My boy. I realized recently that I talk and write a lot about Ella, but not so much Ethan. I think that’s partly because having Ella is what made me a mother, but it’s also because I know what’s it like to be a little girl and then a big girl and then a woman, and there is a part of me that can’t separate my journey from hers simply out of insight (and fear) for what she will have to face.
But, oh, my, Ethan.
Sometimes I simply can’t get enough of him, and I wonder if my lack of sharing has been because I just want to keep him all to myself.
When I was pregnant with him, I couldn’t wrap my head around how I was going to love a little boy as much as my girl. Mothers with boys would say to me, ‘Oh, just wait. There’s something about having a boy that is so special.’ And they were right. Sometimes I think my heart is going to burst when I look at him. He’s at the age where I have the overwhelming feeling of wanting to ‘eat’ him, consume his whole being into mine. I don’t know if this is about him being a boy, or my baby. Perhaps I’ll never know.
What I do know is that parenting has felt easier with him. Part of me suspects that’s because he’s the second child. I’ve relaxed as a mother. I’m less concerned about whether I’m doing things ‘right’. But I also wonder… does it feel easier because I’m loving him, while I’m raising Ella?
I was having a conversation with one of my sister wives the other day and I recalled a quote by Michelle Obama, “We love our boys, and we raise our girls.”
Her point being that we raise our girls because we know they must be strong. We know we must prepare them to cope with a harsh world. We know we must teach our daughters to love themselves despite a world that tries to tell them they are not enough. We know we must teach our daughters that it’s ok to feel, to cry, to listen to their intuition, because we know the world is going to try to tell them the opposite. We know we must teach them to SPEAK UP. We know we must teach them how to be safe. Because for women, and especially WOC, safety has never truly been a right – and certainly not one without some kind of consequence to our body or soul.
On the flip side, we love our boys. Meaning, we sub-consciously (or consciously) believe that the stakes aren’t as high for boys and, therefore, preparing them for a harsh world isn’t as critical of a priority. In simply loving them we pass this thinking onto our sons – perhaps to the point of entitlement… and perhaps, unwittingly, in perpetuation of this newly-named culture of toxic masculinity.
Lately I’ve been catching myself…
Though Ethan is still young, I have to wonder, do I ‘correct’ him as much as I corrected Ella at this age? What subtle ways am I teaching him that his way through the world – whatever way that may be – is a right, while teaching Ella that her way depends on her ‘right’ behavior, whether or not her ‘right’ behavior has anything to do with the outcome? Conversations that some parents have with their daughters about safety is not unlike the heartbreaking conversations POC must have with their children, in an attempt to lessen the chance of being shot for knocking on someone’s door after missing the bus, or getting arrested because they made a ‘white’ person feel uncomfortable.
But I also wonder, am I encouraging him as much as I do (and have done) with Ella? Do I protect him as much? Am I as careful with this sensitive, beautiful, joyful little boy, as I am with my daughter? After all, his spirit is just as fragile.
Because the truth is, his gentleness, his sensitivity and his tendency to emote, can and will be seen as weakness as he gets older. In this way, the world will teach him that he is not enough, while also showing him, in a twisted way, that he sits atop an arbitrary and dangerous caste system.
Put simply, our world is harsh for boys too.
So as a mother of a son whose perceived skin pigment and perceived gender are such that he may walk this world with a privilege most others cannot enjoy, I must ask myself how I may be perpetuating a system that really benefits no one, except for a sliver of individuals who hold the most power in the world. And worse, a system that may give some people – my son included – a false sense of benefit.
Like our daughters, we must teach our sons to love themselves despite a world that tells them they are not enough. We must teach our sons that it’s ok to feel, to cry, to listen to their intuition. We must teach our sons it’s ok to love. We must break the cycle of insidious, rigid gender norms and an idea of masculinity that leads to mental illness and devastating violence that we’ve seen increase at an abhorrent rate in our country.
As Jordan Stephens brilliantly lays it out for us in The Guardian:
“Accepting the patriarchy from a place of false benefit will prevent you from ever truly loving yourself or understanding others. It’s OK to feel sad. It’s OK to cry. It’s OK to have loved your mum and dad growing up. It’s OK to have missed them or wanted more affection. It’s OK to take a moment when you’re reminded of these truths. When you allow your brain to access these emotions, it knows exactly what to do. So nurture yourself. Talk honestly to the people around you, and welcome the notion of understanding them more than you have ever done before.”
Sometimes it feels so easy and natural to just love the heck out of this boy. But the world can do just as much of a disservice to our sons as is does to our daughters. Only once we realize that we all suffer under the current system of white patriarchy – one that thrives off scarcity, shame and harmful stereotypes – can we begin to face it head on, and be the kind of change our sons and daughters need us to be.
We must do better by them. We must love and raise our daughters. We must love and raise our sons. And we must raise them into strong, kind, brave, thoughtful, compassionate people.
And I’ll be honest, it scares the hell out of me. Because who am I to break a system so powerful and so engrained in all of us?
But we can.
We must be in this together.
Beautiful. Lucky Ella and Ethan to have a mother like you
Thank you, Aunt Joyce <3
My husband and I have had similar discussions. Thank you so much for putting it into words. Courageous and so beautiful, Emily.
Thank you so much, Amy! I’m so glad to hear that others parents are thinking and talking about this. And thank you for taking the time to read this – I’m grateful for you.