“Me Too” has been popping up on my news feed all day for the last couple days. I shared my own “Me Too” post, and I believe every woman I know has one, whether they chose to post publicly or not.
One of the wonderful things about parenting is our ability to shape the next generation. Our children’s attitudes and beliefs begin to take shape at home. I would like to see a future generation of women in which posting “me too” is an outlier rather than the norm. As the mom of a young boy, I began to think about what I can do to contribute to this future. Here are a few ideas I came up with that I want to teach my son:
- Teach him about consent. I talk with him already at age 3 about asking before touching someone. This goes the other way too – he’s not required to hug or otherwise receive affection if he doesn’t want to.
- Teach him that his feelings are OK, and that it’s OK to express them. I believe that if it were more socially acceptable for men to express feelings other than anger, we would see less violence and less desire for control. When not properly identified and managed, overwhelming emotions can make a person feel out of control. When people’s emotions feel out of control, they often feel the need to control others. Sexual violence is more about control and power than it is about sex or desire. By teaching my son that it’s OK to express his emotions and teaching him how to do so appropriately, my hope is that he will have the ability to get his emotional needs met without trying to control or manipulate others.
- Teach him to be accountable for his actions. Part of parenting is teaching our children to be accountable for their actions. If my son hurts another person, I ask him to see how he can help and encourage him to address the situation. When boys stop getting a free pass because “boys will be boys”, we won’t see so many adult men who think they should get a free pass to harass others without consequence. Being held accountable doesn’t need to involve shame or punishment. It can mean making amends, showing empathy for others, and setting and respecting appropriate boundaries.
- Teach him to have responsibility for work at home. My son helps with dishes, sweeping, putting away laundry, cooking, and other home tasks. When he gets older, I want him to be able to handle household responsibilities and not rely on a partner to do it for him. He’s only three now, so “helping” still requires a lot of input and supervision from me, but I’m hoping his involvement at an early age will pay off in the future. This may not directly be related to sexual assault, but if he chooses a female partner in the future, it will contribute to a more equal, balanced relationship.
- Teach him what healthy relationships look like. I try very hard to model respectful communication at home, not just with my son but with other adults as well. I’m obviously not perfect, and I know I’ll mess up sometimes, but I hope my son can see me apologize and try to do better in the future. As a single parent, I do think about this when it comes to romantic relationships of my own. Do I really want my son to see his mom in a relationship where my partner makes all the decisions and I have no say? Or do I want him to see a relationship in which there is healthy communication and a balance of power? Do I want my son to treat his future partners the way he sees me being treated? Do I want him to treat his partner the way I treat mine? Married partners can have these discussions as well. No relationship is perfect, but doing what you can to improve communication will help children see positive adult relationships.
What do you think? What steps are you taking to raise conscious sons who will contribute to a better world?