I have a 10-year-old son and as a mom, I have been struggling lately with what I should be teaching him as he grows up and becomes a man.
I am almost constantly overwhelmed and feel completely inept as a parent. That’s no secret. (I often refer to myself as World’s Okayest Mom.) But with my daughter, I feel like I have a fighting chance, at least. I’ve been there. And I have personal experience with at least some of the things that she is going through, or might go through at some point.
But boys? I got nothing.
I worry that I want him to stay my little boy forever and I won’t teach him the things that he needs to learn, as I cling so much to the cuddly boy he is now.
And now, with this world we are living in, there are so many things to teach him that I feel my head slipping underwater and don’t know where to focus my efforts.
Right now, he is experiencing some meanness from other kids in the fourth grade. I hesitate to call it bullying until he shares more details with me, but it has the potential to be that if it isn’t already. Then there is the sad state of sexual harassment in our world and media right now, and feeling the need to teach him about that. And not just because I am a proud feminist who went to an all-women’s college.
So here are the seven things I came up with that I want to teach my son, as he grows from a boy into a man:
1. Being kind is one of the most important things you can ever be in life. From the sad kid sitting alone on the buddy bench at school, to the custodian you see cleaning up after everyone, to your sister, to animals. Kindness is the easiest thing you can give to someone else, and you never know who else will need it.
2. Feel your feelings. This one is not easy. For anyone—but especially for men, I imagine. Our society teaches our little boys that they shouldn’t cry. Even conscious, deep-feeling moms like myself can be guilty of telling their sons to “rub some dirt on it” at the baseball game when you get dinged by the baseball. But you are allowed to feel your feelings. And if you want to be an emotionally-healthy man, the sooner you can start actually feeling your feelings and not squash them, the better off you will be. As will our society.
3. Know what you stand for and what you believe in. This one is tricky, but you’ll figure it out as you go. But if you don’t want to shoot animals, don’t let anyone talk you into going on a hunting trip. Or if you do want to go with the guys but don’t want to take part in the hunting, offer to cook at the campsite or just take your camera along for a photo expedition. That’s what your dad did and I loved that about him. Do what feels right to you, stand up for what you believe in, and don’t let anyone make you feel bad about it.
4. Respect others. Women, absolutely—but also the LGBTQ community, people of other races and religions, or anyone who might have different opinions than yours. The flood of stories in the news lately has obviously brought this one to the forefront for most of us. Some of us have lived it all our lives. And it shows up in different ways for different people. Obviously, as a woman, I want my son to respect women. In all ways, at all times. Not only does this mean not sexually assaulting them, but also not catcalling them, or treating them as less-than in the workplace or in sports. And this applies to anyone who holds a different belief or upbringing or beliefs than you. I don’t like guns and what is happening in our country with them. But I respect those people who choose to own their own handgun for protection. That doesn’t mean assault rifles, and it doesn’t mean that if your friend’s parents have a gun in their house that I will necessarily let you play there. But I respect their right to own one.
5. Stand up for others. This one is big. You might not be the one treating someone in a disrespectful manner, but if you see someone else doing so, it is up to you to stand up for that person. That means standing up to the bully who is mistreating someone on the playground. That means stepping in if your friend or fraternity brother is taking advantage—or even talking about taking advantage—of someone who can’t speak for themselves. And it means doing the right thing even when it means hardship or discomfort for you.
6. Have fun. This one often gets lost along the way, as we become adults. Responsibilities become bigger and more abundant, and suddenly we are surrounded by obligations and bills and things we have to do, and we forget to have fun. It can be easy to let go of fun when we have so much demanding our attention, but please remember that as men, we are modeling to boys everywhere what life can and should look like. Men have so much pressure on them to be the providers and the fixers. But I think it’s equally important that men model to our boys that fun should still be a part of your life as a grown-up. You owe it to yourself.
7. Be responsible for your own happiness. As adulthood takes over, we can get so overwhelmed with all of our obligations that we start blaming any unhappiness on everything else we’ve taken on in life. Please remember, you are the only one responsible for your own happiness. If you are in a job you don’t like or a marriage that doesn’t fulfill you, you are the only one who can change it. Yes, being a man means fulfilling your commitments. But not at the sake of your happiness. Again, we are modeling for our children what is possible in life, and I know the main two things I want for my children in their lives are to be kind and to be happy. Because everything else doesn’t matter if you’re not happy.
What about you? What do you think makes a boy a man? What kinds of things are you teaching the boys in your life about what it means to be a man? I would love some more ideas about what else I can be teaching my son. Please share in the comments below. You know, so my son can have more than just the “World’s Okayest Mom”.
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