In today’s “me-too” era where awareness and implications of words and actions seems more serious than ever, Mothers of Boys have a lot to think about. In my recent M.O.B. Truths survey, approximately half of the respondents said they are trying to instill respect and values early on in their sons, while the other half said, “PLEASE HELP! I DON’T KNOW HOW TO HANDLE THIS SUBJECT!!!”
Here’s help. It may seem strange to take advice from me, a busy working M.O.B. who tried to take a day to herself today and so far has been so responsible and good at “adulting” as to sit on the couch and eat cookies for breakfast, but don’t worry — this isn’t just my advice. It’s the wisdom of over 50 women who have sons, and how they’re handling it.
You don’t have to bring up the “me too” movement or talk about sex or gender or sexuality or even private parts. You can start instilling respect for others when your kids are too young to understand any of this. I’m sure you already do it, whether by pointing out how to use manners, how to take turns, wait in line, etc., or by simply being a good role model. Don’t fear that you have to prepare a serious lecture like the “birds and the bees!” Just point out good, respectful behavior and displaygood, respectful behavior, and even toddlers will absorb this way of treating others.
MODEL RESPECTFUL BEHAVIOR:
Modeling good behavior isn’t all on you, M.O.B.s. It’s important for sons to also see how the world treats YOU. If there’s a father figure in the boys’ life, realize that how he treats you in front of them (and always, really) sends an important lesson to the boys. I’m not suggesting he has to be full-on chivalrous and as charming as Flynn Rider turns out to be in Tangled (though it may not hurt! hee hee), but it would be ideal if he respects your opinion, doesn’t put you down, relies on you as an equal in the household (yes, M.O.B., I know . . . you probably do more than your share!). As the boys get older, his comments when watching movies that have sexy actresses in them can have an impact. or about how he treats people who are different from him — whether in gender or otherwise — so talk with him about what he says and how he subtly shows the boys how to treat others.
IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE ABOUT GENDER:
And all this modeling of good, respectful behavior doesn’t even have to be rooted in gender. How about if we treat all others with respect? Hold the door for the person behind you, not because she’s a woman and it’s nice to help her out, but because she’s a human and it’s the polite thing to do. Answer someone when they talk to you (note – this does not mean that talking about stranger danger is not valid — I’ll write a separate blog post on how we tackle that), whether that someone is rich or poor, male or female, old or young, walking or in a wheelchair, dark-skinned or light-skinned, male or female or whatever.
Point out when you see something go wrong. It may help to bring the example close to home — as some survey respondents suggested. “How would you feel if you saw someone treat Mommy like that?” one M.O.B. Truths reader said. Great way to make the situation personal, without having to actually experience it.
There seems to be a fine line between chivalry and condescension. By showing your sons that we can treat all others with respect, it hopefully will make them less likely to over-dote on women to the point that they are signaling the women are inferior in some way.
IT GOES BOTH WAYS:
I found this nugget of wisdom an especially good reminder: Respect your child’s wishes. That’s right! As we teach them and show them that words matter, consent matters, space bubbles matter — it’s important to remember how a child feels when we seemingly don’t respect them! I have always taught my boys that their words have meaning and they need to choose them wisely (for example, when they call out that I’m “the meanest mommy ever” or “I don’t care if you take away my Xbox for a week!” [believe me — he cared!] — but I admit there have been plenty of times I’ve put on the firm Mommy voice and cut them off while they’re whining by saying, “This discussion is over.” Yeah, that’s just parenting . . . but I’ve become more aware of how it probably makes them feel — like their voice is being shut down, like their opinions and wishes don’t matter. I’m trying to find another way to resolve matters (and to stop the perpetual whining about topics that really aren’t up for negotiation!) without seeming disrespectful to the kids. Any tips? Let me know, please!
This goes for space bubbles, too. Kids are sometimes “forced” to give Great-Grandma a kiss, or give Uncle Joe a hug, even though some kids are actually uncomfortable doing so, whether because they don’t know the person well or they’re just feeling shy that day. Forcing them to go ahead with it can signal to them that their wishes, and how they’re feeling inside, really doesn’t matter. Even though they say “no,” whether with words or with body language, the situation says we don’t care and they need to ignore that feeling. Some alternatives that may go over better are blowing a kiss or waving goodbye or even just a sing-song “Bye! It was nice to see you!” could suffice.
At some point, it’s probably going to be necessary to actually spell this out for your sons, providing guidance around how to treat people they want to date, how to handle their hormonal urges, etc. (please note — I’m not emotionally or mentally ready for those stages, so if anyone wants to plan girls’ night out for when we get to that, please include me!). But before you get to that stage, you will have built a solid foundation of respect by having followed the other tips so far in this blog post. And here’s one more — be explicit in your wording, even when the boys are very young. You can clearly teach them that “Stop means stop.” “No means no.” And, to take it one step further and be even more crystal clear — one survey respondent tells her sons that “the ONLY thing that means YES is YES.” Well said.
Just the other day, I actually screamed at my kids that “the thing that makes me most crazy in this household is that you don’t respect each other!” They talk over each other constantly (I know, kids do that), they don’t always answer when one brother is calling another’s name, they disregard each other’s wants and needs in favor of their own. And it frustrates me! I know it’s to be expected in a house full of high-energy rascals, but I at least like to point out to them “When someone speaks to you, answer him.” or “Why don’t you work it out, and take turns with the remote control,” etc. And, yes, it works better when I’m calm than when I scream it, but, you know . . . we all have our moments.
Last but far from least — respect yourself, and make sure your sons respect themselves. I have one son who thinks it’s funny to smack himself sometimes. He does it to get a laugh, not to hurt himself. But I take the time to give a quick little lecture about how it’s not OK to hurt ourselves or treat ourselves badly, and that other people take cues about how to treat us from how we treat ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, I’m one to frequently use self-deprecating humor (pointy nose, clutzy at sports, and 32A bra size, anyone?), but the bottom line is that I’m actually amazing (32A, yes, but nursed and nourished three baby boys? Also, yes. Successful professional woman who is well educated and kind and loving? Yep.), and so are my boys. And you and your sons, too. Make sure they know that and realize it and respect it.