Protect our Daughters or Educate our Sons?
It’s been a tough week to be a woman. And a desperately sad one at that.
As Mothers, the question should not be how we can protect our daughters, but how can we better raise and educate our sons. The narrative has to change.
Hurt people, hurt people. It’s a fact. Those that have been mistreated are the first in line to mistreat. Attitudes of grown men – often emotionally wounded – perpetuate rather than reduce the ongoing cycle of abuse, aggression or violence.
My biggest fear is that my son will grow up to mistreat women. And I’ve spent many nights awake thinking about what I can do to try to prevent that from happening.
So what am I going to do?
I’ll Walk the Walk
I believe that when it comes to what kids learn from their parents, they do as we do, not as we say.
My son needs to see the male figures in his life to model what respect looks like. Now, he hasn’t always witnessed women being treated fairly or kindly. And whilst as a Mother I can endeavour to make better choices and raise him around men that do, I still can’t be there all the time, overseeing every interaction.
But when he’s with me, he’ll continue to watch me take a stand when someone is being disrespectful, because the biggest job in my life is to set the stage for his.
He will watch his Mother standing up for what she believes in, whether it’s about sex, race, religion, a simple mistruth, or the colour of the god-damn sky, every time. Even if she stands alone.
I’ll build him Up
Boys need to have their confidence and self-esteem built up just as much as women do. If he respects himself, he’ll understand respect isn’t reserved for those he deems to be ‘more’ than him.
Respect is universal. It’s for all humans.
I’ll talk about Sex
I get it, it’s hugely uncomfortable. But if we as parents say nothing to our kids about sex, then they’re going to learn about it from the media, pornography, – and other kids.
As we all know, these sources aren’t exactly likely to be flying the flag for equality.
So those awkward conversations will be had in my house. Because an uncomfortable conversation is better than no conversation at all. And those conversations will most certainly include a discussion of the definition and importance of consent.
I’ll always encourage him to express himself
Life is busy. But when he asks for my attention to talk, I’ll make time to give him it. When he’s angry, I’ll let him go off on one safely. When he cries, I’ll hold him until he stops. I’ll listen to him tell me that it’s totally unfair that he can’t eat the second packet of sweets and tell him I hear you, son. I understand.
The peer pressure to conform, to ‘Man up’ perpetuates the gender stereotypes that are causing the problem. Language like this needs to stop.
I’ll keep him Informed.
There’s always been this undercurrent that we should protect our children from the happenings of the world and our everyday ‘adult’ issues because they’re only young and it isn’t fair to bombard them with it.
Only if we do that, one day they’ll wake up in the big wide world with no experience of what happens when things go wrong.
It’s a bit like giving a soldier a rifle and sending him on to a battlefield without any training.
If they have an understanding of the issues we face as adults and the complexities that go with it, it will help them understand they need to respect women from early on in life.
I’ll teach him Empathy
And if he’s informed, he can empathise. I’ll talk about my pain appropriately, and that of anyone else. Sorrow and sadness can make kids feel uncomfortable, but I believe I need to let him walk through that awkwardness, to let others feelings sit with him for a while. Because with empathy comes maturity. And with maturity comes understanding.
What hit women hard this week is that what happened to Sarah Everard could have happened to any one of us. We are in pain and we are angry.
The bottom line is men need to change their behaviour. As Mothers to the men of the future, we need to be part of the solution to change it.
Side note: if you’ve found this week particularly distressing, remember it’s okay to switch off from the news cycle for a while and prioritise your emotional wellbeing.
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