Raising Boys in a #metoo World



**Spoiler Alert: I don't have any easy answers or simple solutions to really complex social and moral situations. This is a mom thinking things out through the lens of her Faith, her past, her current social landscape, and with a passionate, protective love for her children. Be kind.**

Well before my first was conceived I knew at least subconsciously that I would want any boys I was given to grow up noble, virtuous, respectful, and chivalrous. My ardent (semi-false) feminist days of high school gave way in college to a more substantial and whole feminism, a Catholic feminism that honors and respects the unique design of male and female, both worthy of awe and equal in dignity, though different in body and soul, gifts and calling. It was and is hugely important to me that I do everything in my and my husband's power to raise men who rise up to the calling of true manhood. I consider it a sacred duty to raise men that will reverence the beauty and gifts of women, ones that would never ever even think to take advantage of their strength at the cost of another, male or female. There is a fire in my soul and the truth is written down to the core of who I am that every single person is worthy of respect and equal to another in dignity and worth and should be treated uniquely and appropriately as such, regardless of gender, ability, age, behavior, color, or creed.

And God has deigned since that first conception to give us five (possibly six!) boys to raise. I don't doubt His wisdom. I know well that this wasn't a mistake and that our family is exactly as He intended it to be. I can see so clearly why He would give my husband with his experiences and past and passion and me with my experiences and past and passion so many little testosterone-laden human beings. I feel astonishingly blessed that He's chosen to entrust us with these sons of His. With each passing year the weight of that call has gotten just a little bit heavier, nearly akin to the growing layers of mud and laundry. I'm sure it's similar with daughters, no doubt. Daughters or sons, the challenge parents face today is a unique and somewhat terrifying one, one that I'm not sure older generations can truly understand. My husband and I are trying hard to raise real men of strength, virtue, and character. In the midst of a din of opinions and shrieks, scandals and a culture of sexual confusion,  many of us are trying to discern the voice of Truth and engage in the very real, hard every day and hidden battle of raising men worthy of the name.

This means in our family we're talking about porn. We're teaching respect for their own bodies as a necessary part of respecting others. We're trying not to shy away from discussions about masturbation and sex, and *trying* hard to create an open and safe environment for these talks to happen. We're vigilant about the media and social communication that they are exposed to, some would say excessively so. We teach them that people are never a thing to be used for pleasure or gain, whether on a screen or in real life. We teach them that behind every picture is a very real person and not to participate in something that is degrading to him or her. We teach them to respect themselves, others, and God by the way that they dress because their bodies are holy and good and speak a language all their own. We teach them that their bodies are not shameful and that they are meant to be used well and in accord with God's design. We teach them that they are to respect others' dignity with the words that they choose to use and that language is a gift, designed by God to speak truth and always with respect to Him and the people around them.

Their father teaches them how to treat women by how he treats me and I'm trying (sometimes  pathetically so) to give them some sort of healthy barometer of womanhood. (God, help me.) It's important to me that they see women as strong in their own unique way, capable of many but not all of the things that the boys are, equal in worth and dignity, and deserving of honor and protection and provision. It's important to me that they know that their mother is an equal partner with their father, regardless of our differences. It's important to me that they see the female body and my fertility as something good and holy. This current pregnancy has certainly given them a keen insight into just how hard but good this call to life and motherhood is, and hopefully a greater respect for that work which can someday be applied in whatever vocation they are called.

This also means that we teach what we moderns now refer to as consent from even the earliest age,  hopefully in developmentally appropriate way. In our house, words mean something. During tickling or wrestling, no means no and the action must stop. This serves not only to teach the perpetrator that they must respect another's rights over their body and their words but also teaches the "victim" (for lack of a better word) that their words have power, only to say what they mean, and that they can demand to be respected. Even when someone's body is saying one thing (i.e. laughing while tickling), if someone says no, it means no. Say what you mean, mean what you say, and know that others must respect that, too. (I may or may not have some  not-so-fond memories of tickling, in case that wasn't obvious.) Right now, thankfully, all of these incidents are in fun and not malicious. But I for sure see them as the natural starting point in the home for teaching children consent. We also don't force them to kiss or hug other people and we recognize how important it is to gently and appropriately teach them abuse awareness. We stress that if they confide in us, we will believe them.

All this is our ideal, of course. We won't be perfect. Fa-ha-ha-har from it, friends. I expect and already know that well. But we are trying and we have been from long before the #metoo movement. For me, at least, teaching my boys how to respect women as well as their own sexuality is something that was an obvious aspect of living out our Catholic Faith. It's just what decent Christian parents did.

As my boys get older, I'm growing more and more conscientious of and sensitive to just how hard it is to be a normal, developing boy in today's culture. I used to think the training should be simple. Just tell boys to have some self-control, for crying out loud. Right?! I mean, with all the experience I have in actually being a pubescent or post-pubescent boy, it seemed pretty easy. Tell them to respect women, not to lust, treat her as a daughter of God, custody of the eyes, and all that. But I'm realizing more with each passing day just how dismissive and disengaged and uncompassionate that attitude truly is. In the midst of this rapidly changing time in their lives and even with boys who are genuinely and admiringly trying to be holy and virtuous, the culture and the evil one want to eat them alive. They are bombarded with images and videos, pop-ups and even in real life with challenges to their chastity, some of it completely innocent and some not. And it seems like there are even those in the Christian world demanding from young boys a perfection in virtue that is developmentally impossible for them to give, those who brush aside the very real battle it is for a pubescent boy to grow in chastity and self-control. And the boys are left further isolated, feeling like there must be something wrong with them because their hormones are working exactly as God designed. Of course, their behavior is their responsibility and they are culpable for their own actions. That must be taught. But mercy and compassion, chastity and true love go both ways.

Where am I going with this? To be honest, I'm not all that sure. Like I said, I don't have all the answers but I do have a lot of thoughts swirling around in this head of mine on all these things and this is my space to write it out. But I do know that I'm slightly terrified for what my boys face now and will face when they get older. This world is hard on boys. We surround them with porn (or at least access to it) and then tell them to be pure. We ask them to engage in a battle for which many have no weapons and for which there is often no break. It's hard on girls, too, no doubt. But again, I'm a mom of boys, rapidly becoming teenagers, seeing this through that perspective now. I'm concerned that it seems like a young woman now can make an accusation against one of them without any proof and he is immediately deemed guilty. I'm scared that a vindictive ex-girlfriend could ruin his life in an instant. And of course, I'm scared that no matter how much we love them and how hard we are trying to teach them, that they won't be perfectly sinless (duh.). I'm frustrated and also angry that they seem to get no break from the battle or true support from even those who claim to fight on the same side. I'm nervous that we'll forget to teach them something important and they will have to pay for our mistake.

Before anyone gets too nervous or even condescending, I don't live in fear. That's not what I mean. But I'm a mother and it's my job to see the threats to my children and do what I can to protect or prepare them for it. I know God's given us these boys intentionally and that we have the sacramental grace to do this job well. I know I  can and will pray hard and entrust them to our Lord and His mother. But I also know that sin is real, that evil is real, that free will is real, that hell is real, and that there is a very real culture of death out there taking down as many people as it can.

Again I say, I don't have the answers. But I will fling myself down again and again at the feet of the One who does, the One who embodied perfect manhood Himself. May He protect my children and all our children and give us parents the wisdom and strength we need to raise them well.


(Comments welcome but please be discerning in what you post and err on the side of charity and a presumption of good, m'kay?)

6 comments

  1. Thank you for this post! I am a mother to daughters but your post will help me have the same conversations with them. You’re giving them foundation they need, and I pray if my daughters are called to marriage they can find a man who was raised with the same love and respect you’re giving your sons.

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  2. I am a mom of 4 boys (we have one daughter) and I agree with your sentiments! I also fear this currnent culture and what it is doing to our boys. We so need to continue to trust and pray because despair will only cause greater harm.

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  3. All good thoughts! I currently have a 3.5 y.o son, a 17 month old daughter, and baby in utero. I fear that my son(s) will be taught that they are The Enemy. "Toxic masculinity" "rape culture" (which exists to a certain extent, but also it's just plain sin, y'all) and the suspicion with which men can be treated over innocent actions. (For instance, being friendly = flirting, wrong walking pattern = stalking (I even thought yesterday someone was following me...) Plus as a veteran of online dating (I met my husband that way!) poor men on the platform are so often treated as guilty until proven innocent. Women aren't more virtuous than men, our vices are just different. But right now there's many tweets, articles, and posts about men apologizing for being so inherently "toxic". I don't want my son to internalize any of that. I just want him to see, "Men abuse sex. That's a common vice with them. Here's the moral formation so you will have the strength to resist." --M

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  4. Wow. Just wow. It’s overwhelming because it all seems like too much. The parental responsibilities are huge in this area. As is the necessity for compassion, honesty, and communication. I’ve been mulling over something similar lately. I want my girls to have a few women in their lives (Godmothers, close friends of mine), that they can go to - women who will encourage them and give them the same answers I would. I always want them to come to me, of course. But sometimes, hearing the same message from someone you know and admire can really help, too.

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  5. I also don't have much to add, but I appreciate the post.

    We, probably as you do, from the very beginning teach them (we also have five boys and who knows whether there will be any more!) the things that probably are assumed, first that they don't hit their mom (I'm talking about myself in the third person which is weird, but clear hopefully) but instead try to protect her just like dad does; they open doors and carry things and help out with the physical stuff (even if they are far less capable than I am!) for me and any other women, although the doors goes for anyone at all, if someone is coming in behind them; we try to give little girls sort of preferential treatment, letting them maybe have a toy first or go first in line for food or what have you, they certainly don't hit them even if they seem to be asking for it (along with anyone smaller than them or not engaged in their play battles)..

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    1. I don't think that this addresses the #metoo aspect of your post, but this is what we do from the beginning in efforts to cultivate a respect for children/babies, girls, and women. We do hope it will carry over. I'm becoming increasingly convinced that any of these parenting or cultural battles have no overarching or underpinning success tactics so much as the little habits we ask and remind them to do as we see opportunities. I could tell them until I'm blue in the face to open doors and consider it beneath me/should be automatic for them to whisper "hey run up and open that door for that lady whose arms are full!", but the only thing that has worked in such settings is that quiet whisper. You should see their faces when they're praised for it by the random stranger they hadn't been paying attention to until that moment! I say 'you should see', but I'm sure you HAVE seen this on your own children's faces!

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