Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Mom's Toughest Challenge: Raising A Boy Into A Confident Man
Approximately 3 weeks ago, my 17 year old son ended his 1 year relationship with his girlfriend. The news of the break up caught me by surprise, as just 2 weeks before “Diji” had been eagerly anticipating celebrating their 1 year anniversary. This was his first long term relationship, and he was so proud that they had made it this long. He had been planning the celebration for at least 2 months, and had a carefully scripted plan of how the day was going to go. He really liked this girl and so did everyone in the family. She’s very intelligent, has a great head on her shoulders, gets good grades, she’s respectful, and has a lot of self respect. I don’t know how she did it, but she always brought out the best in my son.
The week after the break up, my son sank into a downward spiral as he tried to fill his time with as much activity as he could. He suddenly wanted to be out with his friends all day every day and he started talking about hanging out with girl’s we had never heard of. I quickly pulled the reigns in and took control of the situation setting limits on how long he could be out, and who he could go with. One day I walked into the room and overheard my son’s friend telling him that he was “better off without the ball and chain”. He proceeded to tell him that all his girlfriend ever did was “hold him back”, and “keep him from having any fun”. He then went on to say that “ever since he started dating her, he had become a sissy, that he was whipped, and that he was a punk for always listening and doing what she said”. According to his friend, my son needed to “MAN UP”! The more I listened, the bigger the pit that formed in my gut.
I looked at both my boys as they sat there, bobbing their heads up and down, listening to the garbage coming out of this other boys mouth. Suddenly it hit me, could my son’s break up have something to do with peer pressure? Was my son being made to feel that because he had respect for the girl that he was dating, it meant that somehow he was less of a man? Could it be that the pressure from society and his peers were making him feel as though his good choices, were putting his masculinity at risk or into question? My son was always very attentive to his girlfriend’s wishes. He was sensitive to her feelings and was always very responsible not to do anything that could potentially harm their relationship. She in turn, reciprocated and treated him the same way. I often complemented both of them for the mutual respect they showed one another, which made their relationship a strong and healthy one. However, I remember many instances where his friends would make comments telling him he was “whipped”. They would tease him, and even go as far as to tell him “you better go ask your wife” whenever he expressed that he wanted to hang out with them. The more I thought back, the more I realized that not just his friends, but society criticizes young boys and young men for doing the right things.
For reasons that I cannot explain, a boy who gets good grades, is kind to others, shows respect to his peers and adults around him, is thought to not be “manly enough”. Having 2 teenage boys I can tell you that there is nothing more important to a teenage boy, then how their peers perceive them, especially their male friends. Being “manly” is something that is built into a boys make up. From the time that they are small, little boys look to their fathers and imitate those traits which they believe make them “a man”. Society, as well as parents, reinforce to young boys that they need to be tough, that boys aren’t supposed to cry. As they get older society teaches boys that they need to be strong, both emotionally & physically. Movies and TV shows often depict young men as reckless and violent, often showing them drinking, doing drugs, mistreating women, committing violent acts and taking unnecessary risks. Hollywood and the music industry are riddled with young men making terrible decisions. These young celebrities then move on with their lives, showing little to no remorse and a blatant disregard for how their decisions affect their lives and their fans.
I am a mother raising 3 boys, and although I am not a single mother, the male role model in our home is not their father. My children’s biological father is in their lives, however, he too has fallen victim to “street culture” and society, and is not the kind of man I want my children to become. As a mom, this has me extremely concerned. Although I try to teach my boys good values, they take their que on what it is to be a man from their friends, their TV/Music idols, and their own father. In this society where a great number of boys are being raised by single mom’s, where there are so many absentee fathers, so many terrible depictions of what it means to be a man, how do we help our boys to become the men that society needs them to be? How can we as mothers help them to change their views on what they think are acceptable behaviors?
How do we lead our boys to the realization that being a man has little to do with what they see in the media, and everything to do with the values by which a man should live by? Values which include putting your family first. Being a provider for your family, whether that means going out to work every day to put food on the table, or being a stay at home dad if that is the decision you and your spouse come to. Being a good role model to your family and children by teaching them respect, responsibility, honesty, and the importance of having good character. Protecting your loved ones should the need arise, but also being there and supporting them through emotional situations. A good man does cry when he needs to, and should teach his kids and especially his boys that feelings and emotions are real and allowed. Crying doesn’t make you less of a man, it only makes you more human. Being a man means that you are strong for your family, but at the same time sensitive to their needs. Most of all a man should be proud to be who he is. He should be proud of his values and beliefs, regardless of what the outside world thinks, or says.
The challenge for us mothers is how do we teach our boys to go against what they see, what they hear from their friends, and what they have been taught by society. After much thought, I’ve come to the realization that my boys will make their own decisions and interpretations on what being a man is about. However, I will do everything I can to guide them and let them know that it is okay to not always feel so strong. During moments when they are sad, I will let them know that it is okay for them to be sad. During times that I see that they are speaking about young ladies in a way that is inappropriate, I will remind them of their sisters, and ask them to consider how they would want a man to treat them. I will do everything that I can to be a constant supporter of my boys when society tells them they are not being “manly enough”, but will be quick to bring it to their attention when they are behaving in a way that is not acceptable per our values. I will do all of this while showing them unconditional love & respect. In the absence of a positive male role model, it is my responsibility as their mother, to guide my boys towards becoming good men. I know that this task is far easier said than done. As I give thought to this next year with my 17 year old son, I hope that in the end he will learn to be confident with regard to who he is. I pray that he will choose to live by the values that I taught him and in the end live the life of a good man.