How do we help our sons as they transition from boyhood to manhood?
Puberty can be confusing and conflicting time for boys. In addition to physical changes, they are dealing with emotional, mental and hormonal changes. Your son’s changing body and voice can thrust him into manhood even if his mind and spirit is still in boyhood. Unfortunately many young men flounder through their teen and young adult years because of societal pressures and expectations of them. I remember when my oldest son started puberty. It was a trying time for me because I was not ready to give up my little boy. These changes required me to communicate and interact with my son in a new way. My role as mom had shifted and evolved. My listening skills improved and I learned to be comfortable with bouts of silence. Middle school proved to be a battleground for conforming to gender roles. During one of our conversations, I asked him a simple question:
“What kind of man do you want to be?”
Honestly, I didn’t expect a response from him. I had never thought to ask it and he had never thought about a response. At first, he didn’t have a response. When he was ready, I listened without judgment and encouraged him to write it out. What emerged was a life mapping exercise that created a framework for my son’s future. This simple question and exercise was a turning point in my son’s life. He started to observe men in our family, community, school and the media. These men from different walks of life influenced my son’s life. He saw them as varying examples of what it means to be a man, regardless of race, culture, and sexuality. These observations invoked introspection into positive and negative ideas of manhood.
This one question sparked a conversation that extended to thoughts about values, education, career, relationships, religion, politics, etc. Was a man defined by his job, wealth, sexual exploits, character? Since we had provided him a safe space, my son felt comfortable sharing his views on manhood, masculinity, women, social norms, marriage, fatherhood and gender stereotypes. We had painful conversations about being a black man and his concerns about being a black man in America. It also helped us to see the world through the eyes of our son. Most importantly, it helped my son to define who he wanted to be and how he wanted to live a s black man. It gave him a sense of direction to envision his life in 10, 20, or 30 years. With our guidance, he also acknowledged that his life map was a work in progress. Emotional and mental maturity will change his outlook on life and perspective on manhood.
I invite you to ask your son this question. Do not expect an immediate response. If your son is not ready to respond, be patient and supportive. Do not nag or interrogate him. Do not judge his response. Plant the seed in his mind about his future and allow him to reflect on the question. Your son needs direction and a plan. He needs to know where he is going and how he is going to get there. Hoping that somehow your son will figure it out doesn’t prepare him for life.
It is a good starting place to getting your son to identify how he views himself and men in society. Knowing what kind of man he wants to be may help your son avoid succumbing to the pressures of social masculinity. Knowing what kind of man he wants to be may help your son to invest in himself and to establish his core values. Just keep in mind that asking him this question may also trigger more questions or even confusion. The transition from boyhood to manhood is not perfect. Yet, you can It’s about laying the groundwork for him to start thinking about who he wants to be in this world.