As a feminist mother of a son, there are some things I feel I need to teach him. Things every boy, and indeed every child, should be taught. Many of these things are vital lessons you can only teach through your actions.
People often say they don’t care what their children’s futures hold, so long as they are happy. However, this fixation on happiness as though it were a virtue can be dangerous. Pursuing one's own happiness in a single minded fashion at the detriment of others, I think, can leave emotional casualties in its wake. I mean, of course I want my son to be happy. I want him to be fulfilled, and challenged, and I want him to fall in love and feel that his voice matters and that he is (and should be) heard. However, more than any of that and much more than I want him to be happy, I want him to be kind. Honestly, I think that should matter to you, too, because it might just be your kid he is taught to treat with kindness.
If my values are passed on, not just through my words but also through my daily actions, then I become the example and role model I want my son to emulate. So, with that in mind, here are a few key lessons you can only teach your son through your actions. Simply put, words are not enough.
You Don't Force Your Son To Hug Or Kiss Anyone Else
Whether its your partner, best friend, mom or elderly relative, children shouldn't be forced to kiss or hug if they don't want to. At best you're making your child uncomfortable to facilitate a fake moment, and at worst you could be violating their personal boundaries and making them more likely to use sexual affection in the future to please those in authority.
Instead, we model respect of people's bodily autonomy by asking for a kiss or hug, politely saying no if we don't feel like it, and maybe offering a handshake instead.
You Don't Hug Or Kiss Your Son When He Doesn't Want You To
Bodily autonomy and ownership is so important, and I want my son to know that nobody has the right to touch his body without his say so, including me. Of course, I also want my son to know that he doesn't have the right to touch someone else's body without their permission, too. So, when I ask for a kiss or a hug and my son declines, I don't take it personally. I don't shame my son or tell him he's "hurting my feelings," and I definitely don't force him to hug and kiss me anyway.
You Ask Your Son To Respect Your Personal Boundaries, Too
I won't lie, sometimes I have felt totally touched out, especially when my son was still breastfeeding. Small children cling, grab and hang from you and it can feel nothing short of suffocating.
When he was a breastfeeding newborn, it was necessary and one of the sacrifices I made, as a mother. however, now that he is no longer a baby, I am starting to teach him that I have limits and boundaries. Sometimes I don’t want to be touched and he isn’t allowed to use me as a jungle gym, chair or comforter, unless I have agreed.
You Unapologetically Love Your Body
After a lifetime of hearing negative body shaming messages from the media and advertisements and marketing giants and other people who've bought into unrealistic beauty expectations, it can be difficult to remain body positive and show my son how I love my body.
However, I believe in this message of self-love and acceptance and so I often indulge in a little mommy bragging. I'll say something like, “Did you see me lifting that bag? I am so strong,” or, “I can race you, I am fast too," and show my son that I love my body and all that it can do. In doing so, I show my son what really matters, and that he should love his body, too.
You Volunteer When And Where You Can
It's important to me that my son is kind, so I have to practice what I preach and show him kindness in action. I'm quick to share heartfelt compliments with my son (and others) and use words like, "Please," and "Thank you," regularly.
This year we've also decided to choose charities together, as a family, that we would like to support and donating and/or volunteering. I make a point of chatting with our neighbor in front of my son to show that we care about the people in our community.
You Constantly Use The Words "Please" And "Thank You"
I have always used "please" and "thank you" with my son, way before he understood what I was saying, and I think it's most important to remain polite (even when I am not happy with him).
You Ask For Your Son's Permission, Too
Teaching your son about consent can't happen soon enough. We must teach our boys that their will or desire doesn't trump someone else's rights. So, along with not forcing affection, my partner and I ask our son if he wants us to cuddle him or kiss him and we respect his feelings if he doesn't want to.
We insist he asks permission to do a range of things — borrow a toy from someone else or to play a game — and to listen and comply if someone says "no." Of course, our son makes mistakes, as all toddlers do, and when he hurts someone we talk about their feelings and encourage him to empathize.
You Treat Everyone Around You, Fairly
The only way you can really teach equality is by pointing out that it doesn't always exist. I want my son to know that sometimes life isn't fair, but that it's important for us to treat everyone we encounter with respect and dignity.
I monitor the media he consumes and try to make sure that it's gender balanced and reflects our society fairly and when it doesn't, I talk to him about it. We never use our gender as an excuse or reason for anything, and my partner and I haven't divided up our collective responsibilities according to gender stereotypes because "moms do this" and "dads do that."
You Stay Positive
Despite the challenges we have in our society and all the advancements I hope we make in my son's lifetime, if not in mine, the world is still an awesome place populated by a lot of good people.
I make sure I point out to my son how amazing and kind most people are, how beautiful our natural environment is and how diverse and vibrant our world truly is. Parents, as our children's first and most important teachers, need to make sure we are teaching them the most important lessons. Usually, that means leading by example.