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Bringing up boys

(59 Posts)
Mumoblue Sat 30-May-20 08:56:17

NC for this because I'm not sure how it will be received, maybe I'm just overthinking. I tend to do that.

I have a young baby son, and I'm thinking a lot about how to bring him up, obviously. It hit me early on how gendered the world is over silly things. For example he was born with a lot of hair and many people are already telling me he needs a haircut 'soon' - he's not even 6 months yet!
And I saw a few threads on here about dads being uncomfortable with their boys having certain toys, which winds me up no end.

I want to raise my son to treat people fairly but I know that he's going to get certain messages from society that it's okay for him to act in some ways and not in other ways just because he is a boy. I think it's all bullshit.

So I thought I'd ask if there were other mums of sons here who have some thoughts about raising sons with a feminist perspective.

Maybe I'm way overthinking, but I would hate for my son to grow up feeling either restrained by what society expects of him or feeling like he can do bad things because men get away with those things.

I'm not overly stressed about this, as I think I will raise him to be a good person as I would if he were a girl, but it's been on my mind a bit.

OP’s posts: |
AnotherEmma Sat 30-May-20 09:09:33

There are some good books and blogs about feminist parenting and raising boys.

My son is 3 so it's early days for us yet but so far I think the key things are:

- choice of partner as his attitude is important, you say "dads being uncomfortable with certain toys", what matters is whether your partner is and hopefully you haven't chosen someone who would be

- division of labour in terms of childcare and housework, it's really important for us to show our children an egalitarian relationship, and for both parents to pull their weight and show each other respect for their contribution. In our case we both work part time (DH does 4 days and I do 3) and take turns with mornings and bedtimes. We share household chores and DH probably does a bit more than me blush some families will have a SAHP and I don't think that's "unfeminist" provided the working parent still takes an active role in parenting and housework when they are home.

- talking about emotions, I am really committed to this as I think it's so important for all children and especially boys, we talk about feeling sad, cross, frustrated etc, and try and encourage him to express his emotions appropriately (obviously this is age dependent and a learning process)

- careful choice of clothes, the older they get the harder it seems to avoid gendered clothes, but I am conscious of the slogans and wouldn't touch any stereotype ones with a bargepole

- obviously letting them play with whatever toys they want, and making it clear all toys are for everyone. My DS has a doll and pushchair and a play kitchen for example.

- Reading books with a good mix of characters, I find so many books have a male protagonist and lots of male characters, so sometimes I'll change it to "she" (if I think of it) and I actively seek out books with strong and interesting female characters.

In later years I am planning to think carefully about how we discuss relationships and sex including consent, porn etc, as I think we have a huge responsibility to teach and guide our sons about this, and to try and counter the negative influences sad

OhHolyJesus Sat 30-May-20 09:26:44

My son is 4 and I echo everything Emma said. We have a very similar family situation with division of child care and house work.

I cut his hair when he was 18 months and only because it was hot. (He had such beautiful hair. People did think he was a girl but it really didn't matter.) We play a mix of games and toys but he is genuinely interested in trains but then I had trains when I was little too. I was obsessed with cranes!

We read Enid Blyton and talk about the characters and their emotions. I always say George wants to be a boy and do things with the boys because she doesn't want to be like Anne and do all the cleaning and cooking and the boys do all the fun stuff!

There are books on the subject and I've read a bit about toxic masculinity so I encourage him to cry if he feels sad, but not just to get his own way. I want him to manage his emotions but not suppress them.

You might find, as I did anyway, that it's the everyday sexism that you find difficult to challenge. The kind comments from old ladies that actually reaffirm stereotypes or the suggestions that he would wants 'boy toys' for Christmas. You will have to find your own way there, I tend to be quite firm!

My son potty trained early, talked early and walked around 13 months. The expectations was that he would be slow or lazy, would be one of the last (as if it's a competition) and it was the opposite for me. The times that came up I was very clear that this is not necessarily true and wasn't true for my boy. I hated that the expectations for him were lower just because he is a boy.

FurryGiraffe Sat 30-May-20 10:30:14

I think what Emma says is absolutely right. I have 2 boys- 7 and 4 and a similar household set up to PPs.

The biggest issue is other people I think! There have been challenges in terms of school and nursery, where they pick things up from other kids. DS1 loved pink from a young age, went to school and was then surrounded by a chorus of boys who told him pink was for girls. We did a lot of reinforcing that anyone can like any colour, but it definitely put him off. Though interestingly DS2 has recently started coming out with a lot of gender stereotyped stuff about pink (and unicorns!) being for girls and DS1 challenges him on it so he was clearly listening.

The thing I worry most about is how to tackle relationships/sex/consent/porn as they get older: I feel a huge weight of responsibility to bring up respectful, considerate young men. But we have made a start by modelling an equal, respectful relationship and we talk openly about things so hopefully we'll navigate those waters Ok when the time comes.

Mumoblue Sat 30-May-20 10:51:52

I really am enjoying the replies, I think it's an important thing to think and talk about.

Our division of labour in the house is somewhat skewed at the moment as my DP has recently lost his job. He always worked more and did all the cooking whereas I worked less and did most of the cleaning. He has picked up his housework but we have different standards. I know lots of couples say that but I was bought up essentially in a tip and mess causes me physical anxiety so I can get a bit carried away. I dream of living in an IKEA catalogue.
I wonder if it's possible to live like this while letting him know that mummy doesn't tidy so much because she's the mummy, she does it because mess makes her feel sad.

As for toys, I was a huge tomboy so I was looking forward to getting an army of plastic dinosaurs just like I had for my kid before I even knew what he was- I'm also wary of sending the message "feminine things bad". I already plan to get him a toy kitchen and a baby doll when he's older. Not to prove anything about gender roles specifically but mostly to give him the option of all kinds of play.

The one thing I think I will struggle with is how other people react. I used to work with kids and a little boy I worked with came to world book day as his favourite disney princess. He was teased by another boy I was looking after, which I swiftly put a stop to. I asked him WHY it's funny to wear a dress, and the boy couldn't answer- and then it stopped being an issue. But still my heart hurts when I think about kids who want to express themselves being teased because they dont fit the box they were put into.

Obviously my boy is tiny and doesn't think about any of this stuff yet 😂 but I think it's good to be considering it from the start.

OP’s posts: |
Wearywithteens Sat 30-May-20 11:07:21

Our boy is 20 and a proper hairy hipster blokey bloke. But he’s a total feminist, treats women with respect and sensitivity, always looks out for his mates on a night out (has dealt with mates MH breakdowns/overdoses/passing out/vomiting etc) has gay male friends, doesn’t think with his dick and doesn’t have any macho prejudices.

We dressed him like his peer group and encouraged him in ‘male’ pursuits like scouting and rugby (which he loved). If he’d wanted to do cheerleading or tap dancing we would've taken him. But ultimately his values don’t come from ‘gender neutral’ clothing or activities...

The key to his upbringing was a family full of working class tough men who fully empower women. Who see the childcare and domestics as much as their job as their wives.

He also had two sisters. So he always had ‘girls toys’ to play with and dressing up/make up if he wanted. (They equally had the ‘boys toys’). There was no direction or commentary - they just had free play and free choice.

The bottom line for me though is the role models they have around them. It’s no good bringing them up ‘gender neutral’ if mummy and daddy are living in the 1950s.

Gncq Sat 30-May-20 11:08:25

It's good to set an example in your own home, eg let him play with typically "girly" things if he actually wants, to balance out the messages he'll get outside.

When my son was about 2-3 he became extremely fascinated by my makeup bag. The powder brush was something heavenly to him! I basically used to let him pretend to put makeup on, even beeswax lip balm and everything, for the sensory-play of it. I know some people would have a strong reaction to that! (Luckily my makeup bag is safe again now he's 5).

I also let him pretend to wear glittery earrings (you know, hanging decorations round his ears type thing) because he finds it so entertaining.

Idk, trying to think of more examples of things boys may be often told they shouldn't do because "it's for girls".
Wear a necklace etc. I just let him do all of them if he really wants to without making a thing of it.

There are so many limits to children when they're expected to fit into such a strict set of behaviours through gender.

He sometimes says things like "girls can't be engineers can they mummy" so I just correct him and try finding examples.

Lately he's been saying "girls don't like cheese do they" which I think comes from his class at school (it's a v small reception class) where for some reason the girls all don't like cheese! Once an idea is there it seems quite fixed.

Children get ideas in their head from everything, friends, telly, other adults, so the most you can do really is just do things at home to balance it out.

Young children should be free to play without being told whatever is not for them because girls/boys.

Gncq Sat 30-May-20 11:09:22

Let Toys be Toys seems relevant to my post

lettoysbetoys.org.uk/

OhHolyJesus Sat 30-May-20 11:48:19

TBH OP I think you'll be fine, you and your boy will be fine.

I think the early years are tough, especially with division of labour and we also experience a difference in standards. I'm more clean, DH is more about tidiness. We struggle at times but find a way to readdress the balance when it tips.

Your awareness means you're already thinking of how to counter-balance it and I found most of it was led by my boy. He has toy cooking and shopping things but generally plays trains. He now designs and builds them himself and it's a problem solving/engineering thing he enjoys, it's not been something he does because he's a boy. I tried the doll thing but it never stuck, it just wasn't what he wanted to play with but had it been it would have been something we would have encouraged him to develop. He's very loving with his teddies.

I think if kids have freedom they will show and guides adults. I also think most childcare settings are on this page now and it's far less rigid than it used to be, but equally in my time I was all about cars and trains but very into dresses and dolls too.

I think you sound relaxed and open minded about it all. All parents have a responsibility to our kids of course but I hope to raise a sensitive, well-rounded, open-minded critical thinker who will be kind but know his boundaries and build his opinions on knowledge. Fingers crossed!

AsTreesWalking Sat 30-May-20 13:35:20

I have two sons both in their twenties. We brought them up with lots of love and discussion/argument. and an open attitude to questions. Both have healthy friendships and treat girlfriends with respect. They know how to be decent humans. I had a shocking conversation with the younger last week - he told me that he was really upset when a uni girlfriend expressed surprise (and pleasure) that he didn't pressure her to do anything 'exotic' - every other bf had wanted her to do things she didn't like. He's vehemently anti-porn, as is my other son.
I'm not aware of having deliberately thought about feminism in their upbringing, but we talked a lot, and they saw their parents in a loving relationship, with disagreements as well as harmony, and I think that is important.

Coyoacan Sat 30-May-20 13:39:20

I think you might want to reexamine your ideas about mess, OP. Do your share of the housework but do not criticise or redo what your partner does.

And if your son turns out only to be interested in traditionally boys' toys and male pursuits, respect that as his particular taste and personality. I was a tomboy, but my dd liked barbies and awful guff like that. I had to accept it. She's still a feminist.

And I think emotional intelligence is really important. Toxic males often don't know how to distinguish between disappointment, sadness, shame and all the other negative emotions, and manifest them all as anger.

AnotherEmma Sat 30-May-20 13:40:00

Totally agree with that last point!

teawamutu Sat 30-May-20 13:49:17

Two boys here, 9 and 12. All of the above on division of labour, plus lots of hugs and affection and never ever using the 'for girls/boys' phrase.

Also I do talk about feminism when something prompts the conversation - they know all about the Bechdel Test smile - but in the context of human rights and respect.

They're gentle types - love baking and stories - so I've also been very clear that their way of being a boy is perfect because it's their way. And they're very clear that humans do not change sex.

So far they're fabulous grin

Useruseruserusee Sat 30-May-20 21:02:56

I have two boys, they are 5 and 2 so we are still in the early days. I let them play with whatever they want, the older one has always been into dinosaurs and cars but my younger loves dolls and pretending to look after his ‘baby’. Both have longer hair, my oldest in particular has a full mane of curls, it always attracts compliments when we are out!

My husband works part time and I’m full time, so they are very used to seeing a man doing all of the caring responsibilities on the days that he is home and I am at work. We have always shared everything so I hope we are bringing them up to be equal partners in the future. I tell them that boys and girls can both be whatever they want to be when we talk about jobs etc.

Society is the biggest issue but all you can do is give positive messages at home.

ALittleBitofVitriol Sat 30-May-20 22:06:01

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

CaraDune Sat 30-May-20 22:13:38

Things I've made sure to emphasise with my son - there are no "girls toys" and "boys toys", just "fun interesting toys" versus "a bit rubbish toys".

Appeal to their sense of fairness - how unfair it is to say to anyone of either sex "you can't do that because you're a girl/boy". (NB, early years is not the time to talk about structural sexism and such like grin - this is an age at which the message has to be "equalism" because it's easier to understand.)

Google images can be your friend - if your child comes home and says "girls can't do X" - google images of lots of women doing precisely X. (Or conversely - when DS wanted long hair age 6/7 then got a lot of stick for it, google images of top international footballers with long hair became my go-to...)

It helps to read round child development, child psychology and the impact of sex stereotypes. One thing I picked up (from neuroscientist Lise Elliott's books, IIRC) is that pretty much all children go through a "gender policing" stage round about 4 to 5 years old - they've only just twigged to the existence of biological sex, and go through a muddled stage of entangling it with social sex stereotyping. But (the good news) by not reinforcing these attitudes at home in the preceeding 4 years, you can have an impact. Children whose parents don't enforce sex stereotyping typically go into this "role policing" stage later, and come out of it sooner. (It lasted less than a year with my son, as far as I recall).

Goosefoot Sun 31-May-20 00:46:45

Honestly I think the most important thing is respecting your kids, and teaching them to respect others, and contribute to the family.

When they are small they will often go through stages where they become attached to stereotypes, at other times they may do things that are very outside of stereotypical gender roles. At some ages many kids, even older ones, recognise and want to conform to gender markers like hair and clothing styles, or they may want to spend time more with other little boys or girls. Sometimes parents who want their boys to not be sexists try and push against that, but I think that can be counter-productive. It's just a normal part of development.
I'm not sure that it's necessarily that important how parents divide work, so much as it is that they both contribute and respect the others contribution. Unless your family is very rigid in their roles the kids will see their parents going outside of gender roles at least sometimes when it's necessary and that enough I think. There isn't anything fundamentally wrong with a traditional division of household work so long as people are treated fairly.
I'd be deliberate though about kids all doing all of the jobs as they become old enough to do them and boys helping mum and girls helping dad, with whatever they do.

howlatthetrees Sun 31-May-20 00:58:59

I have three boys here. I echo everything the pp’s have said. My eldest 2 are 4 and 3, and I allow them to choose what clothes they would like when we go into shops and they get to choose between ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ clothes. They also have a wide range of toys, DS2 LOVES dolls and we’ve always encouraged that. There are some amazing books on feelings that we read, and I really encourage them to be open about how they feel. DH and I have always been on the same page about how we want the boys to be raised and I think that really helps, there isn’t any pressure from my DH to like stereotypical boys things.

Watchagotcha Sun 31-May-20 07:08:11

We have two boys,12 and 9. Despite, for specific reasons, totally failing to split the domestic work equally, and me staying home with them for a long time, and not buying them dolls or party dresses, I hope that the role models they are have grown up with are strong ones. DH has always been very hands on with them, and he comes from a family of strong women. All their female relatives - grannies, aunties - and my closest female friends that we spent a lot of time with when they were young, are assertive, clever women.

HarrietM87 Sun 31-May-20 07:18:45

Thank you OP for starting this thread!

Mine is only 2 but DH and I have thought about these issues from the start. In some ways DH has more of a stereotypically “female” role - he works part time so has DS 2 days a week whereas I’m full time, and does more of the cooking and housework. DS has a full range of toys. PILs were not happy when I suggested they get him a little toy pram for Xmas until I pointed out that he sees his dad pushing his all the time. And of course he loves it!

Like pps I’m worried about what will happen when he gets to the age to be jnfluenced by peers, porn, social media (whatever it’s like by then!) and hope we can set him up to make the right decisions about things like that when the time comes.

AnotherEmma Sun 31-May-20 07:38:46

@howlatthetrees
"There are some amazing books on feelings that we read"
Would you mind please sharing what they are?

YetAnotherSpartacus Sun 31-May-20 12:11:11

I think it is about raising them not to have a sense of entitlement to space, resources, time and women's energy. It's about looking after others as well as themselves and not expecting the world to give them a free pass because they need to 'look after themselves'.

I'm not sure how you go about that, but to me, it's one of the most important things.

I'll get flamed for this I am sure, but I have seen many women make excuses for sons when they do the above, no matter the age of the son.

It is men's sense of entitlement that really stuns me, especially when it is 'he vs. she' and he's really challenged to put his money where is mouth is and suddenly it's all unleashed; it's different, he's entitled, it's all he has ever wanted, she's in his way, etc. And so many women just say 'aw, but he's just looking after himself' and they are not seeing that this involves fucking over one or more women.

CovidicusRex Sun 31-May-20 12:15:15

Unfortunately our eldest child had picked up the ‘boys toys’ bullshit from school. I just keep telling him that there’s no such thing as girls stuff and boys stuff and he can do what he wants regardless of what Freddie does. Thankfully both children seem to have a fairly pronounced subversive streak so we’re doing ok it terms of behaviour but he does come out with some real nonsense sometimes.

ScrimpshawTheSecond Sun 31-May-20 17:09:30

I think gently encouraging kids to ask questions about things is key.

People say girls should have long hair/wear pink/play with dolls, and boys shouldn't - why do you think that is?

Also bodily consent, I've been really strict about both respecting my children's boundaries and physical autonomy and insisting they respect other people's.

If they come out with sexist things, as they inevitably will, stereotypes are rife, I've tried not to freak out but just calmly asked more questions, asked what they think.

So far, touch wood, both are turning out to be kind, thoughtful, stubborn determined, and insightful, as I think most kids are if they're not damaged. They can recognise sexism quite quickly and are also quite sensitive to when they want to go along with stereotyping for a quiet life and when they want to stand up to it (son deciding not to wear a dress to first school dance, for example, but chose to wear his hair long).

I think if you're aware of these things then the kids will be largely likely to follow your lead and have that awareness.

Agree, YetAnother, my kids both do chores and have to help round the house. I think that's really helpful to a child to feel useful and included, too. And if there's a huge mess left, I often ask if they think it's fair that I then have to spend my time picking up after them. Sure they love that. grin

Books on feelings - I had a book of poems that I think my son found quite useful ... argh, can't remember the name now ...oh, here - 'I want to shout and stamp about'. For learning ways to support emotional regulation I highly recommend the work of Dr Laura Markham, who's just wonderful on active listening and supportive, positive parenting.

nowornever1 Sun 31-May-20 17:22:52

Mum of two boys and most importantly I have an amazing father. I think personally the key is to set an example and live by it.

My parents have an incredible equal marriage and my dad had two daughters and raised us to be independent and setting the example that house work and marriage childcare etc was 50:50

So that's what I expected in my marriage and I hope my boys see that I work full time and earn more than DH who also works full time but has a more flexibility as he is self employed so he does the school run and holiday child care.

In our home we both share chores out, not by whose turn is it but by who's able and around as we both juggle work. We both put kids to sleep, do baths and cook. Nothing is DHs job or mine.

What I have noticed is that regardless the boys do copy their dads and language they see. So if your husband treats you with respect they should grow up the same

In lock down we both do homework with kids just take a child each.

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