I find myself fighting negative gender stereotypes almost every day— but not about myself— about my sons.
If I walk into the boys’ section in Target— the store ironically famous for its gender neutral bathrooms — it’s difficult to find a “graphic t-shirt” that doesn’t feature an aggressive character (like this, of one of comic books’ most horrible villains.) It often seems like the world assumes all males are insensitive and prone to violence.
Now, my sons are very young and I can’t claim to know the secrets to raising gentlemen, but here are some ways we are trying our best to raise gentleboys:
1. Give lots of physical affection. Boys tend to be more physically and kinetically driven and they need positive outlets for that energy. My oldest son is not as restless when he’s had lots of hugs, lots of running around, and some wrestling with his Daddy and brother.
2. Restrict screen time. We have found that too much technology exposure makes our oldest son more impatient, hyper, and aggressive. So, we try to restrict screen time to a family movie on Sundays and during unusual circumstances (sick days, waiting rooms, etc.) We also try to keep toys pretty minimal and simple.
3. Introduce characters mindfully. If you’re a little boy everyone wants to know who your favorite superhero is. I’m okay with that hero being Batman when my son is old enough to understand that the violence is a battle between good vs. evil and not just entertainment. Until then, I’m happy that he answers the question with “Winnie the Pooh” or “Kipper the Dog.”
4. Expose him to beautiful things. My oldest son is “all boy” in so many ways but he also loves classical music, flowers, the color purple, and giving me fashion advice. Beautiful things are not just for girls.
5. Go outside. Nature is the perfect place for a boy to be active. And nature also creates so many opportunities for wonder and love of creation. If weather permits, my boys are outside every single day.
6. Encourage the influence of good men. As a mother, there’s a lot I can do to nurture the masculinity of my sons. But I think one of the best things I can do is recognize the things I can’t do. There are some things boys can only learn from fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers, priests— there are some things boys can only learn from gentlemen.