By Ochuko Tonukari
Not too long ago, an exciting debate came up in our local church. It was such that we heatedly discussed ways in which parents need to re-examine placing gender stereotypes on their children, specifically boys. There were many eloquent speakers in the church that day but frankly, I was somewhat impressed by the views expressed by my friend’s mother, Mrs. Ejiro Agbuna. In her matronly debonair manner, she stated that for boys to be happy and healthy, they must be allowed to have feelings, to show compassion, and to be able to express the range of emotions encouraged in girls. Mrs. Agbuna is concerned that parents are continuing to hold on to the idea of bringing boys up to be stoic, hide their feelings, to become quickly independent of their mothers and were told why they should not be like girls.
The gospel truth is that, Mrs. Agbuna is not saying that we shouldn’t respect the differences between boys and girls, whatever we perceive them to be. But the idea of defining male and female as opposites (as we do in this culture) is imprudent and leads us into trouble. It implies that boys must not only separate from their mothers but reject the qualities associated with girls.
Mrs. Agbuna’s position reminds me of some of the emails I received from many different women who were responding to some views I earlier expressed in a magazine where I am the deputy editor. These women were desperately seeking relationship advice. They poured out all their hearts to me as if I was a Catholic priest. And though their stories varied, they all boiled down to one major commonality: all these women were asking how to deal with boyfriends that are liars, cheaters, and just basically opportunists. In my replies to them, I empathized as best as I could, and explained that not all men are liars, cheaters, and opportunists. But for the ones that are, there is no working it out.
There was one particular mail I received from a young woman who asked: “Why are some men like this? Why should a man become so trifling?” The truth is that, while each man is ultimately responsible for his own actions, it is my firm belief that a man’s character is initially determined by his upbringing- or lack of it. The core of a man’s character is determined by whether his mother chose to teach and firmly reinforce what it means to be a respectable man.
One of my sisters, the mother of a four-year-old boy, stated “all this foolishness that some of these men put women through are a direct consequence of their mothers not demanding that they respect women in the first place. You can raise your boy to get an education or get a good job- but if you’re not raising him to be accountable for how he treats women, then you aren’t doing your job as a mother or a woman. Many a times, I’m amazed at how many mothers know that their sons are dogs, but don’t call them out on it. They just turn a blind eye, make excuses, and even dismiss their son’s behavior as something they will grow out of. What kind of woman takes pride in knowing that her son is the cause of another woman’s pain?” She asked rhetorically.
And lastly, there’s my immediate younger sister, the mother to my nephew, who steadfastly proclaimed, “My son will know better than to play games with any female”.
Mothers, especially those raising sons, need to take a hard look at what type of men they’re raising their boys to be. Are you raising your son to be honorable, God-fearing men? Are you raising your son to be introspective and empathetic? Are you holding your son accountable for the way they treat another person’s daughter or sister? Are you teaching them to treat women the way they’d want another man to treat their mother or sister?
One lady I met some time ago said, “If I’m ever blessed with a son, my goal will be to raise him to be the type of man I’d want to marry. His father and I will love him enough to teach him the value of being an honorable and respectable man. His attitude and behaviors will reflect his family’s values. His treatment of women will reflect his respect for me. He will respect every woman he deals with and he’ll be held accountable for his actions! While raising him I will remember every heartbroken woman I have ever come across. And I will do everything within my power as a mother and a woman to raise my boy to be the best man he can be- a man who is the source of another woman’s joy and not the source of another woman’s pain”.
This is no joke; it is a very serious matter. Attention mothers: Women of the future are looking up to you. Whether we like it or not, we are all creatures of habit. Every true woman must take a comprehensive look at her son’s development. She must know what a boy needs from his mum in every stage. She should acquaint herself with all the burning topics surrounding boys, everything from the effect of media to substance abuse, sex and dating. Women should endeavor to understand their boys’ desire for risk and adventure, how boys yearn for power and purpose, and how they make sense of the world around them. Every woman must know what it means to love a boy well.
Nowadays, we live in a society where boys are not only expected to break away from their mothers, but also from those qualities associated with “women.” Boys are expected to leave home, often before they are big enough, and many mothers unconsciously distance their sons physically–by not hugging them, or by sending them away to school or emotionally, by putting off their “feminine” emotions or never becoming very close to them. Mothers of boys can break through these emotional barriers, or avoid building them, by having the courage to reject the status quo. For many women, the challenge of raising a son can be a hard one. For other women, raising a son may be much easier than raising a daughter. Some of the common misconceptions about boys are as follows: Boys are tough; boys don’t cry; Boys are stronger than girls etc.
Unfortunately, many women still believe in these misconceptions and are raising their boys with this mindset. Regrettably these boys sometimes grow up to be the abuse, drug addict, suicide and murder cases we see on the nightly news. Women need to understand the differences and similarities between boys and girls if we expect to raise our sons to be respectable men. As women, we should teach our sons how to get along with girls. We should promote equality between our sons and daughters by allowing both children sufficient time to express their feelings.
By taking out time to talk to your son you can teach them to be polite, tolerant, and sensitive. As a mother, the greatest thing you can do for your son is teach him to respect women. Even if you and your son’s father are divorced, it is still important to talk about him with respect and never say negative things about him in front of your son. When a mother shows that she respects people and appreciates them, his son will notice this example and will strive to be like his mother. As parents we need to understand that boys need as much emotional and physical support as girls. As you know, being a mother is a challenge. What works one day may not work the next.
Boys tend to learn by example. By nature, many boys do not open up easily about their emotional or physical problems. By establishing an atmosphere where you show your son it is safe to talk about their problems, they won’t feel as inclined to conceal their emotions. If you set a good example at home, your son will learn respect for others, responsibility and how to have a good self esteem. For teenage boys, having a positive self esteem is very vital. Those teenage years are some of the hardest times your son will have to experience. By teaching him how to have a positive self-esteem, you will be doing him a world of good.
We know what we get when a boy is raised to prove his masculinity. The result is false boldness, the need to be aggressive and to be violent, and to ignore or suppress feelings of vulnerability. These are the men who appear strong but who are, ironically, weakest in many ways because they’re hiding or are unaware of their need and are badly equipped to engage in any kind of decent relationship.
Every woman should just love her son like he’s a child becoming an adult, and don’t try to push him at all. We must continue to talk to them about our feelings. We should not be afraid to demonstrate our affection or anger. We need to be honest about what we like and don’t like about the way they act. Boys are born to be wild. Their strong spirit, endless imagination, and desire for escapade are only matched by their deep craving to be affirmed, esteemed, and loved. Teaching your boy empathy and sympathy can help change the lives of women all over the world.
Today, many boys wear a “mask,” often hiding feelings of unhappiness, loneliness and vulnerability. For many boys, self-esteem is tied to their body image. They worry they are not masculine enough. Mothers don’t realize how they teach their boys to cover emotions. Simple phrases like “Big boys don’t cry” create a lifetime consequence. Many boys feel they can’t express their sadness, so instead they get annoyed. Instead of bottling up his sad feelings, you can encourage your son to express his emotions in a healthy way. Express your love as freely as you would to a girl. Let him know that “real” boys and men do cry.
A boy who is fully and deeply loved, who learns to accept his feelings and is well equipped to express them, and who learns to take responsibility for his actions, to value kindness and live it daily—this is the boy who will grow into a man who’ll make a loving husband. That’s good for the woman he marries. Even better for the man he becomes.