Category Archives: Manhood
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.
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.
Last week I posted an image on my Facebook Fan page, that read: You Don’t Have to Be Anti-Boy to Be Pro-Girl. It made me think of how people usually react when they hear that I write about and conduct workshops on raising boys to become successful men.
People are either delighted to hear that I have taken on this initiative or they ask me why am I doing this when girls are the ones who need help. I don’t like to engage in gender wars because I think they do nothing to help build better gender relations. However, I am disturbed by women who feel that it in order to support girls, they must devalue boys. Don’t they see how this way of thinking is just as detrimental as the misogynistic thinking of some men.
Right now, girls and women are outranking boys and men in education and employment.There are more young women in college than there are young men. 57% of students in postsecondary educationare women.
I don’t want to get into a numbers game with this blog post, I just want to bring awareness to the fact that if we as adults want the next generation to have better gender relations and gender equality, we must not widen the gender gap by alienating boys or dismissing their needs.
I started Raising Great Men because I wanted an outlet to share with other moms of boys on how we can work together to ensure that we raise compassionate, respectful and responsible men. As a black woman, I have faced racial and gender discrimination, but instead of letting it make me bitter, I used it as a catalyst for change. I am raising my sons to become men who appreciate and value themselves and others regardless of race or gender.
I am teaching my sons self-respect as well as respect for others. I pray that parents of girls do the same. It’s not okay to be pro-girl and anti-boy. It’s not okay to give girls negative messages about boys. For those who have asked, yes, I would think the same way I do now if I had daughters.
When boys and girls grow up to become emotionally healthy, confident and successful adults, it benefits our world. We can’t continue to ignore that right now boys are at a disadvantage. We need to have honest discussions about how we can help boys without feeling threatened that it will take opportunities away from girls.
Most importantly, we need to prepare boys for life as men by encouraging them to be themselves, by teaching them according to their learning styles, and by supporting their emotional needs.
Let’s remember to see the world from a boy’s point of view and help him to become the kind of man that makes the world a better place.
Do you have to be anti-boy to be pro-girl?
What Will Your Son Contribute to This World As a Man?
In last night’s Vice Presidential debate, Martha Raddatz posed poignant questions to Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan. It was a lively debate and Ms. Raddatz was a stern and disciplined moderator. Of all the questions, the one that stood out for me was: “What would you both give to this country, as a man and a human being that no else could?” I think even the candidates were thrown off guard with that question.
It’s a question we need to ask more young men and men but perhaps framed differently. I often encourage moms of boys to ask their son: “What kind of man do you want to be?” Moms usually return to me thanking me for this simple but powerful exercise. Often the responses amaze them and sometimes they become more aware of the need to help their sons develop a road map for their lives.
Which brings me back to last night’s question. Throughout his life, a man may never be asked what kind of man he wants to be or what would he like to contribute to the world. It’s sad because the earlier we ask these questions, the better a boy becomes aware of who he is in the world and how his actions impact his future.
I once met with a mom whose son was facing jail time for drug charges. Never in our conversation did she hold her son accountable for his actions. I left our meeting thinking: Her son’s contribution to this world will be that he is not responsible for anything that happens to him.
We have to remind our sons that for every action there is a consequence. They need to understand that their contribution to this world matters. They need to know that they matter. Most importantly, they need to know that what makes a man is his character and how he treats himself and those around him.
So today I’m asking my teen son: What will you contribute to this world as a man?
“A boy becomes an adult three years before his parents think he does, and about two years after he thinks he does.”-Lewis B Hershey
You’re probably thinking, “What is she talking about?” Stay with me. If you’ve ever been the owner of a new car, you know the delight of that new car smell. After some wear and tear, that new car smell gives way to food smells. As a new car owner, you know that it won’t last long, so you savor it for as long as you can.
The same thing happens when your son hits puberty. He stops smelling like a little boy and starts to smell like a man. At first, it’s startlingly and a little disturbing. You lean in to give him a kiss and you wonder if he just jogged for miles.
It’s at that point you realize that you’ve stopped shopping in the boy’s department a couple of months ago. You now venture into the lonely and desolate men’s department where you scramble to find a pair of pants that will fit his growing legs.
It all clicks when you are doing the laundry and reach for a pair of men’s socks and realize it’s for your son. No more little boy. No more jokes that have no punch line. No more pockets filled with candy wrappers and lint. It’s time to face that your son has lost his “new car smell”.
I have a funny pin on Pinterest that pretty much sums up my responsibility as a mom of boys. I think sometimes we get so caught up in raising our sons, that we forget that these boys and young men will one day be husbands and fathers.
We forget that each moment we share with our sons are teachable moments. We forget that we’re not just raising children, we’re leaving a legacy. I want my sons to learn from my accomplishments as well as my failures and challenges. I want them to understand that parenting is not a chore but a responsibility.
I want my sons to know that although gifts and words are nice, nothing spells love like spending quality time with your children. Don’t try to buy your children’s love by lavishing them with gifts. Your children are not a burden. The time you spend making money for your family can never replace the time you spend with your family.
2. Don’t Be an Enigma to Your Children
Take the time to talk to your children about yourself and your life. Don’t keep them guessing who you are. They shouldn’t find out things about you after you’re gone. Let them get to know you. Tell them your story so they can share it with their children.
3. Share What You Know
Your children will learn more from your mistakes than from your success. Give them insight into what you’ve learned. Share your skills, experiences and your talents.
4. Keep Your Children Out of Adult Conflicts
Whatever you do, make sure you don’t put your children in the middle of your conflicts. Even if someone else is doing it, be the bigger person. Don’t force your children to choose sides.
5. Be a Husband and a Father, Not a Baby Daddy
Things happen but I hope that you’ve been paying attention enough to know to protect yourself. Make sure you know who you’re getting involved with before you make a commitment to a relationship or parenting. Make sure your relationship is healthy and balanced. You want to bring your children into a home filled with love and peace.
6. Change Your Vocabulary From “Me, Mine, My” to “We, Us, and Our”
Once you become a parent, you relinquish your right to be selfish. You can not expect life to go on as normal. You can not expect others to pick up your slack. You have to compromise and make sacrifices.
7. Have Realistic Expectations of Your Children
Your son or daughter doesn’t have to like or enjoy the things you do. Your children are not miniature copies of you. Don’t try to live vicariously through them. Support their dreams.
8. Parenthood is Not About Perfection, But About Trial and Error
You’ll never really get it right. No book, expert advice can help you as much as being active and being involved in the lives of your children. You’ll make mistakes. Your children will challenge you. You’ll have power struggles and disappointments.
9. Your Children Will Learn More From Watching You Than Listening to You
Practice what you preach, otherwise your children will think you’re a hypocrite. They’ll watch everything you do and how you treat others.
10. Listen More Than You Speak
Your children need you to listen to them and respect their thoughts and opinions. Your children need to know you’re paying attention to them. What your children have to say is just as important as what you have to say.
11. Don’t Let Society Define Your Role as a Father
Society and the media will present to you how you should think or behave as a father. Do what is best for your family.
I do my best each day to walk the walk as a parent. I know that my sons need me to guide them and give them the tools they need to become great fathers.
What do you want your son to know before he becomes a father?
I often get asked what do I think that boys need the most. I usually hesitate to answer that question because although collectively boys need support in areas such as education and employment, I believe that individual boys have their own needs.
However, if there is one thing I believe that all boys need, it is: Understanding. I'm not going to get into a debate about why boys are falling behind girls but I will shed light on why boys need to be understood.
If you do a Google search on boys, you'll find a lot of random stuff, most of it is negative. It seems that somehow as we were empowering girls and making sure they succeed in life, we manage to imply to boys that they don't matter. This message permeates throughout our schools and society.
We label boys as troubled, angry, aggressive, violent and overall a menace to society. We need to make it clear to boys that they do matter and we need to let them know we care. The best way to get to boys is to show them we understand.
Although some parents have the option of homeschooling or single sex classrooms, most parents enroll their sons in schools that have traditional classrooms. Walk into any elementary, middle or high school and more than likely, you'll find a boy either being disruptive or being disciplined. We need to better understand how boys learn and what they need to be engaged at school.
We need to understand how to motivate boys to be better writers and readers. We need to understand how it feels to be a boy sitting in a classroom. We need to stop labeling boys and start asking them pertinent questions that will make them more proactive in their learning.
Let's give boys more career options and start encouraging them to explore entrepreneurship. Let's offer more interesting classes in middle and high school that will engage boys.
In the Home
Is your home learning environment? Do you give your son the freedom to be himself? Let's get past the phrase "Boys will be boys" to say that "Your boy will be your boy." We need to stop imposing unfair gender roles and characteristics to children. Not all boys are rough and tumble. Some boys are quiet and reserved. Let's stop comparing our sons to our neighbor's sons.
Let's understand that while boys may need their mothers to nurture and comfort them, they do not need coddling. Let's understand that even if we don't know what it's like to be a boy we can do our best to not work against their natural impulses. Let's stop blaming video games and start being accountable for our son's interest in them. Let's be more involved in our son's lives.
Let's understand that it is unfair to make insensitive comments to our sons because of our own fears. Let's make the decision to parent based on love not fear. Let's understand that our misconceptions about boys are causing us to make assumptions about our sons.
Let's give our sons the tools they need to be happy, healthy, and successful men.
Let's understand what it means to be a boy and a man in society today. Let's understand how society views boys and how social pressures cause boys to try to live up to an imaginary manhood. Let's stop making "bad boys" so appealing in the media.
Let's understand that media portrayal of men depicts to some boys how society views them. Let's understand that what we say about men to boys tells them what we think about them. Let's understand that labeling or making excuses for boys just contributes to their bad behavior.
Let's be honest and say as women, we don't know what it feels like to be a boy. Let's do our best to understand that boys are not modified girls.