Saturday, September 1, 2012

Raising a Sensitive Boy


When I dreamed of becoming a mother, I always imagined myself with two girls.  It's not that I preferred having girls, I just assumed there was some karmic payback sure to unload on me for being a very difficult teenager. My young mother could not control me, and my sister (only 13 months younger) and I fought constantly.  Surely, I was to have my Mom's same fate.

My Mom remarried and my brother came along when I was 15 years old.  He provided a lot of balance to our family.  We have always had a very special bond.  I was his big sister, his babysitter, his tutor, and chauffeur.  I am also close to my nephew (sister's son) who is now 11 years old.  So, I definitely know how to relate to boys.

Still, I was a little concerned when I saw my son's telling parts in the ultrasound.  I'M HAVING A BOY?!  REALLY?  My husband was so relieved!  But now we had to make the tough circumcision decision.  We argued a lot, but my husband finally conceded when I said, "Our son will come into this world as a perfect being.  Why would we need to surgically alter him?"  He could no longer say, "So he looks like me."  We decided to leave him intact, as nature intended.

I had my beautiful boy, he was happy, very attached to us, and very aware of the world.  I was STILL really concerned.  What exactly was I worried about?  My husband is wonderful, my brother and nephew are awesome despite having challenges in childhood.  But just about every other man on both sides of my family are very broken.  They are mean, macho, troubled, and more.  I do not have any models for how to raise boys well.  I have many models for what not to do.  And I feel that in many ways, boys need more nurturing than what many caregivers provide.  I needed help and started sifting through parenting books.

One of the best books I have come across is Alfie Kohn's "Unconditional Parenting."  The book is about discipline, but it is based on unconditional love.  So, I found that it addressed many questions I had about parenting in general, which I think should be based on unconditional love!

Kohn suggests that parents ask themselves what they want for their children long term and continually assess whether their approach to parenting supports this.  For example, you may want your child to be quiet and do as he/she is told right now, but is this really how you want your child to be as an adult?  Probably not.  Many parents would instead like their children to be expressive, have their own opinions, yet be respectful, etc.  So, our approach to parenting must value these characteristics in our children.  In this example, it would be more effective to listen well to our children, ask for their opinions, and treat them with respect.

I believe Kohn's suggestion is a fantastic approach to evaluating one's parenting skills, regardless of the child's sex. Doing this exercise helped me clarify what I wanted to model for my dear son.

I want him:

  • To be loved and to give love freely
  • To feel compassion for others
  • To feel valued 
  • To love his body, heart, and mind
  • Go through life confidentially yet with self-awareness and humility
  • To respect women 
  • To embrace his softer, more "feminine" side
  • To feel whole and not have to conceal his emotions in order to feel macho or fit in with any group
  • To explore the world, without limits of what is appropriate for his sex & gender.
If this is what I want for my son, then this is what we should encourage.  It felt good to outline it.  Doing so made me feel more confident, immediately.  And I realized that it was the last three bullets that concerned me about raising boy.  If I were raising a girl, I'm not sure I would worry as much about her being able to express emotions, personal style, and fitting in socially.  I have experience with that as a girl and it would be easier to talk about and model for her.

Well, so far, I think we're doing pretty well.  My son has been sensitive from the beginning and is very demanding - in a good way.  He's very clear about what he wants and trusts that we will respond in a way that we feel is appropriate.  He is interested in everything from trucks to tea parties.  He actually has no idea that many boys are not interested in having tea.  When he does find this out, I really hope that he continues to do what he wants, regardless.  At least he will always have tea at home with me.  He is his Momma's boy and we are very, very proud of him.