I could just stand back and let my son grow up like previous generations before him – clueless, blind, privileged, obnoxious.
I’m an only child.
I don’t have much experience with boys – other than my father, cousins, classmates, coworkers, my husband.
Most of those experiences are negative.
Growing up as a Southern girl, I was taught to be small and silent, deferential to elders and especially men. Compliance and subservience was goodness.
Inside I always seethed against this injustice.
My father even said out loud when I was a rebellious teen he would have raised me differently had I been a boy, and I took it as the gravest insult, but I think I may know what he meant now.
While I teach my daughters to take up space, I have to teach my son to make room.
I try to use gender-free language.
I don’t accuse my girls of being unladylike. I remember how that made me feel, growing up in a Southern household with those ridiculous and impossible ideals.
I tell all my kids to be polite, kind, and respectful.
I don’t tell my son “to man up” or not to cry. I tell my kids to have courage and be strong, even if it’s scary. And that it’s ok to cry and have strong emotions.
In “How to play Patriarchy Chicken,” Dr. Charlotte Riley writes, “The point is that men have been socialised, for their entire lives, to take up space. Men who would never express these thoughts out loud have nevertheless been brought up to believe that their right to occupy space takes [precedence] over anyone else’s right to be there. Women have not been socialised to take up space. Women have been socialised to give way, to alleviate, to conciliate, and to step to the side.”
So I must actively teach my son to make room for others.
He is already aware of his privilege in a house full of girls. We do baby him, cater to him, fawn over him – since he’s the youngest. We’re all teaching him how to be the most loving and kind man we would ever want to see or meet.
How I Teach My Son to Make Room
- Be aware of yourself and others.
- Let others go first. Be polite, kind, and courteous.
- Let others speak until they’re finished.
- Speak up if you see someone doing something wrong.
- Keep a respectful distance. “This is your dance space and this is their dance space.”
- Self-control. No means no.
- Fail. Lose. Try. Learn. Winning isn’t everything.
- Lots and lots of books and films with great female and minority characters.
- No restrictions on clothing choices, except for safety and weather conditions. Appearances aren’t what’s most important. I allow for self-expression even if it makes me uncomfortable.
- Unconditional love. No matter what.
As a parent, it’s my job to teach my kids how to function in healthy ways as citizens.