Raising Boys to Be HuMans

DSC_2039A few weeks ago, my 7 year old and I had the big talk. No, there were no birds chirping or bees buzzing, this was a different talk. A more important talk. As we were lying in bed reading a book, his little brother was making funny faces and dancing around. He looked at his brother and said, “God, you are such a girl” It was meant to be an cawing insult, it was meant to sting like a bee.  I calmly set the book down and asked him why he said that and he replied. “Because Girls are the s-word (his way of saying stupid without really saying it) and he is acting ridiculous, Mom”  I then asked him if he thought all girls were stupid and sadly he replied  “Yes, well not stupid, but they are not as smart as boys and they are not as good at sports as boys.”

Obviously this knocked me back. Since the day my boys were born, I thought I was teaching them to celebrate boys and girls equally. I have tried to lead by example and show them a women can be a smart active mother and have a career. I have spent countless hours teaching them just as many “girl” things as “boy” things. I have had them go on as many playdates with girls as with boys. I have shown them how I cook, how I craft, how I do art and on the flip side I have kicked the ball in the backyard, played Minecraft, named every character in Star Wars, dug in the dirt and made mud pies, collected bugs, took them on big hikes and taught them to setup their first tent and campfire. Mind you, I don’t think any of the things mentioned above are exclusively boy or girl things, but I know society sometimes does and I knew that they would be bombarded with boy versus girl messaging everyday so I tried to put up my best defenders against that.  I was sad that none of my attempts to reverse engineer the negative messaging seemed to make a dent.

As I lay there with my little boy, I thought of all the innocence he has clearly already lost with that statement. I felt responsible for letting it happen. As a mother of three boys I want to teach them to grow up with not just a sense of respect for women, but an admiration for how strong, equal and sometimes superior they can be. We may not be rolling in cash, but by all accounts these boys are growing up privileged. They live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood, they go to a great school, and they have two parents who are together and love them. These are all things they could someday take for serious granted if we don’t steer the ship in the right direction. Selfishly, I also don’t want to be that mother who gets to find out from a viral YouTube video that I thought I had this great kid, but somehow managed to raise a misogynist or racist jerk.  The feeling of getting this parenting thing right feels all the more urgent to me in our violence obsessed society that seems to lack awareness or compassion towards mental health. I don’t want to fail to protect my boys by not teaching them to protect others who are not as privileged as they are.

I realized in that moment that I need to to figure out how to send my boys into the world as change agents. I need them to be they boys who hire girls because they are the right person, not just because they need a token female on their staff. Better yet, I want them to be boys who will get hired by a women because they show a deep respect for doing good work with a diverse groups of humans. I want them to be the boys who do not feel shame when they show compassion. Diversity is an undeniable and necessary avalanche brewing in the workforce that is bound to envelope those not on board and I want to make sure my boys are on the right side of the blasting that day on the mountain.

I don’t know exactly how I am going to raise them to be good HuMans. I am learning every day, but for that night I talked with my boys about how women are equally beautiful and smart and how our bodies are so cool, strong and special and we talked about me carrying them as babies as an example of that. I shared examples of powerful women with them and at the end my 7 year old just hugged me tight but didn’t say anything. A few weeks later, thanks to the encouragement of some pretty powerful women in my own life, us “girls” surfed for the first time ever, and in the cold Pacific Ocean no less. I came home and showed the boys the pictures, my 7 year old looked at them with little interest and said “cool” then went back to Minecraft. However, the next day at school when I dropped him off and he ran up to his group of friends, I heard him say “OMG, my mom surfed in the ocean and she didn’t even get eaten by a shark, my dad can’t even do that! So, I built her the BIGGEST house in Minecraft.” So maybe, just maybe, I am getting through after all.

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One Comment

  1. Joao Goncalves
    Posted October 12, 2015 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    Sheryl,

    Hi, I’m an old co-worker of your sister Judy. She shared your story on Facebook. It was a pleasure reading your story. As a par not I can appreciate hearing about other parents that try and want to do the right things for their children. My only daughter is a freshman in college at the University of San Francisco. 3,000 miles away. As a young girl of color I tried to raise her the best I can to be strong minded, independent, educated, compassionate and loving to all people regardless of any differences. Her mother and I influenced her that she can do anything that she set her mind to and works hard at. The lessons that you are teaching your boys will certainly pay the off. Teaching them equality is very important in our changing world. Your boys will learn to love, respect and trust women because of the influences of you, their mother.

    I am sure that you will witness some small victories that will have huge dividends when your boys are young men. Keep teaching and inspiring them. They will absolutely love you for it.

    God Bless
    Joao