“It’s a boy…!” the doctor announced enthusiastically, while looking at the sonogram screen.
I felt like crying.
I was immediately overwhelmed by a deep sense of responsibility I had not felt before with my first child — a girl.
How am I going to make sure I raise a good man? I asked myself.
The Men in My Life
I grew up with so many interesting men around me. For starters, my father, who despite being a loving, kind and intelligent man, was also an alcoholic. It was hard separating the disease from the fact that he was a man.
I also witnessed too many men in my family who had more than one woman in their lives — and were proud of it. It was their way of being bien macho. From an early age, I was exposed to men who cheated, flirted, lied and disrespected women.
And then, there were the neighbors who verbally and physically abused their wives in their apartments. Many times I heard them screaming and yelling…
Even my grand-father, who was a sweet and hard-working man, had 13 children among 9 different women.
A New Perspective While in College
It was only when I started reading books like A Room of One’s Own, in college, that I began to understand the impact of society, socialization and culture on gender roles and expectations.
Courses in Developmental Psychology, Culture and Gender Roles provided new perspectives on los hombres (men). Over the years, I began to fully appreciate that the men I had grown up around were victims of the socialized roles they were expected to fulfill.
The truth is that men are born full of sensitivity, love and kindness. As parents, we have the opportunity to foster all these qualities, while promoting a healthy sense of manliness.
I knew that if I had a boy, I would want him to become a gentleman — exactly that: a gentle man. But the idea of figuring out how I would accomplish that felt very overwhelming at first.
What I’ve Done:
1. The first thing I did was to shed all of my anger and resentment towards the men I had lost respect for in my life. Being aware of these feelings is key if you want to love your son from a clean place. So I read a lot about how boys are socialized to be strong, powerful and emotionally shut-down. I began to gain compassion for the child inside every grown man that had disappointed me.
2. I embrace all the qualities that my boy has, especially those that are different from his sisters. I honor who and how he is, and I’m very mindful of what I might unconsciously expect of him because he is un varón (a boy).
3. I encourage him to be respectful towards other girls and women, especially respectful towards me and his sisters.
4. I role model for him how strong, smart and talented women are, and I have cultivated a strong sense of admiration for women in general.
5. I hug, hold and kiss my boy all the time. Every day.
6. At home, he is in charge of the laundry and organizing the living room. And he also helps with his younger siblings as much as his oldest sister. We have no gender differences when it comes to cleaning, babysitting and nurturing others.
7. I make sure he understands the challenges that we, women, have as mothers, caretakers and career/working women. Sometimes he checks with me and asks: “Mami, how was your day? Are you tired?”
8. I spend time with him alone. We go on lunch dates and go bowling together. In the summer, we sit outside on our porch — just him and I. The other day, he came up to me and asked me: “Mami, do you think you and I can have a mother-son date…can we go to that Japanese restaurant we go to?…” And we did.
9. Most importantly, I have taught him to feel very comfortable sharing with me how he feels. I have always validated his feelings (fear, pain, excitement), and I have never judged or labeled his emotions.
10. I tell him, again and again, what a gentleman he is.
Last week, during Parent-Teacher conference night, three of his teachers commented on how “respectful” he is with his teachers and peers. One of them, in particular, said “his sense of respect is not out of expectations…it comes from an authentic place…”
I smiled, almost teared up. I felt so happy for him, and so proud.