Alison is raising a family of 3 boys in Scotland. She thinks a lot about what will help them grow into great men.
I first ask myself, “What makes a great man?” To me, it’s someone who is independent but a team player, strong but emotionally connected and supportive, motivated, courteous, caring and affectionate, honest, protective, reliable and with a sense of humor…the list for an ideal man is almost endless—as it should be. And my list will be different than your list, which is also as it should be.
Not that I aspire to the past, but just a few decades ago a man’s role was far more certain—the breadwinner, head of the house, protector. Now, women have the opportunity and choice to equally be all of these things; they are actively encouraged to develop and compete alongside men in everything from education to the workplace to sporting activities, including traditionally male-based events. This is absolutely as it should be and I am very proud to be a female today, especially in my country, Scotland, for what it means I can be and achieve.
While the focus quite rightly has been on female equality, is there a chance that in very recent times men, and particularly boys, have been slightly overlooked? What makes me say this? Well, being the mother to three boys I have a deep interest in their wellbeing, their opportunities and their role in life, and I have become aware of a growing number of negative challenges that boys of this generation are starting to face. You just have to hear the news in the UK to be enlightened about the emerging facts such as: girls are now outperforming boys in school; twice as many boys than girls have a learning disability; girls in their early 20s are now likely to earn more than boys; 60% of university entrants are girls; boys are three times more likely to commit suicide; 90% of homeless people are men.
On a social and cultural level, boys face mixed messages when it comes to their masculinity. If they show too much emotion they may be branded a sissy (or dare I say a ‘mummy’s boy’!) Too much bravado and they are condemned for being unruly, rough and noisy. They should treat women as equals, but is being chivalrous OK? (I welcome it, but not all women do). Most teachers are women, most care givers are women and there are more single mums, many who have to fill the gap of a strong male role model. While girls are admired for playing football, boxing and joining the army, boys who have interests in ballet, craft or nursing are still struggling to be as readily accepted.
How do we focus attention on this and ensure that, going forward, there is true equality and we encourage boys and girls’ attributes on a parallel platform. My focus is in relation to our little boys. I wholly advocate boys being allowed to be boys. Their differences to girls are what makes them unique, fun and interesting in their own right. Toy fights, mud, toilet humour, shows of strength, competition, what can seem like relentless energy, noise, thrill seeking, bravado and independence are all things that should be celebrated about boys’ characters. However, their softer side is also to be praised. Their creativity, imagination, thoughtfulness, sense of fairness and forgiveness, inquisitiveness, communication skills, caring and amazing ability to show unrequited love and affection are so very special. In a modern world where men are often a 50:50 partner in the home, especially when raising a family, these qualities learned in childhood will be embodied throughout adulthood. The male role seems to be evolving and so too surely must the typical male stereotypes – hopefully including the ones relating to their relationships with their mothers.
I’ve read a number of articles about this and the viewpoint that rings most true is that we should move away from the age old belief that a boy should be taught to be a ‘man’ from a young age – independent and strong and not encouraged show his feelings. Instead, we should develop solid and healthy mother/son relationships.
According to Dr William Pollack, author of ‘Real Boys‘ and a Harvard lecturer, “Far from making boys weaker, the love of a mother actually does make boys stronger, emotionally and psychologically. Far from making boys dependent, the base of safety that a loving mother can create provides a boy with the courage to explore the outside world. But most importantly, far from making a boy act in ‘girl-like’ ways, a loving mother actually plays an integral role in helping a boy develop his masculinity.”
Echoing this view is the work done by Kate Stone Lombardi in her book ‘The Mama’s Boy Myth‘ in which she highlights new research that boys who are close to their mothers are happier, more secure and enjoy stronger connections with their friends and ultimately, their spouses. With regards to commercial success, according to recent research two out of three men who work as Chief Executives, Surgeons, Senior Civil Servants and other similar high-level jobs describe themselves as ‘mummy’s boys’ (Daily Mail and The Guardian newspaper articles March 2013).
So to support our boys and create great men of the future I think we need to keep our sons close, but on mutually agreed terms. I fully expect there to be times when I need to back off and give my boys the space they need to develop their characters and I will be proud to watch them do it. But I want to be around for them in the future as they grow, when they need me. I am very aware that I will not become the nightmare mother-in-law who calls every hour or expects ongoing attention, that is definitely not for me! But I think my role in nurturing my boys will hopefully help them develop into well-rounded, self-sufficient adults. Crucially, I want to help create a more equal playing field for my boys so that as they grow they feel as confident and focussed as their female counterparts that they can do and achieve whatever they want in their lives.
So as to the long list of qualities that people look for in the ‘ideal man’, I can’t but try to play a part in helping my boys to achieve them … but nobody’s perfect!
Previously published on the blog Lucky Mothers of Boys
Photo: dragondrop / flickr