I strongly believe in raising children without gender barriers or gender-based limitations.
At the same time, I also believe that there are certain lessons that I plan to emphasize for my son. And other lessons that I plan to emphasize for my daughter.
The decision to prioritize certain lessons depending on the social position assigned to my children is one that might seem contradictory to my other statement, but it ain’t.
There are plenty of memes on the internet about the things that we intend to teach our sons. But raising sons with good moral principles is much more than an internet joke. It’s a really vital aspect of the fight for equality for all.
That being said, here are a few of the core lessons I plan to emphasize with my son throughout the course of his life.
1. Women are not your emotional “pack mules.”
I’ve met way too many men who treat women as though our only responsibility in life is to serve them. One of the most frustrating aspects of their treatment is being forced to carry their emotional burdens with no reciprocation. When I say this, I’m not referring to loving relationships in which partners equally share each other’s emotional responsibility. I’m talking about the centuries of men leaving women to hold on to the issues they refuse to sort out throughout the course of their lives. It’s not women’s jobs to constantly “support you” or to make you a “better person.” If you’re struggling, get help. Do your own emotional heavy-lifting.
2. Don’t be afraid of counseling.
While we are on the subject of help, I hope to teach my son to be comfortable with seeking mental health resources when needed.
I don’t live in a fairy tale world. There are folks who are much better parents than I am who’ve left their children with emotional baggage. I won’t take it personally if my son decides he needs help later in life.
I believe that mental health counseling is important for everyone in society to try at least once (I say that while acknowledging the wide range of barriers that prevent accessibility to those services).
I’ve met way too many men who try to push through instead of seeking those services to sort out those problems. Their families and loved ones are the ones who end up suffering the consequences of being in connection with a man who isn’t doing the self-work.
We teach women to be in pursuit of emotional stability. But we need to acknowledge that men are not ready “as is” either.
3. Vulnerability isn’t a weakness.
Even without attending counseling, there a lot of lessons about emotions my son can learn on his own. One of the most important is shedding the idea that vulnerability is a weakness. We need to leave the space for menfolk to be vulnerable. Their perceived inability to be vulnerable leaves them to act out in ways that harm themselves and everyone else.
I want him to know it’s OK to cry. There’s nothing wrong with giving your whole heart to someone you love. And most importantly, vulnerability is a key aspect of all life’s joys.
A subset of this lesson will be letting him know that it’s OK to show love to his friends and family regardless of gender. There’s nothing wrong with affection inside of masculinity.
4. Embrace your identity but don’t let it box you in.
Although all men face pressure to be strong as opposed to authentic, for men of color (specifically black men), it’s even more challenging to be their true selves.
I’ve heard horror stories from my father, husband, and brother about the ways the world tried to tell them who they were and how they had to behave as black men. Although the extent of this behavior varied, each of them found themselves going through a period of trying to fit in with the crowd and the emotional and mental health toll was heavier than I could’ve imagined.
Research has shown that a healthy appreciation for racial identity has positive mental health effects for children of color. So I don’t want my son to reject his blackness. But I do want him to understand that should he choose to embrace an alternative depiction of blackness, he’s in good company and he should not feel the pressure to change.
I do not want those boundaries to define him.
5. Your privilege is your superpower.
Again, I give birth to a black son, so while he has privilege, he also has a significant amount of marginalization that isn’t experienced by males of other ethnicities.
He needs to know the importance of standing up for those who are more marginalized than he is. There’s a lot we don’t know about my son’s future identity and there’s a possibility that he will not identify with all the aspects he was assigned a birth. But regardless of how his life turns out, there will still be individuals who are less privileged than he is. And I want to reinforce the importance of him standing up for those less fortunate than he is. I plan to teach him that his privilege is his superpower so he can use it to change the world.
6. Your body isn’t the standard.
The last core lesson I would like to teach my son is that his body is not the standard. Here’s what I mean when I say this. For the last few 100 years, marginalized people have been mistreated based on their presumed lack of understanding of their anatomy. Again, raising a black son adds more layers of complication to this discussion. But, historically women’s experiences are often overlooked in the medical system.
He needs to know about menstruation and all the things that come with it. Similarly, he will learn that gender, like race, is complicated but a social construct.
There are so many things to learn. I’m excited about the journey. But the above are the core lessons that I believe are important for him to develop and be useful in the fight for change.