What I Have to Give
February 8th, 2012

First off, I come to you with an interesting follow-up to Monday’s post.  As it turns out, I was (at least in one person’s opinion) way off base in my criticism of Madonna as the Super Bowl halftime act.  After reading this article I have a new appreciation for the relevance of her performance, and why it carried more weight given by a 53-year-old than it would have if given by a much younger performer.  It’s definitely worth a read.

If you hang out around here very much you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I’m a regular reader of The Huffington Post.  It is my first source for headlines (though I tend to then go to more substantive sites such as the NYT when I want a deeper dive on any particular topic), and I also enjoy its topical entries on subjects ranging from politics to health and wellness to celebrity fashions.  By and large I think the content is pretty solid.  So I was really disappointed when I came across this article about parenting boys.

I am one of two sisters.  My dad was the only guy in our family, and after 36 years of going it alone (happy anniversary, Mom and Dad!) we’ve pretty well indoctrinated him too.  So when IEP was born and the doctor said those three little words (“It’s a boy”) I had to start learning everything from scratch.  Thankfully, it came quite naturally – the trucks and trains and tiny football jerseys.  All these things that once were foreign became instantly familiar.

Nevertheless, as a woman who has never been a little boy and did not grow up around little boys I am always interested to learn more about the trade to which I have become the most eager apprentice – raising boys.  So I was excited when Monday’s headline article in the parenting section of HuffPo was one about the author’s experience parenting boys.  …  And then I read it.  And disappointment ensued.

My first and most immediate frustration was that author Devon Corneal went straight for the stereotypes – penis comparisons, peeing on the floor, broken windows, flatulence jokes, and roughhousing.  Yes, these are real aspects of raising boys (luckily I still haven’t been faced with a couple of them), but we all know that.  There’s nothing new in the acknowledgement of some of these down-and-dirty elements of having sons.  But there is so much more to raising boys.

This is important because my second, and more significant problem with Corneal’s position was that because of all of these male-centric traits she believes that she is effectively neutered as a parent to her boys.  She writes:

I’m slowly learning to stop myself before interfering with my husband’s parenting, because, even though the way he does things are different, sometimes they’re better. As much as I’d like to think I know it all, and as much as parenting magazines, websites and bloggers (this one included) focus on mommies, when it comes to boys, daddies might be the experts.

IEP loves it when his dad body slams him into our big bed.  He frequently runs around saying, “Daddy, knock me over!”  And GAP is a more effective partner for playing imaginary games of football and baseball.  But IEP needs more than that.  All boys need more than that.  All boys ARE more than that.

When IEP isn’t playing with his imaginary friend Ray Rice he’s giving his baby brother kisses and snuggles.  Or he’s making a grocery list and carrying it around in an old purse of mine that he pulled out of a Goodwill donation pile.  Or he’s pulling the tiny butter warming pot off of the baker’s rack, requesting a wooden spoon and whisk, and pretending to make his umpteenth batch of carrot stew.  These are aspects of his more feminine side, and they need every bit as much cultivation as his traditionally masculine traits.

It’s true, I can’t roughhouse with him as well as GAP can.  But I’m more of a conversationalist.  And sometimes GAP just can’t go the full nine rounds of talking about every street sign we pass as well as I can.  (And I’m not a half-bad infielder or tickle monster myself, and Daddy’s kisses give just as much love as Mommy’s.)  We each bring different strengths to the table, and each set is valuable.  This is what I have to give, and I don’t discount it; not ever.  I may not be a boy, but I know my boys.  And I know that they need me, my perspective, and my touch just as much as they need their father’s.  They need us both in equal measure.  And I’m sorry for Devon Corneal that she seems to have forgotten that.

7 Responses to “What I Have to Give”

  1. BigLittleWolf Says:

    Stereotypes are just that – generalizations with some validity, and many many exceptions.

    As a solo mother to boys, I seem to have survived. They seem to have survived. How well? I guess I’ll know when they’re adults. Meanwhile, I doubt I’ve been “neutered” as a parent – and wasn’t prior to divorce anymore than I have been after.

    But there’s no question that parenting boys, my experience of it, has differed from the experience of friends who have parented girls. And the issues of role models (gender based or people based) are more problematic in a solo parent family – whether raising boys or girls.

    Interesting post.

  2. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    So many times, I wonder: why did I wish so hard for girls? I think karma came back to bite me in the butt.

  3. Ana Says:

    I thought that article was a pretty shallow and uninteresting exploration of what could be a fascinating topic. And she did mention weakly at the end that she contributed her more “womanly” skills, like cooking & talking (such stereotypes, really!) Overall though, it seemed that she was re-iterating that two parents can be beneficial (certainly not NECESSARY, but usually helpful) in raising children, and that boys may learn different things from their male role models than from females.
    As the mother of two boys (2 year old and 4 month old), who also grew up with a sister & no brothers (my dad was overrun, even our cat was a girl!), I do sometimes worry about how well I’ll be able to relate to them as they get older, especially in the pre-teen/teen years. I read a lot about teaching our boys to become good men/husbands/fathers but not so much about how to actually go about doing this! With a daughter, I think I can use my own experience and that of my friends, but from the male perspective? I’m hoping I learn as I go…I’ve got quite a few years to go!!

  4. Lea Says:

    I think that she probably had all these stereotypical experiences in her real life, but that she’s taking the wrong conclusions from them. She mentions that her step-son is a teenager, and then goes on to say her husband is a more effective parent because he’s a man. It’s probably because he’s been a parent for a decade longer than her! And the body comparisons might just be a kid excited to grow up, and not some stereotypical show of masculinity ‘in the lockerroom’.

    What frustrates me most about this article is that she frames her experiences in a sexist way when it should be an article about her own journey and mistakes. Her comment to her stepson about impressing the girls at school missed the parenting mark completely. She should have been building up his esteem in himself, not for the benefit of his girlfriends.

    It seems like she just needs to practice empathy in her parenting, and instead takes the easy route out by saying she can never empathize with boys because she is a girl.

  5. Gale Says:

    Lea – Welcome to TDT! And thanks for taking the time to write this thoughtful response. You make a good point about Corneal’s husband having several years more parenting experience than she does. I imagine that must be a challenge to enter your role as a mother alongside a husband who has “been there, done that” all before. I’d not thought of that. (Although it doesn’t seem to especially bother her.)

    You mention empathy in parenting and to play off of that, I would emphasize balance. Kids need mothers and fathers. And in single parent households they each need some role model that is the opposite sex of the parent who’s raising them. Men can certainly nurture and women can certainly play backyard sports – all parent roles are more versatile today than they were a generation or two ago. But no one parent can be expected to fully perform the role of both parents. I’m sure that the author’s relevance to her sons is immeasurable. I just don’t know why she doesn’t recognize that.

  6. BigLittleWolf Says:

    To Ana’s point (and her boys are still babies) – boys and girls will grow up differently in different ways and with different experiences – regardless of what we do, because they are different.

    This has nothing to do with any ideology (political, social or otherwise), or any parenting labels. Boys / girls and men / women are different, which doesn’t mean that we cannot pick and choose a fair amount of behaviors that suit us, with – ideally – equal access to studies, careers, compensation, and relationship roles that also suit.

    When it comes to parenting, perhaps we should focus more on people models, rather than gender models. I’m sure my (now college-age) sons learned much about women from me, but they were not able to learn from me what a man as part of a day-in day-out family looks like. Sadly.

    And Gale, to your point, that is something I think we all need. One parent may be capable of (wearily) raising children alone, but that doesn’t mean it’s best. Many models of many sorts offer so many valid perspectives to open our kids’ eyes, encourage them in many directions, and enable them to feel good about who they are becoming. I believe they need men, they need women, they need many types of strength (and tenderness) at different times.

    As you say – “no one parent can be expected to fully perform the role of both” – and yet we are. Not a good thing for society. Not a good thing for our children.

  7. Cathy Says:

    I am one of a two-girl family raising three boys. Even though I knew nothing about boys, it was all I wished for when pregnant. I would never back away from my involvement with my parenting them because I feel I have so much to offer. Insight into a woman’s perspective which will help their future relationships, softness and kindness, affection, how to clean a kitchen properly (snicker), respect for women, demonstrating that women can be supremely successful in the workplace and much, much more. It’s too bad Corneal does not share the same confidence. Her boys are missing out.