The Challenges of Raising a Well-Founded Boy, guest post by Melissa Alexander Flanagan
As a woman and a mother of a 3.5 year-old-boy, sometimes the prospect of raising him to be well-rounded feels...well, daunting. Gender stereotypes and even bullying start to emerge at such an early age, and I'm left wondering, how will I do this?
Just the other day on the way home from work, my son Asher--who was adopted at birth-- recalled a conversation he'd had with a friend at his Spanish immersion preschool.
"Mommy," he said, "my Maestra said pink is for girls and then Shayla (a classmate) said she likes dinosaurs and I told her no because dinosaurs are for boys."
I was dumbfounded. Did I really just hear that from my three-year-old? I explained to him that lots of boys like pink and that I, in fact, like dinosaurs and I am girl. He balked at this and again insisted I couldn't like dinosaurs. There was no arguing with him.
This led me to wonder, had I helped institute this gender assignment he was clearly ascribing to? I didn't think I had, but maybe I was. I know his father (my ex) and I have had some serious discussions about things he's said to Asher--things like, he shouldn't put his hands on his hips because that's what "girls do," or that he shouldn't play with dolls because "they are girlie and he (Asher) is a boy," etc.
I know that I try to make him well-rounded. I expose him to lots of different books and I encourage him to watch shows that aren't specifically geared toward boys (on the rare occasion I do let him watch TV). I've enrolled him in dance class and we do play dates with girls.
We work on being kind and having empathy. He is learning a second language, and we practice writing and numbers at home. He also plays outside a lot, and I encourage him to get dirty. Yes, I do all these things...but will it be enough? Asher is adopted and is also a child of divorce--so already he is dealing with complexities that many children won't have to face.
I am open, honest, and always try to be transparent with him about those things--and everything else for that matter. But, I am human and therefore far from perfect. Additionally, daily we (and that includes our children) are exposed to advertising, media, and societal pressures, and sometimes I worry that those exposures and pressures will nullify the person I'm raising him to be.
So, what's the answer? I'm not sure really, but I think awareness is key. We can't ignore these issues and being open to dialogue, as parents, is the most powerful thing we can do. Our kids will no doubt be influenced by the world around them, but they are also influenced greatly by us. What we say and what we do, our attitudes and treatment of others--these are things they see and will no doubt mirror.
So, with my fingers crossed and my eyes open, I vow to be kind, positive, open, and encouraging, and I move forward hopeful that he will be the well-rounded boy I'm teaching him to be.
Melissa writes a blog called MotherAndPoet.com.