“If we have a boy…”
It’s the phrase I have found floating around my head through out this final pregnancy. Sometimes, it’s been related to how we would lose out on the hand me down clothing situation that I have grown so accustomed to (don’t worry Zoey, one day we’ll start buying you your own clothes). There have been times where the phrase was related to my deep concern that I know zero about being a “boy mom” in general. And there have been other times where the phrase has been said during conversations about what the future would look like for a little brother of the two little girls we already know and love.
In some ways I feel like I already know what it would be like to have a son as the youngest sibling since me and my little sister spent years loving (and torturing) our brother who was also third in line. There was never a shortage of wrestling or arguments over who was better at certain things. Sometimes we damn near killed each other with our antics, but so many of my memories of us growing up together revolve around side splitting laughter and really good (yet embarrassing) times that we all shared. I have zero doubt my two girls will do their mama proud and follow suit with all the sibling fun and love, either way.
Lately though, “if we have a boy” has morphed into thoughts about the true reality of raising a son. And I’m not talking about how boys are “gross,” “messy,” or “rambunctious.”
From the moment my first daughter was born, I felt like I was meant to be the mother of daughters. The first time around, I swore I was having a boy. When I found out there was a little girl growing in there, I was terrified. Immediately, the thought of how nuanced girlhood and womanhood is starting to make me panic. I would pray at night “God, please give me a miracle, give me a boy.” I didn’t want to be a girl mom. I wanted what I thought would be the easier of the two.
But then she was born and it felt so right that I was hooked. I didn’t crave a boy the second time around. I never wanted “to have both” or felt that having a boy would complete myself or my husband in some way. Instead, I began to crave a big group of sisters. Kardashian style, if you will. I love having a sister, and now that I had one girl, I knew I wanted that experience for my daughter too.
Aside from that, I began to realize that I loved the idea of being a part of the generation of parents that will raise the girls who will continue to shatter the worst stereotypes. We get to raise girls who are less likely to judge themselves based on superficial limits. Girls who will instead continue to lift up their communities and do amazing, world changing work. If you ask me, right now is one of the best times to be a girl mom.
But. There’s always that chance that we will welcome a little boy into our family (maybe not an extremely high chance, but a chance!) And lately I have realized, it would make me happy to be a mother to a son right now too. I would be honored to do that work.
Right now in our country it is becoming clear that when it comes to truly lifting up our boys and men, we are struggling. In my opinion a huge part of that stems directly from the way our boys have been raised to view and handle their emotions, more specifically anger. If you think I’m wrong, just turn on the news!
There is no disputing the fact that men are more likely to commit violent acts… and that fact is directly related to the cultural norms that we push on our sons. It takes me all of five seconds to come up with at least ten real life examples of men being unable to deal with their emotions. Stories of men killing their families, killing their classmates or workmates… being “unable to control themselves” in situations where they clearly need to.
We have spent decades pushing men into a box that continues to prove itself toxic. It’s in the way we tell them to “man up” when they are feeling scared, it’s in the way we use words related to female anatomy to cut them down, it’s in the way that at a certain point in a boys life we make it clear that physical contact is only for laughs or sexual pleasure.
That last one really gets to me. Truly, it hurts me to think about the way that some boys grow up and find themselves inclined to think that simply hugging their friends and family will make them seem cowardly. I never had that pressure put on me as a girl, I never told my mom not to hug or kiss me in front of my friends. But standing in the elementary school courtyard during the week… I watch little boys push their moms away, or have them stand a bit away from them, day in and day out, and it breaks my heart a little.
I look around and I see it plain as day… we ask our boys and men to experience pain (physical or emotional) and we expect them to do so without complaining, and especially without physical reassurance, even if it’s just a hand on a shoulder. To put this in perspective: I can remember the way that every single important woman in my personal life has comforted me with a hug or reassuring touch when I was upset, or a time when I comforted them. I can remember a time of displayed affection with each one of them. And for the most part, as a woman, I have zero qualms about the way it would be received if I were to comfort anyone in that way when they are upset. I don’t think the same could be said if I were a man.
When I was in college I can remember learning about how powerful touch is. Did you know that hugs are actually good for our immune systems? Did you know that touch is one of our first senses to develop, and is argued to be one of the most important? (Think: skin to skin with newborns). This is something that has been studied extensively. People and animals who are raised without enough touch, or with negative touch, deal with higher levels of stress and mental illness. Yet, we live in a society where the norm has been to continue encouraging men to suck it up if they are upset. It’s best to ignore your human instinct, and keep it inside so people know you’re strong, right?
It’s stuff like this, that makes me excited for the opportunity to have a son. The notion of changing the way we look at physical affection for boys and men is alluring, but it goes further than that. I know now that I wouldn’t mind being able to raise one of the young sons of America who loves and accepts all people. One who isn’t terrified to feel his sadness, and who knows that his anger is just a feeling and not an excuse to cause destruction or death. A boy who knows that a girl’s body does not exist for his pleasure, and instead knows how to respect and honor the girls and women around him. The fact that we often hear how “all men are trash” in some ways comforts me when it comes to the thought of having a son. I can honestly say I know I have a husband who is far from trash. I have a husband who would help me raise a son who would be both a protector and an advocate.
Of course, we can never truly know who our children will grow up to be. We can never know what lessons our children will choose to carry with them. But I truly do believe that nothing is as important as the years we spend parenting our children, this is divine work in my opinion.
And I know that if I had a boy, while it would shock me, it would still be one of the greatest journeys of my life.