Saturday, 24 May 2014

Raising Boys

It's been a tough week, and I write this with a heavy heart. Yet there is much to be thankful for. Arthur, my son, is three months old. He is healthy and he is a delight. Parenting is certainly a challenge, but it is (mostly) a joyful one. I am led to contemplate, now, the specific challenges about raising boys in our culture and, oh look, I feel a blog post coming on.

There are some brilliant blog posts about parenting. My current favourites are this and this. There is also stuff specific to little boys, like this, which frankly fills me with dread. I'm more interested, though, in stuff like this and this, engaging with the discussion around just how do we raise boys to be respectful of men and women alike.

The first thing that strikes me is I sure as hell can't do it alone. I can teach my son, hopefully, how to muddle through as a human being but I cannot teach him how to be a man. Thankfully his dad is a profoundly sensible and generally marvellous male role model - he is courteous and boundaried and I don't think it has ever occurred to him to discriminate against anyone over anything - and Arthur has two excellent godfathers and a whole host of other men around who we can rely on to model healthy masculinity in a society which can be pretty crushing to boys and girls alike. As has been said before, the best thing you can provide for your child is not Sophie the giraffe: it is a village, a community. Yet, for many parents now, this is sadly lacking. I was horrified the other day to learn that a couple of good friends of ours, who have a little boy a couple of weeks older than Arthur, have not had time alone together since he was born because not one fucker has offered to babysit. This couple are not hermits living on a remote island. They are good people, active in their community, with friends and with - shame on us all - a church family who should have been rallying around. I feel a little embarrassed that, for over a week after Arthur was born, we had someone on the doorstep every evening with a home-cooked meal, that last week a friend from church picked us up from home, dropped Jon and me off at a restaurant, took Arthur home for the evening, then picked us up from the pub at eleven o'clock with our son in a clean babygro, sleeping soundly. I don't know how we would have survived life with a newborn without our village, community, family, and it makes me angry that others have to. But, yes, maybe it's old-fashioned, maybe it's even unfeminist, but I do believe that boys need men around.

Maybe it's a bit premature to worry now about the inevitable discussions we will have to have about gender, about respect, about sex. But I believe we have started already. The main lesson I am teaching my son at the moment is how to love and be loved, how to delight in others. We do this by lying in bed in the morning and smiling at one another, chatting, enjoying each others' company. He is already loving and sociable. He beams at me when I bend over his Moses basket at six in the morning, and when I kiss his little cheeks. We also regularly hand him over to others because we want him to know that we love him but we are not the only ones who love him and are safe. I'm sure this will be harder when he goes through clingy phases but at the moment he's usually thrilled with anyone who will make a fuss of him. Things are easier than they were when he was tiny and I increasingly feel that they are the easiest they will ever be.

So I don't have any answers, really, about how we will both lead by example and teaching, to convey that women are not inferior beings or objects for sexual gratification. I'm sure chats will have to be had at some point and I'm sure they will be awkward. But I'm glad my son has the father and the other role models that he has, and I'm sure we'll get there.

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