Category Archives: Boys
“Mom, what’s ‘lean in’ ?”, my teen son recently asked. While I was tempted to make a joke about it being Sheryl Sandberg’s response to Fat Joe’s 2009 hit “Lean Back”, I knew that I shouldn’t make light of his question. Instead of floundering through our conversation with second hand information, I told my son I’d get back to him while I searched Google for answers. What I found was an overflow of blog posts and articles either dismantling Ms. Sandberg’s credibility or praising her courage to empower women to be more ambitious. The more I read, the more I realized what has been missing from the conversation: boys and men.
While I applaud Ms. Sandberg for not discrediting men, I do have an issue in which some women depict boys and men as villains or the enemy. If we are to change the thinking of our society, we need to make boys and men our allies. One of the problems I see with improving gender relations, is that we believe that teaching boys to behave like girls and teaching girls to behave like boys will solve the problem. Even Ms. Sandberg suggests that women take a cue from men in asserting themselves in leadership roles. We can’t make the assumption that boys and men know our needs or our struggles. Why aren’t we having honest conversations about gender stereotyping and gender norms in our society with our sons?
When I worked at The Source Magazine, a primarily male dominated office, I was unprepared for the disrespect and chauvinistic behavior of most of the male staff. I was pregnant while employed there and when I approached my sales manager about my maternity leave, I was told that I would have to create a maternity leave plan. I couldn’t believe that this thriving magazine did not think about the needs of their female employees. What made the matter worse is that the HR Manager was a woman.
As a mom of two boys, I partner with my husband in raising our sons to be tolerant, strong, compassionate, loving men. While my husband talks to my sons about the implications of a man, I help them better understand gender roles and how to interact and engage with girls and women. I want my sons to have a better understanding of what it means to be a woman in this world. I want to raise sons that appreciate what women contribute to this world. I want to raise sons that nurture and support women’s rights while preserving their confidence. I think what we need is to have continuous conversations with our sons and daughters about the importance of respecting each other without conforming to gender bias.
If we want to change the way men and women interact and engage in personal and professional settings, we must raise them to understand that gender bias is a hindrance to both men and women.
To learn that you have a special needs, handicap, deaf child is the most powerful journey I have ever been on. Ethan, who is almost 11 years old is an amazing young man. Life is very normal and easy with him. It was not always that way. He was born with a condition
called “Enlarged Vestibular Aqueduct”. I could see early on that “something” was not quite right. Only I was unsure of that “something”. He never startled as an infant, slept 20 hours a day, and fixed his eyes on me. I used to say, “I have birthed an Einstein.”
When Ethan was 5 months old, his condition was confirmed. This news came to me, while we were shopping in a fabric store. He was in an infant front pack and there I was standing at the check-out counter crying my eyes out. My husband called me with this news. Ethan has these stunning blue big eyes and that sweet baby just looked into my crying face with a drooling smile. His world was perfect and mine had just been shattered. I immediately began asking myself questions. No family history, what happens next? He was already learning how to do baby signing so I thought this was going to be easy. The moment I realized that my baby could never hear me singing to him is when hard really started. It was that moment when I cried almost every day for many years.
I was angry. I was mad at God. I questioned my healthy lifestyle. Was I too lean, should I have forced myself to swallow prenatal vitamins? Did I do this to my baby? My thoughts were all consumed daily of his care, his appointments, and his therapy. I was depressed and ate myself into 85 extra pounds. I cried every day and I was distracted away from the care of my husband and family. I tried to work through the loss of that hope I had for this beautiful boy. I was desperate to find a reason that did not reflect on my mothering. I was lost and alone.
I was angry that my husband went off to work each day leaving me to endure the challenges. That little baby boy grew into a toddler that was angry and frustrated. He could not hear my voice around a corner. When he could not see me, his volume was loud. When he wanted something he was even louder. Car rides were intolerable. I was angry and felt I was doing all the work with therapy. I thought my husband should be more involved. He worked 10 hours days at a demanding job. His energy was gone before he pulled into the driveway at night. Even though my husband was grieving, at that time I was only thinking of myself.
One afternoon I called his office and said, “I need some drugs, depression drugs, coping drugs.” I had never been on any kind of medication, so I did not know what I needed. He kindly spoke into me, “This is situational and you are going to be fine.” That evening he showed up with my favorite wine to have when I couldn’t cope. This was his way of saying, “I know it’s hard & we are going to get through this.” Just having permission to sip a glass of wine at 10am was enough of a drug. Funny thing is over a years’ time I might have done that once.
I didn’t know how to communicate my needs, which made it hard on friendships. We had a fourth child, I was tired, and it was too hard to even think of my own needs. Ethan was loud; people could not be around him. Friends were uncomfortable. and play dates that were scheduled over a few hours were cut very short. Slowly friends dropped off and I was very much alone. I felt isolated and accepted this as my journey and cross to bear. I was tired of having to explain over and over that he is deaf. It was exhausting. No one understood him. I felt I had to educate each person. I had few friends who could tolerate Ethan. Not even my closet of friends would come hang out in my home. I had to learn to have grace and understanding for them. It was not easy.
What I had to do was re-frame my thinking and my process. One day I realized that my identity and my structure of life must change. Ethan is a hard child. Hard is what grows us into something. I grew into a deeper, caring and understanding of the human soul. I took that time, leaving my job, work I loved, to understand and grow this boy into a functioning and healthy life. I embraced Ethan, right where he was. The therapist told me that deaf children have problems with balance, especially climbing and parks. I took that boy to the park almost daily. I was told swimming is hard and scary for toddlers who are deaf. He had swimming lessons.
Nothing about being deaf would hold Ethan captive in what he enjoyed. Having people express their discomfort & recognize the challenge in this journey. Doing this by asking questions to draw others out in their process. I began to trust others, and venture out with girlfriends. My husband encouraged many evenings out with friends, so I could have a break. I had to acknowledge my own needs. Most important was realizing that my life could not be dictated or defined by a special needs child.
Insights I learned with a special needs son:
- Ethan’s normal is not my normal. It’s okay to cry and it’s going to be hard to figure all this out.
- People that have not had a special needs child will not understand you. Take no offenses.
- You must take time away for you with alone time or girlfriends.
- Don’t allow the circumstance of a special needs child dictate how you run the household. The entire family is important.
- Have one on one mom dates w/each child away from the challenges. Today, almost eleven years later those one on one mom dates continue. Imagine with five kids how many dates I go on. Even my 23 and 25 year old look forward to those dates. You must stay connected with all your children no matter how much extra time or work.
- Your husband will handle this very different than you. Embrace his journey. Regardless of how tired, mad, disconnected you are with your man, treat him well. I am reaping the rewards and honoring and respecting my husband in those hardest and darkest of days.
No one signs up for the journey of a special needs child. Each has a story that is very different. My hard may look different than your hard. I would walk through this journey again to have that boy named Ethan in my life. He is that boy who sings, and can’t carry a tune. Who loves airplanes and history. His had Cochlear Implants that allow him to function beautifully in a hearing world. His story is still being written and he has much favor in his life. I am blessed to be his mother. That little baby an infant in my arms now as a boy hears me sing. We sing together.
Elizabeth Traub is a Portland, OR mom of 5. She has spent the past 20 years working as a consultant with business start-ups, and existing
businesses. For 15 years, she has also mentored & coached women to live in the design of their dreams and passions. You can find her online at Hung Out To Buy www.hungouttobuy.com and Girlfriends Hub www.girlfriendshub.com.
The past few weeks, I’ve been troubled by how some adults are reacting to the rape case in Steubenville. Making generalizations about teens doesn’t help other teens to understand the severity of rape. We need to address the “boys will be boys” attitude that permeates our society and we need to be honest about how much we really don’t tell boys about self-control and respecting boundaries.
Our first mistake is rushing to tell boys what rape is instead of asking them “What is rape?” Once we know what they’re thinking we can proceed to have a conversation about rape. We have to let them ask questions no matter how much we want to avoid answering them.
As parents of boys, how may of us have in-depth conversations with our sons about rape. Yes, it’s an uncomfortable and complex subject but we can’t just keep telling them that “No means no”, “Respect women” and “Don’t rape.”
We have to teach them self-control and not to use their power or strength to over power a woman who is weak, vulnerable, promiscuous or inebriated. We have to let our sons know that under no circumstance is it ever okay to use words, physical force, drugs or alcohol to rape a woman. It starts with teaching boys at an early age to have self-control.
It’s not about just raising our sons to be gentleman, because there are men who by society’s standards are gentlemen, that rape women. There are nice guys that rape women. Let’s stop projecting an image of a rapist as an feral animal or a monster. A rapist can be cleverly disguised as a friendly, well-respected neighbor, co-worker or associate. Boys need to know that no matter how popular, good looking, sexy, well-liked or charming they are, no matter no much money or time they spend with a girl, they are NOT entitled to sex.
I was almost raped by a “nice guy” who I thought was my friend. After he helped me move into my apartment, he tried to rape me. The thought that ran through my head as I was fighting him off was”No one would believe me because he’s a nice guy.” He never gave me any indication that he had this side to him. I never flirted or led him to believe we were anything more than friends. This is why it was so painful. I thank God that at some point he came to his senses and realized what was happening and left quickly. The next day he called to apologize but the damage had already been done. He crossed the boundaries and broke a trust. There was no turning back and our friendship was over.
Years later, what I learned about that night is that it was about control. He tried to use physical force and persuasive words to convince me that I led him on and I wanted this. This is what we need to remind our sons that no matter how charming, good looking, wealthy, educated or successful they are, they have no right to take away a woman’s dignity, her self-respect, her pride and her trust. We have to remind our sons that no woman “asks for it” because she is promiscuous, flirty, sexy, or confident.
Rape is a sexual act that is sometimes violent in nature. Anytime someone is forced to do something against their will, it’s not mutual and consenting.We have to teach them that they may face a situation in which a woman is sending mixed messages and she is enticing him. I don’t care if she’s buck naked and waiting, once her lips say “No” or “Stop”, you have to control your urges and stop. Only “yes” means yes.
We have to tell our sons that just because a woman is giving him signs that she is interested in having sex, these signs could be misconstrued.
If at any point the message is unclear, don’t try to proceed with sex. Alcohol played a major role in the Steubenville case and we have to let
our sons know that alcohol inhibits your thinking and reasoning. A “nice guy” can make bad choices when he has been drinking.
We need to teach our sons that if they witnessed another guy trying to coerce a girl into sex or is taking advantage of her weakened state to speak up and do something. Let’s stop with the “boys club” and “no snitching” mentality. Let your son know that if he sees something and doesn’t take action, he is just as responsible. Sharing pictures and videos or making comments about the victim is also something we need to discuss.
Our conversations with our sons about sex and rape are not one shot deals. They have to be continuous and unabridged. No matter how often we talk about it, the message should be clear: “It’s about respecting boundaries and getting consent.”
1. Do something he’s interested in, even if you hate it. Yes, it means watching a Star Wars marathon or going to a skateboarding tournament.
2. Limit screen time for both of you. You and your son probably have favorite shows and apps. However, you can sacrifice one night a week to do something fun together.
3. Give advice, only when asked. If you truly want to empathize with your son, just listen and then offer advice only if he asks you. Never start a sentence with “If I were you..”
4. Have a sense of humor. Lighten up and laugh. Tell jokes to each other. Boys love fart jokes.
5. Listen calmly when your son is talking to you. Don’t jump to conclusions or make accusations.
6. Play Games. Board games, online games, or create your own games.
7. Have a special date with your son. Take your son out for dinner or somewhere fun that you both agree on. Use the opportunity to find out what is going on with your son.
8. Eat dinner together at least twice a week. Dinner time is the time for families to share and learn.
9. Remind him how important he is to you. If you’re a working parent, you probably spend an average of 3-4 hours a night with your son. Use this time wisely and assure your son that even though you don’t get to see him as much, he’s very much a big part of your life.
10. Trust your son. If you set the example by being a model of honesty, then your son will follow suit. Children learn how to lie by observing their parents. When you show your son that your trust him, you develop confidence in your son.
The other day I saw an image on a Facebook page in which a mom and her daughter stated “I don’t need a man” with a shadow of a man leaving the house in the background. The picture represents one of the most celebrated statements uttered by women. I have to be honest and say that I hear this most often from black women than any other group of women.
Some women use this statement as a defense mechanism to explain being single or express their disappointment or distrust of men. Where does that leave boys and men? In the effort to raise girls to be strong and independent, women are conveying the wrong message by telling girls that they don’t need men. First of all, we should teach all children to be independent and self-sufficient. People shouldn’t need other people. However, we were created for human relationships. By nature, we are social creatures and benefit from connecting and interacting with others.
Stating “I don’t need a man” doesn’t help girls or women become strong, confident, and independent. I get it, we want to ensure girls and young women understand that they don’t need a man to be or feel complete. What we really should be telling girls is:
- You don’t need a man who’ll disrespect you
- You don’t need a man who doesn’t appreciate your efforts and contribution
- You don’t need a man who is too insecure to let you own your greatness
- You don’t need a man who only sees you as a sexual object
My mother taught my brother and I life skills so that we can care for ourselves and not rely on anyone for our financial, emotional, spiritual or physical well-being. She never stated to me “You don’t need a man”. When I was a child, I never doubted my mother’s confidence, power or strength. She didn’t depend on my father to make her feel whole. I understood the difference between “want” and “need”.
Also, let’s think about what this statement tells boys. If our sons overhear us saying this, what are they learning about themselves as men?
We don’t want to undermine the roles that boys and men play in our lives. If we want to raise a generation of empowered women and compassionate men, we must begin to change our what we say. It’s not about needing anyone, it’s about being true to yourself,
practicing self-care and maintaining your individuality, even when
you’re in a relationship. Let’s not dismiss boys and men as an inconvenience in our lives.
If you were to put 100 men in a room and ask them: “What does it mean to be a man?”, the responses would vary. Some men don’t have a clue what it means because no one took the time to explain to them the complexities of manhood. Some men simplify being a man by sexual conquests or ability to reproduce, others define by power, wealth and success.
The truth is most men didn’t have a role model who presented a holistic view of manhood. Whether a man had a father in the home or not, he still may not have all the pieces of what it means to be a man. Those who were fortunate enough to have someone guide and teach them have a better understanding of manhood.
What we want for boys is to be able to say in their own words the traits of a healthy, well-adjusted man. They need guidance and support in being able to define what it means to be a man. Some of these boys are dealing with an identity crisis because they don’t fit into cultural stereotypes. They are grappling to find an acceptable role model that will show them how to be a man. As much as we want to believe being a man is simple, it’s not. Boys are faced with the daily challenge of figuring out what it means to be a man and men are faced with the challenge of trying to answer the question.
“If you’re going to have childhood dreams you should have great
parents who let you pursue them and express your creativity”– Randy Pausch
Do you ever think about your son’s dreams? Do you take the time to talk to him about what he wants to do with his future?
The beauty of childhood is our ability to dream and believe in unlimited possibilities. We see ourselves changing the world and being integral in solving mysteries, finding cures, saving lives, writing bestsellers and overall conquering the world. Unfortunately, some adults interfere with childhood dreams and burst those happy little dream bubbles. We don’t want to do that to our sons.
Our job as parents is to nurture, support and encourage our sons to dream BIG. We are not to laugh at or dismiss our son’s dream. We want him to know and believe that there is nothing to stop him from being the man God created him to be. It requires us to constantly communicate with our son about his vision and create a supportive learning environment.
We want to be one of the people on the sidelines cheering our sons on, not those protesting and blocking them from living their dreams.
Talk to your son about his dreams and tell him that you are here to guide him, pick him up when he stumbles and lift him up when he gets discouraged. Let him know that no matter how outrageous his dream is, you have his back.
How are you supporting your son’s dream?
Yesterday, many children and adults were disappointed to hear that Lance Armstrong admitted to using performance enhancing drugs. In one confession, Lance fell from his title as champion and role model to cheater and liar. As parents, we should be thinking about what this confession teaches our sons.
Growing up I had three role models: My brother, Bruce Lee and Muhammad Ali. I can’t explain why I chose guys as my role models but to me it wasn’t about their gender but their character. I chose my brother because of his kindness and patience which is rare in an older brother who had to deal with an annoying sister. I liked Bruce Lee because of his quiet but powerful disposition. Muhammad Ali exuded confidence and I thought if anyone could think so much of himself, then I should think highly of myself too.
I didn’t idolize these role models because even in my innocence I knew that no one is perfect. As I grew older, my role models changed with the exception of my brother (who’s still my role model). With maturity came an appreciation for the unconditional love, compassion and support of my parents. My mother exemplified the type of woman I wanted to become. What I ignored and rebelled against in my teen years, I embraced in my adulthood.
Sometimes we don’t choose our role models, they choose us. They quietly slip into our hearts and minds and fill us with words of wisdom and encouragement. You aren’t aware of the power of their influence until you are enlightened enough to see how their words and actions have guided your decisions in life.
Your son’s world is filled with positive and negative influences. There are people whose actions will be reflected in how your son thinks and behaves. We can’t control who our sons choose as role models. We can hope that our sons will choose his father or a male relative that we admire, but you never know. We become concerned that if he chooses someone who might disappoint him that he won’t recover from it.
We may not always approve of our son’s role models but we can help them to see that role models are not infallible. When we rush to vilify a disgraced public figure, we’re actually teaching our sons that to admit failure and weaknesses does not benefit you. We need to have ongoing conversations with our sons about values and help them to understand that people’s personal lives may not always live up to their public image.
What is the lesson we want our sons to learn from Lance Armstrong’s actions and confession? That you shouldn’t lie or cheat or that you shouldn’t get caught.
The most burning question in our minds should be “What will this role model teach my son about being a man?” I think what Lance Armstrong’s actions has taught us is that it is more important to be a man of character and to live by your words than it is to pretend to be a superhero.
Who’s your son’s role model?
We’ve heard it before: “He was quiet and kept to himself.” Then we hear about an unthinkable crime committed by a young man who no one would ever suspect of such a heinous act. These tragic events leave us confused and searching for answers.
We ask ourselves, “What went wrong ?” What is triggering this violent reaction in boys and young men? Can it be prevented? The truth is we don’t always know what’s going on in the minds of boys. Many boys have been conditioned for years to suppress their emotions and to hide their pain. From the time they are able to walk, stumble and fall, they are told not to cry. When they feel any kind of distress, they also feel the burden of emotional suppression. They are discouraged from showing any signs of weakness, vulnerability, or fear.
Boys are shamed for showing any emotion that is not “manly”. They are pushed them to “man up” but don’t give them the tools or resources to deal with whatever anger, resentment or pain that is troubling them. They are left to their own devices and ignore the signs that detect something may be wrong. We forget that for each tragedy, there is a generation of boys that are so desensitized to pain and suffering, that they are emotionally detached their suffering and the suffering of others. Before they know it, they’re on a path to self-destruction.
Because of our society’s stigma of mental health issues, boys often hide the fact that they are depressed. Parents may miss or overlook signs because their son knows how to “cover up” what’s really going on in his life.
It bothers me that we get so wrapped up in debating about gun control and violent video games that we overlook the greater need for quality mental health care, especially for males. We talk so much about what needs to be done, but we do very little.
There is no one solution to stopping these mass killings. There are too many factors to consider. From a parent’s perspective, we can start to communicate better with our sons to gain a better understanding of their emotional life. We can not assume that because they seem to be emotionally stable and have self-control that everything is fine. As parents, we can not ignore masculine isolation and our son’s silent cries. We need to pay better attention to their emotional needs.
We need to have better mental health intervention and to create mental health awareness for boys. Let’s retire the archaic thinking that “real men” are emotionally stoic. We can no longer wait to address the mental well-being of boys. We have to model empathy, help boys to sort through their feelings and most importantly give them an outlet to express their fears and pain. Boys need to know that they can deal with their personal grievances without hurting themselves or others.