I’m currently pregnant with my second child—a girl. She’ll be joining her 2-year-old brother in just a few months.
The day we found out that the little person growing inside me was female, I remarked to my husband that I was equal parts excited and terrified.
Excited because: Yay, a GIRL!
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I’m going to raise my daughter to stand up against these elements of our culture that are too often working against her. And then this thought occurred to me:
One of the most powerful ways I can help my daughter lies not in how I raise her, but in how I raise my son.
Because there’s only so much we girls and women can do to secure our own equality, safety, and forward momentum. In the end, we need strong, respectful men on our side.
How do I raise my son to be one of those men?
Well, here’s how I’m trying.
Walk the Talk
I’ve heard it said that when it comes to what kids learn from their parents, more is caught than taught.
My son needs to see the male figures in his life—his dad, grandpas, teachers, coaches—modeling what respect for women looks like. And he needs to see female figures who expect to be treated fairly and kindly.
That way respecting women just seems like the normal way for men to behave, even if it’s not totally the norm in our society just yet.
What’s more, I myself need to be conscious of the way I’m treating and talking about other women. If I’m constantly tearing other women down instead of building them up—the way we women too often do—I’m teaching my son to follow suit.
“Girl” is Not an Insult
The way children (and adults) talk these days, “girl” is still the most derogatory insult that can be hurled at a boy—even despite the success of campaigns like the Always #LikeAGirl video.
As parents, we have some power to change this simply by ensuring our sons don’t grow up thinking that anything traditionally feminine is negative or somehow “less than.”
One way I’m hoping to make that happen? Introducing my son to strong female role models.
We parents tend to reach for books and movies that showcase the sex of our child, which means most boys rarely read a book or see a movie with a female lead. But little boys need to have strong female role models just as much as little girls do.
Observe But Don’t Preach
I’m not one to let gender stereotypes or sexist comments go unchallenged. But I also understand that those relentless challenges can make the listener roll their eyes—and ultimately tune me out.
And the last thing I want is for my son to tune me out!
So when I see an ad on tv that objectifies women or hear a line in a song that demeans them, I’m working on simply pointing that out without getting heated or frustrated—that way I can get the message across to my son without coming off like I’m preaching from a high horse.
Take Sex Ed into My Own Hands
Ok, my son is 2, so we’re obviously not here yet.
But I already realize that if we parents say nothing to our kids about sex, then they’re going to learn all about it solely from the media, pornography, and other kids—all sources that aren’t exactly teaching respect for women.
So the awkward conversations must be had, because an awkward conversation is better than no conversation at all. And that conversation will most certainly include a discussion of the definition and importance of consent.
Respect Starts with Self
Perhaps the most important thing we parents can do to teach our sons to respect girls and women? First teach them to respect themselves.
Boys need to have their confidence and self-esteem built up just as much as girls do.
And when we teach boys to be kind to both themselves and others, that leads to the ultimate lesson: Respect isn’t just a male-female thing. Respect is a human thing.
That’s a lesson every one of our kids should learn, don’t you think?