So it struck me the other day. . . I get to raise boys. 2 of them. Exclusively. And I have no idea what the hell I'm doing. I didn't have brothers or cousins we were close to or boys who I babysat. Everything I know about raising boys, I'm learning from my husband who did have brothers (well, a brother) and cousins he was close to.
I love my sons (the 3 year old - when did 3 years pass? - and the one in utero). I'm not disappointed to have boys instead of girls, at all. It's just a bit outside of my experience to this point. I'm also not sure that anyone feels like they know exactly what they're doing when it comes to parenting. I think that's the point, really. Parents are experts at one thing - being bullshit artists - and that covers for all the things about which we are not experts. Most of the time.
I'm sure raising girls is also terrifying. I'm sure raising children who are not white in a world that wants nothing more than to limit who they can be and what they can achieve is also terrifying. I'm sure. I know that my white, blond-haired, blue eyed son (and whatever this next one comes out looking like) won't have the same issues. He won't need to worry about being followed by the police just for looking a certain way. He won't need to worry about being followed home by a strange man who wants to do him harm. Or about a friend or date getting the wrong message about his willingness to engage in a kiss or make-out session or more. At least, it's unlikely that these things will happen to him or to his brother. Not impossible. . . but unlikely.
No, I am not worried (at least not as worried) about my sons being victims.
I am, however, worried about the possibility of them being villains.
I can think of nothing that would break my heart more than to learn that my kids are disrespectful and entitled in their dealings with other human beings. Other moms want to lock their children away, never let them date, never talk about sex and sexuality. Not me. I want my sons to know everything there is to know. I want them to have healthy attitudes towards their bodies and their relationships with others.
Do I want my sons to have sexual relationships at 16, 17 years old? Not necessarily. But that's not my decision to make. All I can do is give them the right information and tools to make it. All I can do is offer an open ear, an open heart and an open mind so that they might feel like sharing with me. Or with my husband. It doesn't need to be me because it isn't about me at all. While I would prefer that they wait, I need them to be responsible. I need them to be respectful and caring individuals. I would be absolutely broken-hearted to learn that my boys - who grew up with such strong feminist parents, who were taught that everyone is equally worthy. . . of love, of respect, of opportunity - could ever diminish another human being so much as to use him or her for their own needs.
That's what it comes down to, really. There are people who treat others as individuals with their own wants, needs and feelings. People who try to live their lives in such a way that they aim to have their needs met without trampling on others. And then there are users. The people who ignore "no" if it interferes with them getting what they want. The people who assume not saying "no" is the same as saying "yes". The people who don't even ask because the answer is irrelevant to them.
And, yes, this is largely about consent but not exclusively about sex. It's about taking - and that isn't an action exclusively sexual by any stretch of the imagination. Rapists take. Thieves take. Those who are ruled by greed take. Sometimes even those of us who strive to live our lives without taking? Sometimes we take too. Sometimes the sweet boy next to me, who I'm trying to teach to be giving and caring? Sometimes I take from him too. Sometimes I don't ask. . . because he's 3 and asking if he wants to do something I know he doesn't want to do, but that needs to be done anyway, isn't something I have the time or patience for. And sometimes I feel guilty about it and then I ask the next time, when I have the time and patience to do so.
So, how do I do it? How does my husband do it? How does this vast network or family and friends, this village, raise these boys to be mindful? I don't know. I do know that some of these people have very good ideas - some of which work for us and some of which don't:
- The Good Men Project - this links to a great article on teaching consent but the whole site is pretty great
- Nurshable - a blog about gentle parenting
- The new Ontario Curriculum on Health and Physical Education - don't just read the debate and outrage. . . check out the actual document!
Do I do all these things? Nope. Do I do them all the time? Nope. So what's the point? To think about what we do and why we do it and what lessons we are teaching - both explicitly and implicitly through our actions and interactions with others. And thinking first is always a plus :)
And do any of these ideas, actions, strategies ensure that my boys will always ask first? Do they ensure that my boys will never be villains? Of course not because it's their decision. We can only give them the right information and the tools to make it. And hope that they make good choices. But I don't think that the ability to make good choices is innate. We need to talk about it. We need to model it. And we need to think first.
Other ideas? Strategies? Thoughts on the issue? Please share in the comments.