Happy Fathers’ Day. To all the Dads out there rocking it… I salute you and every little thing you do.
Unfortunately, there is a population of boys who may not have relationships with their fathers. Perhaps the relationship is strained or the father is absent. Maybe, as mothers, we need to teach our boys to be fathers and teach our girls how men SHOULD act.
Sigh. It’s complicated. But let’s get on the real for a second…
There is so much madness going on in the world, so many men in power setting less than pleasant examples. Trump, Mugabe, Weinstein… It makes me fear what our kids are holding on to in this society steeped with controversy. I mean, how do we guide our boys when our leaders are less than positive?
It starts early. And it starts with ALL of us. It starts with how we, as a society, teach our boys how to become men. Most of our boys will one day grow up to be fathers. How are we setting them up to succeed?
Have you ever heard the phrase “boys will be boys”?
I know you have. It’s a common excuse for poor behaviour – aggression, being destructive, being messy, etc etc. It’s a way to rationalise unhealthy reactions to the world around them. When we say this, boys learn that they are not only above the rules, but that boys can’t control themselves.
This is patently untrue. Boys ARE capable of respecting boundaries and not touching other’s peoples bodies or possessions. And the biggest problem with this phrase, is that it sticks with them as they grow up and begin looking at women sexually. As parents, we cannot be shocked that boys feel entitled to sexually harass others when we’ve been telling them their whole lives that they are above the rules, by virtue of being boys.
He’s only pulling her pigtails.
Boys hit girls because they “like” them. I’m sure you’ve heard this one. Whether your child is a boy or a girl, it’s important they learn early on that hitting or hurting someone to get their attention is never okay. Physically hurting someone is NEVER EVER a way to show somebody that you like them.
Saying “He only does that because he likes you” is something you should NEVER say when our kids are being teased or hurt. We’re teaching our children that it’s okay to hurt others and that attraction equals suffering. This is a huge setup for violence later on in life and teaches boys that their desires matter more than the girl they “like”.
When we shame a female victim, this makes an impression on our boys. “What was she wearing” “She was asking for it” “Why was she out so late” (etc) If our kids hear us excusing rape or sexual assault in any way, they will internalise that message. They will also hear you degrading women for their sexuality or clothing, and they well remember that.
What can we do to change this?
Ladies, are you the one in your house doing ALL the housework, plus working a full time job and doing all the cooking? You’re setting an example without even realising it. Children become what they see and if there isn’t an equal division of labour in your home, that will become normal. We need to teach our boys that women aren’t the only ones responsible for housework, that men can and should help too. Teach them how to cook, how to clean, how to shop, how to become self sufficient. If they know how hard the work is, they won’t take it for granted. What they see… they become.
Challenge toxic masculinity.
There are so many examples of men in the world who teach our boys to “not cry”, don’t be vulnerable or sad, and never EVER – under any circumstances – talk about your feelings out loud. When we teach our boys to suppress, we create ticking time bomb robots. Teaching them that it’s okay to feel and to hurt is a big part of raising emotionally healthy boys.
Talk about it. All the time.
Our boys are seeing lots of things on the telly these days. Examples of men who are less than kind, less than respectful. And when these men are in a position of power, it begins to look like “that’s how men win”. Obviously, we’re monitoring what our boys are seeing, but how often do we challenge those ideas? It’s often a subconscious ideal that gets shoved under the rug, so we need to lift up that rug and shake it out. Talk about the hard things, the cringey moments and the reasons that these men are dead WRONG.
We will always be playing “catch up” if we continue to wait until AFTER something awful has occurred. We must teach our boys from an early age about positive, healthy forms of masculinity – promoting strength without violence, equality for all, and how to stand strong in the midst of negativity.
What do you think? Can we change the way we raise boys? Can we teach them to not repeat the mistakes of men who’ve come before them? Is it too late? Too ingrained? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this... let’s talk about it on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.