Raising My Son into a Kind, Strong Man
by Lauri Fleischmann Stern
I was the youngest of four kids. My older sisters were products of the ’60s: hippies, bra-burners, and Gloria Steinem groupies who lambasted my father’s male chauvinism. My brother, the oldest, exhibited a fair dose of chauvinism, but, fortunately, he married another bra-burning, liberal woman and became enlightened.
Cut to today. I have a 13-year-old middle son, who is flanked by his assertive and intelligent sister on one side and a set of active, vocal, and assertive twin sisters on the other. I’ve taken great care to teach my girls that the world is their oyster, but what about my son?
There’s a new double standard that parents must navigate in raising teenage boys. I want my son to make thoughtful and kind decisions; I don’t want him to be chauvinistic, but there might be vestiges of chivalry that he must learn. In short, I’m trying to raise a non-chauvinist male without emasculating him in the process.
My good-looking son runs the risk of becoming a tool, a player or a meat head, and it is my job to make him understand that hard work and integrity are more important than good looks. My husband helps as much as he hinders, here. Yes, he wants to instill integrity in our son, but there is that other part that makes him want to throw up a fist-pump when our son tells us a girl likes him.
In my house, I give “the talk” to my daughters and son. I talk about their changing bodies, their raging hormones, and the technical particulars, like how to insert a tampon and how to put on a condom. I told my older daughter that she’s in charge of her body and should never give up her safety or well being to someone else. My message to my son was different. Why? Because, like it or not, boys have a different set of rules.
My son has a harem of girls who follow him around, text him, instant-message him, etc. I spend a lot of time speaking with him about his responsibility. He must be able to say no, even in the most enticing situations. He must be the one to put on the brakes because, in the end, the burden falls on him. He must carefully choose his actions—a laughable idea for any 14-year-old boy. But, I try to drill in the message. Aside from instructing him on matters of chivalry, like holding doors open, picking up the check sometimes, or offering a girl his jacket in cold weather, I feel I must enlighten him on the burden of being a male.
In today’s world, my son can expect that girls will try to win his affection. I try to counter their appeals with warnings about the right way to treat women. I don’t want to raise a man who treats women like “notches in his bedpost.” He must learn to turn down offers of all kinds. Some girls will say or do all kinds of things to get a guy. He needs to understand that he is great, with or without a girlfriend. Or, he will fall victim to the double standard where one sees him as a dude and another as a player.
In raising my teenage son, I recognize the double-standard. Today’s women can be CEO’s, raise families, and make decisions. Today, it is the men who are often accused, pinned, or misunderstood. It takes a stronger man to say no to a strong woman, especially when saying yes may earn him pats on the back, fist pumps, and envy from his friends. That’s not the kind of attention I want my son to seek. I want my son to pat himself on the back for rejecting something fleeting in favor of something real. I want to give him tools so that he does not become one.