As I write, Wrestlemania is going on in my kitchen. When I go in to make dinner, I will no doubt be picking up shin guards and socks on my way. People will be catapulting themselves off of my family room furniture. And as I go in the bathroom to put the toilet seat down for the thousandth time today, I will hear a burping contest, accompanied by raucous laughter.
I am the mother of boys.
In my house, there are no tea parties, beautiful princess dresses, or lovely dolls. No one really cares about the stylish new clothes I got them (and on sale!) and when I try to show them scrapbooks I’m making? Forget about it.
Sometimes I do lament the fact that I don’t have a daughter. I am the ‘girliest girl’ you will ever meet, and fashion, pedicures, hairstyles are of the utmost importance to me. I do mourn a little that I won’t have my own little girl that I can take shopping or to get pedicures. I always say having two little boys is God’s way of balancing things out – otherwise I might have drowned in a sea of pink scarves and designer handbags long ago!
But in spite of enjoying the ‘girly’ things, I have always considered myself a feminist. I was fortunate enough to be raised by parents that told me I could do or be absolutely anything I wanted to. I grew up after the women’s movement, and the thought that there was a time where it was somewhat unusual for girls to go to college, or that it was expected for girls to become only either teachers or nurses seemed like ancient history to me.
I still believe in the equality of women, and the ability of either sex to do anything they set their minds to – but now, as the mother of two boys, I realize that men and women are not the same. I remember always thinking that the two genders were exactly alike, and differences between the two were just a social perception to be overcome. But, I couldn’t have been more misguided.
There was an article in Time magazine a few years back called “The Myth About Boys” by David Von Drehle. This article reinforces everything I have been thinking since beginning to raise two rambunctious little boys. It describes how great we’ve been at cultivating the intelligence and success of little girls – and, hurrah! I’m definitely the product of that! But, it also examines the need to encourage the innate, natural traits of little boys, too. Boys and girls are NOT the same – and that’s okay, even great! Girls and boys are good at different things, and have inherent likes and dislikes that they are just born with. Socialization theorists might argue with me on that point, but watching my two sons, I can only speak about my experience with them. We never discouraged them from playing with dolls, or the like, but they seem naturally drawn to trains, trucks, balls, and cars. And they can hardly sit still for their bedtime stories, while my niece loves to sit and look at books for what seems like hours. Now, of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and girls that like “boy stuff” and vice versa, but I truly believe that the differences between the genders aren’t threatening or something to try to eradicate. As long as we recognize and nurture how each gender thrives and flourishes, there is value in being different.
There is something to be said for embracing the nature of “the boy.” The article mentions an “…impulse to return to the basics of boyhood – quests, competitions, tribal brotherhoods and self-discovery…the keys to building a successful boy have remained remarkably consistent, whether a tribal chieftain is preparing a young warrior or a knight is training a squire or craftsman is guiding an apprentice…Boys need mentors and structure but also some freedom to experiment. They need a group to belong to and an opponent confront…boys are to be treasured, not cured.” Amen.
As my sons get older, my instinct to keep them safe, sheltered, and – let’s face it – smothered, is going to be really tough to overcome. But to celebrate their boyhood, and allow them to become men, I know I will have to step back and let them meet their own challenges and make their own decisions. As their mother, this will be the hardest thing I ever have to do – but also the greatest gift I can ever give them.