As a parent, I want to believe most of us share the same universal hopes and concerns for our children. Too much time is spent looking for and dissecting the differences that divide rather than unite. Still, as a mom of only boys, I have found that some of my concerns are very different than those of mothers raising daughters. There are just fundamental differences between boys and girls that make raising them uniquely different experiences. Moms of boys, however, always have one foot in Boy World and one foot in Girl World: When you talk about your daughters, we understand where you are coming from because so often you’re talking about ourselves. I’m not entirely sure moms of girls feel the same way when we talk about our sons and our role in parenting boys. These are a few things that I, a mom of only sons, want moms of daughters to understand about moms of boys.
1. We aren’t interested in making ‘boys will be boys’ excuses for our sons’ behavior.
We know we need to clearly communicate our expectations for them regarding dating and friendship with the opposite sex, and we need to model these expectations in our own relationships. But we also need to give them room to grow in developmentally appropriate ways. Sometimes that does mean allowing them to wrestle and be obnoxious with their friends. Sometimes it means giving them “boys only” spaces. Sometimes it means not immediately charging the field when we hear a teammate or coach make a sexist comment, because we know that embarrassing our sons in front of their peers can be just as damaging as the message they just heard. We know our sons can be shitheads, and we are doing our best to correct their behavior before it becomes problematic. We don’t always get it right, but we are trying.
2. We’re extremely concerned about rape and sexual harassment too.
When stories like those about Bill Cosby and Josh Duggar or yet another campus rape hit the news, the prevailing rhetoric often becomes one of, “Yes, all men.” This may seem outrageous, but if you spend enough time in feminist or social justice circles you find there truly are people who believe that every little boy is a future rapist, simply because he has a penis. Labeling boys in this way is just as dangerous as saying little girls shouldn’t aspire toward being a CEO or curing cancer because they are female.
In other circles, those that are perhaps less concerned with social justice, we hear things like, “Oh, you have a pretty daughter? Better start cleaning your gun because the boys will be coming around soon.” This is just gross. We know you are worried for your daughters. But we don’t want you to vilify our sons (and threaten violence) before they even have a chance to prove this line of thought wrong. We know we have work to do to change the discourse, and that we are responsible for teaching our boys to do right by women.
3. We think dress codes that unfairly target females are just as ridiculous as you do.
It’s unfortunate that this has been making the news. As a parent, I don’t believe that tank tops or yoga pants are sending my tween sons down a path of lust and longing and preventing them from focusing on their schoolwork. Further, boys should be given more credit. Most boys are not uncontrollable monsters who are sent into a sexual frenzy at the sight of a bare shoulder. To single out girls for dress code violations because their clothing is “sexually revealing” implies boys are, or should be, uncontrollable.
What kind of message does it send our boys when we imply girls need to “cover up” to protect themselves? And what message about our sons—and female autonomy—is it sending young girls? Schools need to look at their dress codes and make across-the-board decisions, based on what is appropriate to wear in a learning environment, that apply to both genders. If girls are told that wearing tank tops is unacceptable, then those same schools should probably ban boys from wearing basketball jerseys to class.
4. We want your daughters to have the same opportunities as our sons.
We cheer the establishment of all-female programs like Girls on the Run and Girls Who Code. Some of us even serve as mentors for those groups because we know it’s important to expose girls to athletics and STEM education early in life, before they can internalize the messages that things like sports or math are not for them. We think it’s great that girls have these spaces to pursue these passions, and we understand why our sons are excluded from membership in some of these organizations. This doesn’t mean I don’t want my sons to have every opportunity to succeed in these fields, should they choose to pursue them. It does mean, I believe, there is enough room for everybody, and that everybody benefits from diversity and the unique perspective each person can bring to a group.”
5. We are raising our sons to be feminists.
“Feminist” is such a loaded word that I hesitate to use it because I know somebody will tell me I’m using it incorrectly. What I mean is that I’m doing my best to teach my sons that we do not have to slot ourselves into traditionally gendered roles. Although I am a stay-at-home parent, my husband cooks and excels in other fields that have been traditionally part of the female domain. We read books and watch movies with empowered female protagonists and, even if my boys don’t always take to them, they are exposed to those female perspectives.
We want more female role models for our sons to look up to. We agree that Marvel finally needs to make a movie starring a female superhero and that we need to put a woman in the White House. We want these not just for ourselves, not just for your daughters, but for our sons. We ourselves may struggle with the term “feminist” and debate until the end of days how we should put feminism into practice, but we want our sons to embrace the term. We don’t want them to feel threatened by women who label themselves feminists or who are in positions of power.
6. We sometimes feel left out.
I’ve noticed that around the time kids hit the upper elementary grades parental friendships tend to divide along gendered lines. Among other things, sports teams move from being co-ed to being male or female. Even outside of sports, differing interests often mean that kids who have been friends since kindergarten begin to reclassify their friendships. This, in turn, affects parental friendships. I don’t spend as much time with my “girl-mom” friends as I did when my kids were younger and I miss them. I understand why this can happen.
Mother-daughter activities and the conversations that take place during these events are often too taboo—or just plain uninteresting—for our sons. As much as I am trying to raise enlightened sons, I am not going to discuss where to go to buy a great-fitting bra or my hopes for the Magic Mike sequel in their presence. These sorts of conversations are rites of passage and considered part of the initiation into the female sisterhood when they take place in circles of mothers and daughters. They’re just plain creepy for mothers and sons. I can bond with my sons in other ways, but I do miss my friends who have daughters. I think a lot of us boy moms would ask that you don’t entirely forget us as our kids grow up because we do want to keep our friendships alive, even if our kids no longer have very much in common.
As the mother of sons, I hope that mothers of daughters realize we want the best for all of our kids, and that we hear your concerns. At the end of the day, despite our differences, we are all on the same parenting team.