This week we are celebrating my son’s twelfth birthday. These milestones always get me reflecting on parenting. And just a few weeks ago we celebrated another birthday—the arrival of Mia Dobson into this world. Mia’s folks are dear friends and I am looking forward to being able to watch her grow up. Invariably, when a new baby is born there is a discussion among family and friends regarding the merits and pitfalls of raising boys or girls. The general consensus seems to be that raising boys is easier. I can’t imagine that it is as simple as that. I only have one child, a boy, so that’s all I know about. But I do know that parenting a child is anything but easy. I also know that children are individuals and individuals vary in millions of ways, so I figure it just can’t be as simple as what sex someone is born as.
It really bothers me when people say that raising boys is easier and that has nothing to do with the fact that I have a son. When people say that, I hear what they are leaving out: If raising boys is easy, then raising girls is difficult. This implies that themselves girls are difficult. Before these kids are even born we’ve got em all figured out, apparently. Yeah, that is really wise.
I can definitely see how the task of raising a daughter could be daunting. In a society that treats women as objects, where women still don’t receive equal pay for equal work, where women still encounter violence and even death in the streets and in their homes, the conditions in which we are raising young women are certainly troublesome. Is that their fault? Because they are so difficult? Reminds me of what my grandma used to say about throwing the baby out with the bath water. The thing is, everybody I’ve ever known who has said these things about how hard it is to raise girls are good, caring people. They are just simplifying things like we all do in order to deal with stuff.
The fact that the world is a tough place on girls makes my job as a mother to a boy really important to me. I don’t believe that boys are easy to raise. Well, I believe it would be easy to raise a boy by society’s standard. And what I mean is raising a boy to think the world is his oyster and he can have anything in it. Where it gets hard is raising my boy to be a decent human being and not contribute to why things are so tough for girls. At the same time I’ve got to honor him for what he is, as hokey as that sounds. I’ve got to raise this kid to be a good person, a decent man, someone who doesn’t view himself as part of the problem just because he was born as a boy and yet make him aware that he can be part of the solution. Read that sentence again and think about it. Now tell me raising a boy is easy.
When I break it all down in my mind, it comes down to the potential that both girls and boys have to be empowered people. The way that this can happen is different for each, not necessarily harder for one or the other. Now, you may be thinking that men already have a whole lot, if not all, of the power, so why do I need to be talking about empowering little boys? Well, if you ask me, violence and domination is not the same as empowerment. They are tools of power and that is all. If you look at neighborhoods with high violent crime rates you will also find that poverty is prevalent. What we have is a whole lot of people that don’t have access to the things that they need to cope and survive, but survival happens anyway. It becomes ugly; that’s all. I think a lot of young men are being raised in another kind of poverty and that is the “be a man” mentality. It doesn’t help them and it doesn’t help girls, either.
As I said, my son is twelve now, and we’re going through the process of making sense of sex. Well, we have been for years. It is very fluid. Each year the stuff we discuss changes as he matures. Giving him lots of good information about sex is a form of empowering him. For one thing, we don’t talk about sex without humanizing it. Sex is not just something boys go off and do. There is going to be someone else involved, and I have tried to make a point to be an advocate for my son’s future sex partners. Maybe that sounds a little weird, but I find it unfortunate that parents and schools, when providing sex education, so often fail to even try to humanize children’s sexuality. It is all just, “Put the condom on the penis” and nothing about, “Well, you might get the condom on your penis and then one of you might realize that maybe you aren’t really sure anymore...” Talking about sex with young people is great because you get to go so many places with it. In that particular scenario we could go on to discuss things so many things and they all have to do with alternatives. Basically we sit around filling in the blanks. “Well, if I can’t or don’t want to do that, then I could do this.” Giving kids lots of ideas about good ways to deal with problems is what empowerment is all about. The hope is that they don’t get out there and get broadsided by things that are frustrating or difficult.
When it comes to making split decisions (in moments of passion or crisis) people refer to their mental checklist of options and what is on that list is going to determine their course of action. We use what we know. And what we know is what we have been taught. I think this theory holds water for everything and it is something we need to think about whether we are parenting, protesting war, or dealing with our own mental health. I’m sure we could all benefit from expanding and redefining our list a little, right down to removing “girls are difficult and boys are easy.”