I’ve been a mother for about 3 1/2 years now, but before I even conceived, I’ve engaged in the conversation about whether or not women can teach their sons how to be men. On the surface, the answers may seem really simple: Yes, of course or No, of course not. Having engaged in this debate and heard many sides, I wanted to perhaps begin a discussion here on Cocoa Mamas about this idea.
This debate usually comes about when discussing single motherhood. The statistics state that 3.1 million Black mothers are single (unmarried or divorced) which means that at least 3.1 million Black children are being raised without a father figure in their home. This is not to say there is no paternal presence at all, it just is not in the home. In all fairness, that 3.1 million figure does not break down whether or not these women share custody equally, are simply unmarried/divorced (meaning they could have a significant other, male or female), or if they are even custodial parents. If you’ve read my blogs, you know that I’m not the primary custodian of my son, but I do consider myself a single mother. For argument’s sake, let us assume they mean 3.1 million Black women are raising children on their own, as primary custodians.
So if we assume about 40-50% of those homes contain male children, we’re dealing with about 1.5 million women who have to figure out the best ways to raise their sons to be intelligent, sensitive, caring, respectful, hardworking, strong Black men. These will be men who will venture out into the world bearing with them the perspective and world views instilled in them by their mothers. Roughly 80% will carry these views into their interactions with women. These mothers have to take into account all of the demands society places on men in general, as well as all of the negative statistics about Black men and the lowered expectations by that same society, and try to do their best to produce the most well-rounded, adjusted, positive men possible.
As one might expect, this is a daunting task.
Obstacle #1: Women are NOT men. We are physiologically, mentally, and emotionally different. Some things are purely biologically based while others are due to socialization. This creates a disconnect.
Can women overcome this in some ways? Yes, absolutely. We can teach our boys how to pee standing up. Can we relate to the external sensation of having to pee? No. Can we talk to our sons about wet dreams? Yes. We can even explain how semen is formed, how is travels, and how it shoots out. Can we relate to the embarassment of spontaneous erections 15 times a day? No. The question is then: Are we inevitably disconnected from fully engaging in intimate discussions with our sons about things we have never experienced and cannot relate to? What say you?
Obstacle #2: Boys learn differently than girls. Women tend to teach their children things the way they process them themselves, which does boys a disservice. Their brains are wired differently and if we cannot teach them along those lines, we risk alienating them.
Most of us do not realize this and we get frustrated when it seems our sons are knuckleheads when they begin to drift off in school. Or we are bothered when our toddler and pre-school sons are running on 150 tons of energy and seem to absorb more of what we say when they are in that state than when they are sitting still quietly, as we have asked them to do 1473 times in an hour. We want them to process what we are teaching as far as manners, respect, and social behavioral norms, but we are teaching them the way we see it and the way we learned it, which is not registering the same with them. Does this mean there will inevitably be a disconnected between what we teach and what they learn from us? What say you?
Obstacle #3: Women cannot effectively lead by example. Boys and girls generally model their behavior after their parents and those closest to them. A woman cannot role model being a man.
This is probably the biggest issue that comes up and pretty much encompasses the majority of the debates/discussions. We assume, of course, that there are set codes and standards of masculinity and manhood. (I reject that because I reject heteronormative thinking ,but that’s another blog). We assume that women cannot emulate those standards and therefor, they cannot effectively set the appropriate example of masculinity and manhood. (Again, this does not allow for varying gender identities that female-sexed individuals self-identify with).
Can a woman teach her son how to play basketball? Yes. Can she teach him how to change the oil in the car? Yes. Can she teach him to say “Please” and “Thank you” when interacting with others? Of course. What she cannot do, as a single mother, is model how a man should treat a woman. She can speak, write, teach, tell him on the telephone until she is blue in the face, but if that boy does not bear witness to his mother being treated in a positive way by an authoritative male figure, I posit that there IS a disconnect in his understanding of how to treat women (even with his own father or another father figure present). That’s jsut one idea. What say you?
I did not dig as deep as I could have on this subject because I would love for people to weigh in and offer their own sides to the debate. I know where I stand and will respond in time.
Can women, single mothers specifically, effectively raise their sons to be “men”?
Does society’s notions of masculinity and manhood play a role in how women should be raising their sons?
If you are raising a son, what are you doing to ensure he is being raised with a strong sense of his masculinity (however you might define that for your family)?
Why do you think some women are successful at single-parenting sons and others are not as successful? What other factors do you think contribute to their successes or failures?