art by Julia Green
Welcome to Mommamental, the place you come to talk about the things that should have been in the parenting manual that absolutely did not come with your kids.
Everything in the news is so discouraging. Men seem so awful, and I worry all the time about my ability as a parent. How do I raise boys that respect women (and don't act like Brett Kavanaugh)?
Mom With No Clue What To Do
First, it’s been a heavy, heavy couple of weeks. Let’s take a moment to breathe together.
Here is a super simple exercise I like:
Okay. Well done. Now we are ready to tackle this tough topic.
The good news is, you care. You wrote to me, which means you care about raising kids that are good humans. Which means you’ve already fought half the battle. Go you!
I know, from experience, that caring about how your kids behave is probably the very best indicator of how they actually will behave. Last week, as I watched Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony, I could not help but think, there is just no way my sons would ever act this way. No question whatsoever. I just didn’t raise them to act that way.
Of course, it’s true — you can try your very hardest and still end up with terrible kids. I wonder what Brett’s mom thought as she watched him? I know what I would have thought. Where did I go wrong? (Thankfully, I’m not his mother.) This is a hard time to be alive which means it's a hard time to be a parent. I just know the next generation is going to do great things.
So, how do we raise boys that treat women (and humans) with respect?
Step one, you care. What now? I’ve written before about raising feminist sons (a good refresher.)
Here some other things you can do:
1. Don’t avoid discussing the news.
Tell your kids what’s going on. Do not shield from the truth of the ugliness of our culture. While you’re at it, go ahead and tell them that this kind of sexist, abusive behavior is absolutely not okay. Talk about the inappropriate (and illegal) behavior of our president. Remind them that horrible people are still responsible for their actions, whether they are the leader of the free world or not. Talk about the petulant performance of Brett Kavanaugh.
Tell them that you expect better of them.
2. Cultivate a culture of kindness and compassion.
For humans in general and for them. Respect begets respect. Obviously, this goes for all humans, but your kids especially. My great-grandmother used to always say, “Teach them the way they should go and when they are grown, they will not depart from it.” I think this applies even when your kids act like little turds (which, of course, they will.) Hang in there; they’ll come back to it.
3. Involve them in things that are not self-focused.
Sports and other extra-curriculars are cool, but there are more important things than playing with a team. Show them what it’s like to help other people. Do not protect them from the suffering in the world, and especially in your neighborhood.
4. Teach them that bodies are different.
This might seem a little off topic, but bear with me. Respect for women's bodies begins with respect for bodies in general. This, of course, begins with you respecting them but also teaching them to respect you (and their siblings) is something that you can do from infancy.
We talk a lot in our house about how all humans are made differently and how those differences make us wonderful. I’m a fat woman. My husband is an average sized man. We have small, average, and above average size kids in our home. This provides lots of opportunities to discuss not only our differences but also how we respect and honor those differences.
5. Have frank discussions about sex and consent.
I've written specific articles for this before. You can read them here and here. Do not avoid these discussions. They are hard, I know. They are worth it. If you treat it like it's normal to discuss (even if that feels forced), they will go up to believe it's normal.
6. Above all, keep talking.
Just never stop talking to them. Talk to them and let them talk to you. Talk is the answer I give to almost every person who asks me how I maintained a good relationship with my (now adult) kids. We just talked — all the time, about everything.
And, as always, in addition to all the talking, keep laughing, keep hugging. The manual your kids didn’t come with is inside you.