It’s the end of the year, which means many people are making their resolutions for the next 365 days. If you are a mother raising a son (or two or three), it can be tempting to help them make their resolutions based on what you think they should work on. But since resolutions (and parenting) don’t work that way, what you can do if you have feminist resolutions for your son, is to make the resolutions for yourself. You can be the kind of parent your son needs, and in turn, help him develop into the kind of man he’s capable of being.
The new year is certainly a good time to revisit our goals and values, but you don’t have to wait until January to do any of these things. For some people, making resolutions feels a lot like setting themselves up to fail, because big changes come hard. So be gentle with yourself, and try to incorporate these one at a time if that feels more doable. What’s important is that, by incorporating feminist values into your parenting, your son learns to be the man the world needs — kind, compassionate, respectful, and down to smash the patriarchy.
1. Strive To Make Consent The Cornerstone Of All Interactions
Consent is one of the most important concepts that any child needs to learn, but it’s especially important for boys, who receive messages from the world that they are entitled to all kinds of things — including women’s bodies. If you practice consent with your son, he will learn to practice consent with others. As a parent, it can be easy to violate your child’s consent, because often they feel like “yours.” But children are independent little people, with autonomy all their own. So, in 2016, try to ask more. Ask before hugging or kissing them, and ask before hugging or kissing your partner. This year, make “Is this OK?” the go-to question in your house — and always respect the answer.
2. Try To Practice Non-Oppressive Language
Words matter, and striving to eliminate anti-oppressive language is a constant struggle. This is compounded when kids come home from school with all kinds of words and phrases that they learned from their friends. Challenge yourself to stop using words that harm other people — eliminate ableist language like crazy, insane, or retarded from your vocabulary. Stop making assumptions about people’s gender or sexuality. Uphold these standards in your home, too, and ask your son to do it with you. In doing so, you’re not only creating a space that’s safe for anyone who visits, but instilling ideas about how to use language in your son.
3. Practice Patience To The Best of Your Ability
Instant gratification is a desire that I think a lot of people struggle with — people want something and they want it now. As an adult, you know that the world doesn’t work that way, but this is something kids haven’t quite mastered yet. And even though you might know that patience is a virtue, practicing it is tough. Do you snap at your partner when they don’t do the laundry in a timely manner? Do you lose your patience with your son when he doesn’t get ready for school quickly enough? If so, your son is internalizing these messages. So challenge yourself to practice patience, to count to three before speaking, to take deep breaths — and don’t be afraid to narrate or explain what you’re doing. When you are a more patient person, you’re teaching your son that it’s a trait that matters and you help him to be the same.
4. Model What It Means To Be Gentle
Not to stereotype, but kids are pretty rough, and that can be especially true for boys. In order to help your son learn how to be gentle with other people — both literally and figuratively — make gentleness something you strive for in your own life. Be gentle with yourself and be gentle with others, in the way you physically handle them and the way you speak to them. When doing so, explain why it’s so important to practice, and help your son internalize it.
5. Try To Do One Nice Thing For Someone Else Every Day
Being kind is part of what makes someone a good person and, as a parent, it's your job to try to raise someone who is kind. This year, try to do one nice thing for someone else every single day, and ask your son to take the challenge, too. Not only does doing good make someone else feel good, it makes you feel good, too. And instilling the value that giving to others is important starts young.
6. Make Your Home A Place For Learning
Regardless of how old your child is, chances are the majority of his curriculum will consist of history books written by white men and literature written for white men. To counteract that, make your home a place where your son has access to content created by women, trans folks, people of color, and queer folks. It’s possible to do based on his interests, too. This way you’re helping him expand his world.
7. Dismantle Social Constructions Of Beauty And Masculinity
Girls are not the only ones who are inundated with unrealistic messages about what it means to be attractive. While girls are taught to shrink themselves, boys are told they should want to be big and muscular. It’s just as important for boys to learn to embrace and love their bodies as it is for girls. Make your home a place where your son knows that his body is perfect just the way it is — short, tall, fat, lanky, pimpled, dark skinned. Point out the ways in which his body is special, talk about why the pictures in magazines are unrealistic, and talk about food in healthy ways. Doing this may even change the way you view your own body.
8. Make Your Home A Safe Space For Your Son To Be Vulnerable, Express Emotions
Toxic constructions of masculinity tell boys that they can’t cry or be emotional. But boys can — and should — learn to be vulnerable and live their truth. You can help them by telling them it's OK to not be into to what other boys do, and it’s OK to question their sexuality and gender identity. Relatedly, help your son name his emotions for what they are — sad, hurt, excited — so that he can express them for freely. If you can make your home a place for them to explore their emotions, they’ll be better able to face a world that tells them they shouldn’t.
9. Tell Your Son You Love Him Everyday — And Encourage Him To Say It Back
Boys are often discouraged from saying "I love you," particularly to other men. This year, make expressions of love and affection prominent in your life and in your home. Encourage your son to express himself that way, too. The added bonus, of course, is that your home will become a place bursting with love — and that’s never a bad thing.
So in 2016, you may not be able to force your son to make any resolutions for himself. But you can work on the kind of parent you are, and in turn, hopefully help him learn how to be — and do — better.