Being the mother of a boy brings all kinds of learning moments. Like that moment you realize that the answer to the question, “Does it smell like pee in here?” will always be “Yes. Yes it does.” And the moment you understand the difference between “I’m punching daddy because I need to wrestle some of this testosterone out of my veins” and “I’m punching daddy. What are you going to do about it?” Or how about that moment, when watching your friend’s little girl sweetly push a baby carriage, that you realize your son would have turned the living room into a destruction derby by now?
Yep. None of these toys would stand a chance.
Being mothers of boys, we know a thing or two about gender differences. We look into the innocent eyes of our sons and think about what kind of men they will become. How will they use this strength when it becomes that of a man and not that of a boy? How will they lead? How will they choose a partner? How will that partner treat the precious, masculine heart that we have stewarded through all of this boyhood? How will it all turn out?
As the mother of two beautiful sons, I have watched the story of Brock Turner with a sense of horror paired with a sense of responsibility. Who will raise a new breed of fraternity brothers? Who will raise the future judges who refuse to allow things like race, class, and athletic ability factor in to crime and punishment? Who will raise the next generation of men who will end this culture of rape and victimization? The answer is me … and you. We will. We have to.
I’ve never been one to point the finger at parents when something goes wrong. I’ve long since learned that grocery store tantrums are about as preventable as hurricanes (and are similarly destructive given the right conditions). But when it comes to character, matters of masculine responsibility, and values, I think parents need to own up to the consequences of their actions or inaction. Little eyes are watching. Little ears are hearing. Assuming he does not have a serious mental disease, it is fair to say that Brock Turner started out with the kind of darling, wide-eyed innocence I have seen in my own sons. He began as they began. So what happened? Reading the letter from Brock’s father leads to some clarification. The failure of a father to be man enough to lead his son and the inability of a parent to allow his son to fully receive the consequences of his actions. The result of these things is devastating. And it makes me feel doubly responsible to ensure that our sons grow up with a concrete example. Something that will ingrain itself and remain with them for life. That’s where my husband and I come in.
When my sons watch us, I want them to see two primary roles. First, I want them to see me as a strong and respectful woman. I want them to know that I am aware of my value and worth but that I also respect and acknowledge my husband’s feelings, value, and worth. I want them to know that a man’s feelings matter. Men are not a money-earning machines void of feelings, rights, and dreams. I want my sons to see me respecting, defending, and holding their father up. I want them to see me as an equal half of our marriage, not a domineering ringleader. I want them to see that I am strong, capable, valuable, powerful, and at the same time respectful, humble, gentle, and reasonable.
Second, I want them to see their father. I want them to see him not as a super hero, a perfect tower of strength, or an infallible super-human. I want them to see a real man with a heart, a mind, and a soul. I want them to see what it means to lead a family, to cherish and honor a wife, and to strive to be a good father. I want them to hear him apologize when he stumbles, humbly celebrate his successes, and stand up (loudly and boldly if he needs to) for what is right and just. I want them to know his flaws so that when they discover their own, they will feel empowered to better themselves. I want them to pick up on his tenderness and how it pairs beautifully with his strength. I want him to be real with them so that they can know that to be a man is to be a human being, a half of a whole, a protector, a defender, a watchman.
I believe, truly, that this is where the majority of our parental energy should go. Our goals should be to worry less about things like how much PBS our kids are watching or whether they are eating too much PB&J and to worry more about the kinds of things that ensure we will never have to wonder what our sons would do if they found themselves with the choice of how to use their strength.
Being a GranolaHeart means we strive to fortify the health of our families. It means we care about what we put on the table and what we bring into our homes. It also means, and this is the most important part, that we care deeply about WHO we send out of our homes. These little people with so much potential will grow up in this world regardless of what they eat and what kind of bug spray they use. Let’s be sure we are devoting just as much time to shaping their worldview and mental health as we devote to their physical health. Let’s raise the kind of men who will bring an end to America’s rape culture and fight for the victims instead of blaming them. It starts with these innocent little boys sitting around our dinner tables. These sweet little guys who want to show us their dinosaur collections and drink out of “big boy cups.”
It all starts with them, which means it all starts with us.