. We are all on this planet together and need to learn to get along and to respect one another as important members of our human tribe.
While men can educate their sons through example, by the words they use and how they treat the women in their lives, it is up to us, the mothers, to educate our boys about who women really are. We do this naturally through example and through a little course in women’s history from time to time. I can’t encourage open communication with your sons enough so they will feel safe with you. This is a time when many things are happening all at once. They are becoming men, and our culture has lost the art of ritual, ceremony and rites of passage that acknowledge this important transition in their lives.
Many of our boys feel lost. Many don’t have a strong male or female role model, so — by default — the media will teach them what it’s like “to be a man” or “to be a woman.” My son shared a hip-hop song with me the other day and asked me to listen to the amazing beat. Yes, indeed, the beat was really good; however, the lyrics made my jaw drop and had my stomach in knots! I joked about it and said, “Sorry, son, but my ears are bleeding! I just can’t listen to this, but thank you for sharing.” I then explained how I felt as a woman listening to someone talk about women as objects and call them degrading names. I asked him if he would listen to this song with his daughter if he had one, because one day he might have a daughter. I asked him how he felt about someone’s talking that way about his sister or about me. My son loves his sister and he loves me, too, so suddenly the lyrics got personal. I encouraged him to observe how his peers talk about girls, and I asked him to remember that every girl is someone’s daughter, maybe someone’s sister, and one day may become someone’s mother.
At this point I avoided saying “you should or should not do or say ___.” He is sixteen, so we can have intellectual conversations and heartfelt communication. I do not stigmatize him for listening to popular music. I understand, but I will not allow such lyrics in my car or home. We all need to respect our common space. As a mother, I’d like to inspire rather than control or manipulate. All I can do is share since I am coming from a woman’s point of view.
My son is now engaging romantically with girls and, because we have such open lines of communication, he has shared his experiences with me. This has been very enlightening. All I have offered after listening is always to be honest — in fact, uncomfortably and unapologetically honest. Man, I surely wish someone would have been that honest with me when I was sixteen! My son reported that he has been doing his best to be honest and respectful, but he said girls still want to make him a boyfriend after just one kiss. I laughed and said, “Well, you are very cute. What do you expect? But please continue being honest and respectful because girls are the ones who are stigmatized for kissing boys while the boys get props for being ‘players,’ and this is not okay.”
Wisdom often comes with a sting, but if our boys always have a home to return to, and a mother or father they can be free and open with, then love will heal every wound and strengthen them. Of course, I often don’t like what I hear, but this is no time for judgment; this is the time to listen and communicate. Our teens need support, not fear. I don’t talk at my son because he would really resent that. It’s best to talk with him, to share and, most important, to listen. He needs me to listen. And he knows that I love him unconditionally.