Raising Male Feminists

Sometime in the last two weeks or so, I looked at Rian, and momentarily looked away. When I looked back at him again, he had suddenly changed from my eldest baby, to my little boy. Somehow, even though I have been looking at him almost constantly, he grew out of his baby like ways and morphed into this little boy, right in front of me. It’s like he went to bed one way, and woke up another. All of a sudden he seemed taller, more outspoken, more determined, he had more words and lots more attitude! It’s just amazing how fast they both change.

And it got me thinking again, about what sort of boys, men, people I want them to be.  I am often fascinated at how personalities can be shaped and the things that can influence it. I wonder are we born with a certain amount of morals, ideals, and taught the rest? I often think of my three sisters and I,  we all had more or less the same upbringing but of course we are all four different people. How much is taught to us and how much are we just born with, and how much of what’s left is shaped by society?

So with this in mind I often think carefully about what I want to teach the boys, how I want to shape their minds and what way will I go about it. All the usuals of course – right from wrong, kindness, honesty and right up along with all the big ones are manners – I’m a strong believer in good manners. But also – and very importantly to me – I want my boys to be feminists.

I want my sons to grow up thinking of themselves as no different to anyone else in their playgrounds. No better or worse, just equal. I don’t want them thinking they have to play football just because they’re boys, or that they can’t play football with girls because girls are girls. But it’s more than that. Feminism to me is equality – for women and for men. Someone recently used the phrase ‘cry like a girl’ within earshot of Rian, and although I am certain they used the phrase casually because, like it or not, it is often used as a passing phrase, but it really irritated me. It really is not an idea I want them to be familiar with. Cry like a girl implies girls are weak to cry. I want them to cry if they feel like crying. ‘Boys don’t cry’ is another of these phrases – but of course they do. My heart would break at the thought of Rian or Alex wanting to cry but instead they don’t, they bottle it up and think to themselves, I can’t cry, I’m a boy.

I know Feminism is much much more than that. Perhaps I’m wrong even referring to this as Feminism in the first place, . Gender based restrictions are all over the place, everywhere we look, from toy shops to workplaces. Assumptions are made based on society’s archaic ideals. We assume they’ll grow up and want to play football or rugby for example. But what if one of them wants to do ballet? I often say this to my husband, joking, just to see what he’d say.  But what if one of them does? Do I say no because it’s too ‘girly’? Of course not.

I digress. This isn’t about them growing up and realising that they like things that are wrongly aimed at a particular gender. It’s not about that. They can grow up and be whoever whatever they want to be, I just want it to never occur to them that they should think twice about it, or think ‘how would this look?’ or wonder ‘ SHOULD I be doing this if I’m a boy?’. I don’t want to place my assumptions or the assumptions of society on them just because they happen to be one gender over the other.

And I’m not perfect. Of course I will make these assumptions, some consciously and some subconsciously because that’s what I’ve absorbed my whole life. But I’m determined to try my very best for them.

I often see articles and opinions shaped around how we need to raise girls more like our boys. And in one way this is great, I sometimes personally notice small day to day occurrences of casual sexism from both men and women towards eachother. But what if we need to raise children as children and not as one or the other? Or to be better than one or the other? Pink toys, blue toys. Boys games, girls games. Boys clothes, girls clothes. As a kid I DETESTED being put in anything even remotely girly and even more so detested playing ‘girly’ games like Barbie. Why can’t we forget about gender and raise them to believe they can achieve whatever they want to as long as they work hard enough for it. That they don’t have to behave according to their gender – boys and men can cry and girls and women can muscle up like Arnie if they want. I hope I manage it right. The more I think about it, the more I’m beginning to wonder if it’s actually harder to raise feminist boys over feminist girls. Generally it is more widely accepted now that we teach our girls to be anything they want and so to play with toys traditionally aimed at boys like farming toys or superhero things is fine, but, for boys to be seen playing with traditional ‘girl’ toys is much less so.

And there’s a more serious side to it. Take Donald Trump’s ‘Locker room’ comments that were highlighted during his presidency campaign. I want my boys to be the ones who turn and walk away from that, but not before pointing out how wrong it is.  To stand up to their peers, tell them it’s wrong, and not to just laugh along because it’s popular. To have that strength of mind and character.

How do I plan on doing it? Like everything else in my methods of parenting, I’ll just do my best and wing it!  I’ll try and lead by example. I will teach them that strength does not only mean muscly arms, but dealing with and showing emotions whenever you feel them. That often the things we view as weak or ‘feminine’ are actually signs of pure strength. The frustrating thing is that I feel it is society that will influence them most and a lot of it will be outside of my control. So to regularly talk about it and challenge views as often as possible, ask them why things need to be a certain way. Young kids don’t see differences like colour or shape or size, they just see people. So I suppose I want to try and continue this mindset as they grow up. Boys may be boys, but I will do my best to raise mine to be Men.

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The Age of Internet Parenting

I picked up my phone recently and had a great chat in my ‘November 2014 Babies’ WhatsApp group, and for about the billionth time thought how grateful I was that I had met these amazing women online.

It’s a place I can go to vent, chat, discuss, ponder, laugh and have general craic in, with women who just completely understand eachother. We’re lucky because we all consider ourselves and eachother completely normal – there isn’t the usual ‘one’ that ruins it for the rest of us! And I can honestly say I’d have had a much harder time figuring out motherhood if it wasn’t for these girls who I now call genuine friends. Some of us are on our second babies together, some on their third, and it’s great because some of us get to regularly meet in real life too while we share another maternity leave together. Of course we don’t just chat solely about the glory of wiping snot and puke all day, these girls are genuine friends. We have shared personal stories, personal challenges, celebrated with and supported eachother through plenty of life changes over the last three years.

I think though, my favourite thing about this group is that there is absolutely NO judgement. No pressure, no feeling of ‘ I think you’re doing this wrong’ that I have come across in other online groups. And it got me thinking.

I am raising my children in an era of Internet Parenting. Sure, there are great benefits. I have an infinite pool of experience and knowledge all with a few taps through the screen of my phone. Obviously I was raised (relatively recently given my amazing youthful looks) in a pre Internet time. Who did my Mam have to ask ‘what do I do’ type questions to? A much smaller circle of people and even then it was most likely at the end of a landline phone or worse, hand written letters! No instant answers for her.

But there are also downsides to this, something I’m realising more and more. The more we congregate online to discuss and figure out the hurdles of raising mini humans, the more pressure and comparison comes with it. You see endless groups for any aspect of parenting from groups based on how you feed your baby, how you wean your six month old onto solids, to the safest way to transport these little people in your car. You see babies achieving milestones at different times to your own and immediately compare. You become informed of ‘best practise’ and ‘healthiest ways’ and ‘you should ONLY do this’ and you find you haven’t, couldn’t, or can’t do things that way and instantly feel like you’re doing it wrong – like you are failing.

I don’t mean to suggest that for the most part, it is people telling you you’re doing it wrong. Most of the time people are simply telling their own experience. But for me, I find I can sometimes question myself based on that person’s advice or experience.

‘Comparison is the thief of joy’ – I can’t remember who said that – ( Google informs me it was Theodore Roosevelt) and it’s true. It made me realise that I sometimes don’t have enough confidence in myself or sometimes in my decisions and I doubt myself. I see how other women seem to manage the various hurdles and if I’m not doing it the same way, I sometimes assume I’m doing it wrong.

Although as I type this I realise that was much more the case at the very start when both boys were born. Everything is so confusing then. I thought I’d escape it this time after I had Alex, that I would know what I was doing but he was such a different baby that I still felt new to it all. When you have a baby not only are you learning as you go, but you’re getting to know your new little bundle – what they like and what they don’t like. Learning their different cries is sort of like learning a language. And you can pick your own child’s cry out of 20 babies crying at once. So why this self doubt? Surely I’m not the only one who feels like this?

And so I wonder, to what extent is it natural as a new mother to doubt and question yourself, or how much of that is influenced by Internet Parenting? Everywhere you look there are blogs about parenting. Why do we feel the need to write it down, unlike our parents before us? To help other people if it’s a topic you’re particularly good at? Are you a baby genius who knows the best way to do all things baby? But even if you are, this in itself doesn’t make any sense because I could preach til the cows come home about the latest parenting skill I’ve acquired but unless you ARE me with MY child, chances are it wouldn’t work the same way for you anyway.

Is it harder now than it was for my mother for example? I think it must be a bit of both. The endless knowledge I have instant access to would be sorely missed if I didn’t have it (so long as it is researched properly and you don’t take it as gospel from just anyone!) – but I really do think a big downside is the negative impact it could have on your mental health. Constantly seeing how everyone else is doing it differently, or how they seem to do it so easily or perfectly. I for one certainly put myself through a lot of guilt and feeling of failure around the time both boys were born based on expectations I had placed on myself from reading  of other people’s opinions and experiences on certain aspects of parenting.

But maybe that’s just me. So why do I blog about it? I think it’s like a form of therapy – I find it so therapeutic just writing things down, especially about the challenging aspects of IVF and parenting. Sometimes it’s for posterity – the experiences are so precious it’s a nice way for me to keep a sort of memory collection.  And mainly I just really enjoy doing it. Maybe I do have it harder than my mother and her mother did – although I think not – but then again I guess we’ll never know.  The age of Internet Parenting is here, maybe it’s just one more storm we need to try and navigate! In the meantime, I’ll be doing my best trying not to put myself down and making comparisons, and start believing that maybe I’m doing just fine on my own after all.