Raising boys in this particular political climate is difficult. You want to raise boys who are kind, aware of the world around them, sympathetic to those who are less privileged, and who will grow up to be good partners and (if they choose) fathers. A lot of this learning starts at home, as children model the behavior they see performed by the adults in their lives and particularly those of their parents. For this reason, it is important to be aware of certain things you should never do to your husband in front of your son, and particularly things that could cause your son to feel shame, or that reinforce negative behavior he might later emulate in life.
My husband does not ascribe to typical gender roles about what dads typically can and cannot do. My boys will never grow up thinking that a guy can't wear shoes with pink flowers on them, and they probably will be surprised, as they start to hang out at other people's houses more, to not see more dads in the kitchen making dinner almost every night. People don't really see me at school that often because my husband is the drop off guy almost every morning, after having pushed both kids up the hill at warp speed in his business suit.
I know that, despite having chosen a wonderfully open human being when it comes to gender roles and marriage, that we have each have slip ups in our behaviors around each other in front of our kids. Sometimes we fight, and sometimes I do things that probably aren't cool for my future men to observe. The things I am most concerned about my sons seeing are the things I'm afraid they might internalize when it comes to expressing their own emotions, or when they grow up to have their own relationships. Here are some of the top things I try not to do to my husband in front of my boys:
Make Fun Of Him If He Starts Getting Emotional
Some people think that seeing their spouses be vulnerable and emotional makes it OK to say things akin to "you're acting like such a girl." Maybe they think that their son, who might be right there when they're saying this to their husband, is not absorbing this in some way. However, they are, and your son could start to believe that doing something "like a girl" is somehow a negative thing, or that it's not cool for a boy to show his emotions at all. What kind of effect is this going to have on the men we are raising, not to mention the men we are living with and for whom we're supposed to be supportive partners?
I can't imagine making my husband feel ashamed of being vulnerable with me. In my wildest dreams, I can't fathom saying something derogatory about expressing feelings in front of my sons, because that would inhibit them from sharing or showing their feelings.
(Side note: I've been waiting for my husband to cry for maybe, oh, 15 years so if he did show some kind of vulnerable side I would probably record it and save it to multiple hard drives so I could relive the moment again and again.)
Always Defer To Him
We've come a long way from the Mad Men era haven't we, ladies?
I try to only defer to people when they are experts in something, or at least know a heck of a lot more on a topic than I do. In my marriage, if we are making a decision about where to find the best tacos al pastor in NYC, I defer to my husband, because he is the "food person" in the relationship. I will not, however, defer to him just because he is "the man," and I truly hope to not ever show my sons this archaic example of a submissive marriage in my relationship with my husband.
Not Stand Up For Yourself If He Yells At You
If your son sees you cowering or staying silent while your husband yells or talks down to you, then there's a great possibility that your son will grow up to be a yelling person, or the cowering person being yelled at. Children often model the behavior that they see. Also, you shouldn't have to deal with that crap from anyone, anyway, especially in front of the kids.
Act Visibly Frustrated If He "Messes Something Up"
Some moms are wedded to the notion that their husbands are complete knuckleheads when it comes to household chores or childcare-related tasks. Let's agree that that is a silly, unfair, gender-biased stereotype that only results in more work for moms because it doesn't even give dads a chance to work things out their own way. When moms make a huge stink about how much dad has messed up, they may start hearing high-pitched echoes of their own proclamations of how, "Dad can't do anything right!"
Hey. Here's a crazy revelation: we all mess up. Dads, moms, grandmas, nuclear scientists. Everyone! The part where it gets tricky is that when we repeat things over and over, they can become close to fact. If your sons start to think that "dads mess everything up," then that could possibly set them up for feeling a sense of failure when (and if) they become dads.
Throw A Big Party Every Time He Does Something That's Normally Thought Of As "Mom's Job"
I don't remember applying for this job, and I certainly don't get paid for it. There definitely was no HR department present the night we conceived our first son, that's for sure. So I can't quite figure out why things like simply caring for the children, or getting kids dressed, or bringing kids to school, somehow became thought of as a "mom's job," and why some moms feel like they owe their husbands a huge thank you for performing these tasks.
Not Acknowledge Him When We See Each Other For The First Time After Either Of Us Comes Home That Day
I've caught myself a few times coming in the door distracted and on my phone, in the middle of reading an email or finishing up a text, and barely saying hello to my husband who is cooking dinner for us. This is not the kind of behavior I want to model for my children. I think people should be acknowledged when they come into the house, whether they're visitors, family members, people delivering things, whoever.
When it comes to my husband greeting me when I come in the door, or the other way around, I think a real hello with eye-contact shows that you care and that you missed the other person and is reflective of a loving relationship. I want my boys to feel that from us.
Leave The House Angry After A Fight
Let's teach the kids good social skills and how to resolve conflict in healthy ways. One idea? Try not marching out of the house angrily and slamming the door. If, on occasion, my husband and I have a fight in front of the kids (it happens in New York apartments due to the space issues) we never leave the house angry. We don't have to resolve the issue right then and there, but we can table it for later and will be nice to one another (not in a fake way) because even when we are fighting, we still love each other. It is very important that my sons see that we can still be kind and generous to one another, despite our differences.