Long ago it was said to me "boys will be boys as long as mothers have sons". For quite a while this saying had me baffled. Until I matured, and realised that many of the men I knew hadn't.
My belief is that we, as mothers, can mould our sons into thoughtful, caring, considerate men who respect women. Men who are willing to do their fair share in the home, who can step up to the mark, and who will bring up their own sons in the same manner. A modern man, if you like, who is proud to take part in nurturing and caring for his own children. And yet one who is still masculine.
We raise our daughters to be self-sufficient, to be able to do the normal daily work required when they have a home and family. They learn so that when they leave home they are fully prepared to care for themselves, their partner and their family. So what is is it that prevents us from raising our sons in the same way? I read about a twenty-something who moved into his own house, and whose mother came to visit a few months later. She remarked that he needed to clean the shower, and his response was that he "thought it was self-cleaning". I wonder if she realised what part of his upbringing she had neglected - where she had failed him?
The gender division appears to start in infancy, and is perpetuated by not only testosterone-driven men, but also by our own sex. I find this incredible. Here we are, absolutely fuming because our partner doesn't even know a toilet brush exists, or believes that women should do all the housework and raising the children - and yet we are continuing this tradition by not teaching our own sons. Even my own mother said, of my brother, that he didn't have to do housework because "it's different for him, because he's a boy"... to my everlasting fury!
Little boys are precious and sometimes even more loving than little girls, who often want to be independent far earlier. They love playing at 'daddies' and cuddling dolly, pushing the pram and even pretend housework. But so many of us think that this is too feminine and boys should play with boys toys. So why is it that girls love playing with cars, trucks, boats, planes and other so-called boys' toys? Is this too masculine? Maybe it is time for us to think honestly about this all-important beginning to our little people's lives.
It is not the stone age any more, where men had to hunt for food and had to protect the women from savage predators - yes, men have to work for their living, but so do vast numbers of women. The difference between the genders is very much blurred in our modern time. Women are only limited in what they can do by the physical strength they possess. And interestingly, the greatest chefs, clothes designers, knitters, hairdressers and the like - are men! Normal, masculine men, who have families and play contact sports and like a drink with their mates.
It is not effeminate to respect women, to understand them, and to act with consideration towards them. It is not effeminate to be as CAPABLE as a woman when it comes to housework and raising children. It doesn't make a boy a wimp when he can cook a meal, or take care of little siblings for a while. Have you noticed that it is often men who only have sisters who are the ones who are most considerate and helpful? Who understand that women aren't some mysterious beings who are only good for one thing? Have you wondered why this is? I sincerely believe it is because those men have been brought up in the same manner as the girls, have had the same share of chores as the girls, and who have been taught this all-important respect.
Instead of discouraging our sons from playing with 'girls' toys, we should be ENcouraging it, just the same as we do with our little girls. This is showing them from the very start that it is normal and natural to be loving and caring, to be gentle and respectful. When our girls want to help us in the house, from almost the time they can co-ordinate enough to mimic us, we encourage and praise them. I strongly believe we should be doing this with our sons also. Each child should have equal shares of the chores appropriate to their age, whether boy or girl. And this should continue throughout their time at home. Most importantly, the jobs they do should not be based on gender - little Tom can clean the bathroom while little Joan can mow the lawn. Why not?
The rules about gender-oriented work about the house are made by US. They are perpetuated by US. Even if your partner is squarely opposed to this sharing of jobs, you have a perfect and valid reason for erasing the division between boys and girls. When your son leaves home he will be entirely self-sufficient. He will not have to bring his laundry home to mum to wash - and for dad to pay the electricity bill, for example.
I know that when our sons depend on us it makes us feel wanted and useful, but how much more wonderful would it be to be cared for and cared ABOUT by our sons? Our children will always need us, male or female, whether or not they are living at home, are adult or not. For me, I would much prefer a son of mine to be supportive, capable, tender and caring than for him to take me for granted and expect me and any future partner to wait on him hand and foot. I do not believe selfish men make good partners, husbands or fathers – instead, they are far less likely to ever be able to maintain a stable relationship.
If dad feels threatened by the fact that his son is being brought up to be a well-rounded person, then he can take his boy fishing, or to football, or boxing lessons. Whatever he likes! And when his son has grown he will be a man any parent would be proud of.
This article has previously appeared elsewhere as a "guest blog"