Monday, January 14, 2013

A Mother of Boys

When we found out Little Inside Baby is going to be a boy, I’ll confess that I had to do some readjusting. Even though I’d long convinced myself that a healthy baby was the only miracle gift I could want and that having two boys would be such a magical thing, I secretly desired to see myself reflected in a child of my same gender. As soon as we found out, I began problem solving—figuring out how to not just accept that we wouldn’t be having a girl but to celebrate having a boy. I knew, after all, that there were no guarantees that a girl child would be any more a reflection of me and my interests than my sons would be. Their paths are their own. Still, I read a ton online about being the mother of boys and spoke to other moms in my community, also pregnant with their second sons, about how they felt. While I found some comfort in knowing I wasn’t alone in my ego dream of wanting a baby girl, more so I found there to be pieces missing in the conversation about raising boys, specifically when it came to sexual orientation.

Valerie Monroe wrote an article for Oprah magazine entitled, “How to Raise the Men We’d Want to Marry.” Before I address the article’s the title, which is directed toward mothers, there are some important points in this piece I’d like to note. Monroe sites William Pollack, author of Real Boys, who contends that “for boys to be happy and healthy, they must be allowed to have feelings, to show empathy, to be able to express the range of emotions encouraged in girls.” Monroe continues by nakedly acknowledging that to do this isn’t always easy given so many of the images we’re presented with of what it means to be a man. She talks about the difference between “Daddy’s Girl” and “Mama’s Boy.” The latter has a decidedly pejorative connotation in our society, she asserts. “Mama’s Boy”, Monroe claims, draws up images of a man “tied to his mother’s apron strings.”

Olga Silverstein, author of The Courage to Raise Good Men, also sited by Monroe, says that mothers withdraw from their sons because they are afraid they will “contaminate them with female qualities.” Silverstein calls for a shift in how we perceive these “female qualities” stating that, “As a culture, we perceive empathy, nurturance, talent for friendship and relationship as belonging only to women and less valuable than independence and the kinds of strengths traditionally associated with men.”

If you’ve ever met my husband, you’ll understand that a strong, independent man can also be an empathetic and emotionally available one who has a very close relationship with his mother. Though I’ve believed it all along, Monroe’s article put words to my own formula for raising a brave boy: love and emotional well-being.

But the article’s title…

The closing paragraph of the piece reads thusly:

“A child who is fully and deeply loved, who learns to acknowledge his feelings and is well equipped to express them, and who learns to take responsibility for his actions, to value compassion and live it daily—this is the boy who will grow into a man who’ll make a loving companion. That’s good for the woman he marries. Even better for the man he becomes.”

I had a conversation with another expecting mother of her second boy shortly after I found out we were having our second. We cheered each other by recalling those things that make our situation wonderful: our little guys will be each other’s best friends and little boys love their mamas (see above why this is so very okay.) The other mama went on to say that the down side of having boys is that they leave you—they get married and become more attached to their wife and her family and become less attached to you. I wanted to say, “Unless my son is gay,” but I didn’t—not because it would have been just as gross of a generalization as her statement, but because after my pop culture, cross reference reading of what it means to be a mom of boys, I discovered that being gay is not a comfortable part of the dialogue for most people when considering the future of our children.

Monroe made assumptions, even in her article’s title, that the splendid partner her son would become would be for someone of the opposite sex. To be fair, that isn’t where the weight of the article is and my intention isn’t to undermine the value of the points she raises by harping on this one oversight. I suppose anyone who reads her article can do what I did and replace the word “woman” with “woman/man,” as surely the author didn’t intend to exclude this possibility but perhaps was just trying to be tidy and elegant with her verbiage—and even “woman/man,” of course, isn’t totally allowing for inclusivity of all gender and sexual identities possible for our children. As far as the politics of this article, my objection is minor, but what it and other sources keep intonating again and again is that we should assume our children are “straight” until they show us otherwise.

I’m just beginning to understand what it is to be a mother, but what I understand clearly is that the love I have for my child is deeper and more enduring than I ever thought was possible. I would be heartbroken if my son felt that there was a part of his remarkable self that couldn’t be expressed because he was scared of rejection. Maybe he’d never been told that being gay was bad or wrong, but if it’s never acknowledged as a possibility of life, will he feel any safer?

I read a beautiful blog account of one mother’s discussion with her six-year-old son. She’d noticed her son’s interest in the “Kurt and Blaine” high school romance on the TV show Glee. Eventually her son explained to his mother that Kurt and Blaine “just kiss boys.”

“Mommy, they are just like me!” he said.
“That’s great, Baby,” she responded, “You know I love you no matter what?”  

I feel grateful to this mother for setting such a loving example for us all. I want to be very clear here that my praise of her isn’t qualified, though her conversation made me curious about the message being sent when we use the words “no matter what.” Her “That’s great, Baby” said everything I wanted her son to hear, but the words “no matter what”—ones I’ve heard used before in a similar context—sound to me as if one is calling in the unconditional reserves—that it’s something to be tolerated out of love and not fully embraced as a wondrous part of being human. I’m so far from these moments with my boys—I may crumble under any implication of them having romantic feelings toward anyone. My research on this subject is as complete as the dialogue out there. But I do know that I want to be very aware when I talk to my sons about this kind of love—because to love and be truly loved by another person is my life’s hope for them. Full stop.

Post Script:

Last spring, my family and I made the trek to Wuppertal to see Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater perform. A sixty-two year old French dancer named Dominique Mercy performed the last solo of the piece. His body was completely fluid and vulnerable. A repeating theme of the solo was a collapse where he gave into gravity and seemed to crumble backwards towards the ground. I couldn’t stop myself from weeping at the beauty. I thought, what a gift it is to be a man in his sixth decade of life with the ability to give himself over to expression this way. How rare his gifts are in men of his generation. How unique and sublime his experience of the world.

Photo source found here


  1. Wonderful post, as usual. You literally addressed each of my reservations with your research materials as I identified them. Especially the "no matter what." You are an amazing parent and person. Those are two lucky boys.

  2. great post amy, really resonated with us over here..