A little under two months ago, I gave birth to my second son.
It’s a funny thing because, while I’d always envisioned myself as a mother, I’d never thought that I’d be the mother of two boys. I guess I’d always assumed I’d have at least one daughter (not to say that isn’t an option in the future; I’m just not really thinking about another baby anytime soon).
As a modern-day woman — and one who had grown up in a household with a 2:1 female-to-male ratio —, the thought of raising a daughter always seemed a lot more straightforward. I knew from direct experience the lessons I wanted to impart on her, the gender expectations I wanted to sidestep.
But a son? Let alone two sons?
There is a lot more gray area for me to navigate — and a basic lack of understanding of the modern male experience. Raising boys always seemed like an intimidating task to me.
Thankfully, I have an amazing partner who’s had his own experience navigating harsh expectations of what it means to be a man. And he’s been so integral in helping us prioritize how we want to raise — and, ultimately, define some key lessons that we want to impart on — our boys.
So, here are our main hopes in raising two boys.
We hope they know:
- There’s no one way to be a “man.” My husband has shared with me that his adolescence and early adulthood were marked by various struggles to live up to what other men expected him to be. Simply put, he looks, speaks, and acts completely differently than how a man “should” look, speak, and act. He’s short with a smaller build. His voice is higher pitched than one would expect. He wears his heart on his sleeve and leads with emotion as much as with logic. He spent the better part of his life overcompensating for these qualities that society deemed “not masculine enough” — and he always felt less than. Now, as his insecurities have waned and his sense of self has strengthened, he swears that we’ll teach our sons: being a man doesn’t mean that you have to check off characteristics on a narrowly defined list. Their masculinity is whatever they want to make it.
- There’s strength in vulnerability. Men are often expected to stay “strong” and “tough”: the slightest sign of emotion is seen as a weakness, as a betrayal to one’s manhood. This expectation to keep those “weaker” emotions bottled up only hurts our men in the long run — and ultimately evolves into the explosive anger and aggression indicative of toxic masculinity. I don’t want my sons to be afraid to show when they feel hurt or sad or vulnerable in any way. I want them to know that it’s okay to cry, to admit that you’re not okay. That it doesn’t make them weak; in fact, it shows that they’re strong enough to admit when they need support.
- “Feminism” isn’t a dirty word. Look it up: feminism is equality between men and women, among all gender expressions and experiences. Nothing else. For men, it doesn’t mean that they need to make themselves smaller — although it may mean that they need to be aware of their privilege in certain situations and (hopefully) use that privilege in order to work as allies to their female counterparts. I want my sons to grow up as unabashedly proud feminists: men who want and work toward a world where all people have equal access, equal treatment, and equal rights.
- Women deserve our respect — and our support. And, on that note, I want them to respect women. Their abilities, their thoughts, their bodies, their voices. I hope that they recognize that, as two individuals inherently born with a bit more privilege, they use that power to support — and ultimately elevate — those around them that society may be tearing down because…
- The world is a better place when we lift everyone up. It’s as simple as that.
Looking at this list, these may seem like lofty dreams. And if I step back and think, How are we going to teach these things to our sons?, that task definitely seems daunting, if not nearly impossible.
But we’re going to try.
Because I think they’ll be better men, better people, if they’re able to embody these lessons. And maybe — just maybe — they’ll be able to make the world better too.