The Kind of Son I Want to Raise
NOTE: This post was written a few weeks ago and then put on the back burner, but somehow in my mind it's sort of connected with some of the thoughts I shared yesterday so I'm sharing it now. It was also inspired partly from this wonderful article. I encourage you to take the time to read it, especially if you are raising a son. After reading the above article I saw this picture on a friends facebook page and was again deeply disturbed. The following post is made up of the thoughts I had as a mom raising a young boy amidst all of this.
I vividly remember the day that I learned that someone I knew had been date raped and that someone else I knew had been the perpetrator. It was shocking for me.
Suddenly something that had always been a distant disturbing act, something that happened to the "other" somewhere out in the world, became something real that happened all to close to home. Suddenly something shifted in my world view and I realized that perpetrators of rape and abuse weren't some distant "other", weren't just "bad boys", those who were underprivileged or raised poorly, it was someone I knew. And my very young, naïve, overly analytical mind made a sad generalization. When I realized that any man was capable of such abuse I feared all men were perpetrators of such abuse. And thus began my man hating stage. Thankfully it didn't last terribly long and I quickly came to see that although the rapist or the abuser could be anyone, it did not mean that it was everyone.
But, something stayed with me from that period of my life and it haunts me as a parent. I learned an important truth... Simply being from a "good family", a "nice", well respected family is not enough to safeguard against a boy being abusive. Simply having a good education is not enough to guarantee that a boy will be well educated about how to respect and care for a girl.
When I found out I was having a boy I was terrified. And it wasn't just because of my memories of my brother and his friends doing stupid things in their adolescent attempts at masculinity (like standing up on a moving car), it was also because I feared the abuse my son would be capable of.
My son is entirely capable of putting his own physical desires above the desires of another. He is entirely capable of abusing his strength to satisfy his own urges. He is entirely capable if buying into the masculine hero worship that leads men to think that they are invincible and that they have some right over another person. He is entirely capable of rape or abuse.
I stand now in the middle of a new realization on all of these matters. Raising a son is terrifying, but it is also a wonderful opportunity.
I am not going to safeguard my son against becoming the perpetrator just by giving him a good home and some general sex education. It's going to take more than that. What my son really needs, what we all MUST fight every day to instill in all our children, but especially our sons, is compassion and empathy.
I must teach my son to feel what others feel. I must teach him to listen and care even in the midst of his own urges and needs. I must teach him the deep value of EVERY person. I must teach him that just because he can do something doesn't mean he should. I must teach him not only that "no means no", but also that hesitation and silence doesn't mean yes. I must teach him not just to respect women as "the weaker sex", but to respect them as equals.
I must teach him these things and so much more. And I must start today. No one else is going to do it for me.
But if I can succeed in teaching these values, if I can speak openly and honestly with my son about these issues in age appropriate ways, I have an opportunity to raise a true hero. The kind of hero who would give up his own desires and happiness for the happiness and safety of another. The kind of hero who doesn't really consider himself a hero at all and instead counts others of equal value to himself. The kind of hero that slowly but surely makes the world a better place. That's the kind of hero I want to raise.
Rejoicing in the journey, Bethany Stedman