Marie Roker-Jones’ teen son taught her that to become a great man is a continuous journey.
Recently, I saw a quote that made me think about everything I’ve done with my Raising Great Men brand. The quote also made me reflect on my journey as a mom of boys.
When I started Raising Great Men, I was a mom on a mission to bring awareness to the needs of boys as well as share with other moms of boys about the challenges of raising boys. What I’ve learned in the last 6 years has transformed me as a mom and a woman. One of my biggest mistakes was believing that I had the answers and that as long as we provided our sons with a strong foundation and a loving environment, they wouldn’t face doubt or deal with insecurities. I didn’t think about how much my parenting expectations would be a burden to my oldest son.
When my son became a teen and teetered on the edge of manhood, it was an unwelcome experience. Despite having worked with and been raised with boys, something about seeing your own son step into manhood that frightens you.
I feared that I was running out of time to teach him everything I wanted him to know. I feared that I wasn’t doing enough to prepare him for the world and for his future. Mostly, I feared how the world would perceive and receive him as a black man. He was no longer little and cute. The same neighbors who spoke softly to him and greeted him warmly, now approached him with trepidation and caution.
As he grew mentally, emotionally and physically, I became concerned for his safety and well-being. I thought about the quote from Jonathan Lethem — ‘What age is a black boy when he learns he’s scary?’ The onset of puberty became the stomping ground of my push-pull struggle to “mother” vs. raise our son. I wanted to guide, coach and push him to be his best but I also wanted to nurture, protect, and nestle him from the critical eyes of the world. I had unrealistic expectations of him and was more concerned with proving that I can raise a great man.
It wasn’t until our son’s teen years that I realized the impact of my expectations. Up to that point, everything I said about raising teen boys was not from my parenting experience but from my professional engagement and interactions with boys and young men. Although I was informed about the emotional and mental needs of a teen boy, I was ill-informed of how I would react to this change in our son. Thus, began my real journey as a mom of a teen boy. An old Theosophical quote states that “when the pupil is ready, the master appears”. When I opened my heart and mind to learning from our son what he needed from me, I was able to see the world through his eyes.
What he taught me was the following:
1. When he needs to vent, I need to listen and not rush in to fix the problem.
2. When he makes a mistake, address the behavior but don’t judge his character.
3. Be patient with myself and with him.
4. If I’m unsure, ask instead of making an assumption.
5. Stop thinking that I have the power to protect him from life.
6. Focus on the solution, not the problem.
7. I can lead him in the right direction but I can’t control the outcome.
8. He is responsible for his actions. I can’t blame myself for his poor choices.
9. If I want to hear the truth, be prepared to handle the truth.
10. Stop trying so hard to raise a great man.
Because of this learning opportunity, our relationship as mother and son has evolved and transformed. Whether we are having a philosophical or fun conversation, we respect each other’s viewpoint. It also has helped me to question some of my hidden biases against men. I used to say that we need to leave a better generation of men. What did that say about the men we have in the world now? Wasn’t I insulting my father, brother, husband, male family members and friends? Who am I to dictate how we raise a better generation of men? I thought about what it means to be a “great man”. Could I define it? Better yet, wasn’t my definition based on my perception of and experiences with men?
I’m thankful for my journey and I continue to learn from my sons. Although I still believe that it is important to set a foundation to raise men of character, I now understand that we are all works in progress. To raise a great man is just the beginning, to become a great man is a continuous journey.