My ex-husband and I raised two children, a daughter and a son. In raising both our children, for the most part, we were in agreement and worked together. We came from similar backgrounds (both our parents were school teachers) so we had the same ideas about the values we wanted to instill in them. However, I was not aware of my ex-husband’s goal to ensure that our son had more than his fair share of the requisite macho machismo and less of the “mothering softness” most men feel women give sons.
When our son was around 10 or 11 years old, his father announced to me that it was time for him to “take more control” because he knew how boys were, having been a boy himself. He stated that he knew how boys thought and was wise to the many non-truths they could sometimes tell. There was some truth to all of this. There were many things I couldn’t relate to with my son and I was glad that his father was there to guide him. But my ex-husband seemed to be telling me that my job as our son’s mother was now completed in certain areas of our son’s life. I got the impression that he thought he knew more than I did about raising boys simply because he had once been one. I had been involved with our son’s nurturing and teaching since his birth and I was not about to stop simply because his father thought I would make him too soft.
There were a few battles along the way, one in particular happened after I had taken our children shopping for school clothes. This was always an exciting time for them. They could pick their own clothes as long as they stayed within the budget and their selections were suitable for school. Thankfully, their lists consisted mostly of jeans, shirts and tops. Along with school clothes, I also shopped for church clothes. While browsing the sale rack in the boys section, I found a pink dress shirt that would be perfect for dressing up an old suit our son had – and it was on sale. Proud of my selection, we finished up our shopping and headed for home.
Once home, as our son was putting his clothes away, his father happened to be walking down the hall and spied the pink dress shirt just as our son was about to hang it the closet. He almost had a conniption! His exact words were, “no son of mine is going to wear a pink shirt!” Of course I wanted to know why not. I was informed by my husband that pink is a color for girls. I stood there looking at him in total shock. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I quickly left our son’s room and practically ran down the hallway to our bedroom. Once there, I opened the closet door, frantically searching for the pink shirt my husband often wore with his navy blue suit – looking quite handsome I always thought. After finding it, in triumph, I left our bedroom and headed back up the call and re-entered our son’s room.
My ex-husband was still there, rummaging through the rest of our son’s new clothes trying to see what else I had purchased that defied the true essence of what was considered by him to be proper attire for “his son.” When I walked into the room with the shirt, I showed it to him and asked him why was it ok for “him” to wear a pink shirt but not his son. The discussion ended abruptly, with him glaring in disbelief at the shirt in my hand. Not usually at a loss for words, my ex-husband was decidedly so in this instance and quickly left the room. My son continued to put his clothes away and nothing was ever said again about pink shirts or any other color that boys should or should not wear.
The pink shirt incident was an eye-opener for my ex-husband. He was forced to realize that he was taking the macho machismo thing too far. He still believed that his son should be a strong, tough boy; but he realized that there was a better way to teach him those things without being negative about things that have nothing to do with teaching a boy how to be a man.
I used the times I helped our son with his homework to talk to him about emotions and feelings. He was already very protective of his sister who has a developmental disability. Although he was two years younger than she was, he was always looking out for her, helping her whenever he could. But I wanted him to be able to express his feelings about other things, all things. I would often start the conversation by telling him how my day went and then asking him about his day at school. I talked to him about my good days and my bad days and encouraged him to do the same. Over time, through this process of “sharing” during homework, he learned that it’s okay to express your feelings. I’ve always believed that open communication is very important. If you don’t express how you feel, the people in your life won’t know how to relate to you or how to communicate with you.
I am proud of the man our son has become. In his professional career, his communication skills have helped him to be able to relate to his co-workers and customers. His peers have identified him as someone they can talk to about work-related issues. In his personal life, his girlfriend’s mother once told me that he should teach a chivalry class. When I asked her why, she told me how he came to her rescue once after she had run out of gas and was stranded on the road.After they reached the gas station,as she was getting out of the car to pump the gas, he told her to stay in the car, that he would pump it for her. She says he told her that he couldn’t let her pump her own gas; his exact words were, “That’s not how I was brought up.”
My ex-husband and I found the right balance between macho machismo and “mothering softness” that allowed us to raise a son that can be a man and express his feelings without having to turn in his “man card.”