In the wake of the #MeToo movement, several fathers find themselves wondering how to raise their sons. How do you help your son grow into the man he has the potential to become? How do you raise him to be a good man in a world that continuously tells him to be a “real” man, which is not always aligned with your family values?
Our sons are under incredible pressure. On the one hand, we tell them that they should be kind, respectful, honest, honorable and full of integrity. Yet on the other, we encourage, push and insist that they should be aggressive and competitive. We emphasize that our sons should always try to win or get ahead by any means necessary. Rarely do we pause to think about the conflicting messages we’re sending.
Even worse are the messages your son is probably receiving from the media, their peers and others outside the home. Most of these center around being a “real” man.
What Does Being “Real” Mean Anyway?
Here’s an interesting exercise. Think about what being a good man means to you. Next, think about what being a real man means.
If you’re like me, the second one—being a “real” man—seems like something you have to perform for others. It involves aspects of toxic masculinity such as “A ‘real’ man should always be strong and show no emotion unless it’s anger.” Along that line of thought, real men don’t apologize or say thank you. They are tough, stoic, macho, sexually aggressive and above all, they eschew anything remotely feminine, like genuine feelings.
The problem is, these so-called “real” men are inauthentic. Insisting on raising your sons like this might ensure you end up with angry and resentful young men who are confused and conflicted about who they are. It also paves the way for male chauvinism, sexism, sexual harassment, and entitlement.
Raising Boys To Be Good
Raising your sons to be good men, instead of “real” men takes some work. You’ll have to become comfortable with having hard and messy conversations. You’ll need to teach your son’s about gender identity, the importance of consent, how to navigate alcohol and drug abuse as well as power dynamics in friendships, workplaces, and romantic relationships, things that the majority of “real men” struggle with on a regular basis.
Additionally, your sons need to know how to handle and express their emotions in constructive ways. Let them know that ultimately, they’re the ones who control how they react to their feelings and that while it’s okay to express their feelings, it’s not okay to hurt others in the process.
Teach them to come up with their own values and ethics, their own idea of what it means to be a good man. They need to know that sometimes they’ll be asked to betray their ethics and values and they may lose friends and attract ridicule for taking a stand on what matters to them. Acknowledge the pressures they face, but let your sons know that being a good man sometimes calls for some tough choices.
The most important thing for you to teach your sons is that they are free to decide what kind of men they want to be and that shouldn’t be based on what others say or think.
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