purplejuli (purplejuli) wrote,

Biology and Emotion: Why Mothering Boys is Different, part 2

This is part two of a series prompted by a conversation with a friend who runs my favorite meetup group,  a group that is specifically for mothers who only have sons.  Many of our friends who have a child of each gender or only girls, and don't understand how mothering boys is a completely different animal from other types of families, the different issues based on perception, actual physical and emotional differences and approaches. 

I think a lot about what kind of men my boys will grow up to be, what kind of challenges they'll face and what they'll do and be.  That's not a concern specific to parents of boys, I know, but I think that as a woman, raising two male children to be men, there are some very specific concerns and issues that greatly influence how we parent.

Let's face it.  The equipment is different. 

I'm struggling with potty training my four-year-old because he has absolutely no interest in getting out of diapers and I'm clueless about how to make him care.  I've tried the traditional methods, some of the wackier things out there and everything in between and I'm having no luck.  It could just be my kid.  At the outset of all this there was one huge looming question: do I teach him to sit or stand?  How do I teach him to deal with his penis when I don't have one and I can't really vouch whether or not the men in his life have the level of hygiene I want my sons to have. 

Books only get you so far, you know? 

Since they were born and circumcised, that whole region is a mystery to me.  When changing them, I don't want to hurt them (as I've always been told that that area is sensitive!) but I want to make sure I'm not leaving icky stuff behind to lead to rashes and even more focus on that zone.  The only way to know where the boundary between efficient and too rough is to actually hurt them and I don't want to do that.  I've heard from my friends who have boys that sometimes you have to make sure there aren't adhesion issues with the circumcision by pulling that skin back and that it can hurt.  I haven't had to deal with it but I can imagine the anxiety it causes.

And that's just dealing with diaper changes and health issues, what about the other purpose for the penis?  I will never forget how much I freaked out the first time Andy was erect.  I don't remember the What To Expect books discussing that that would happen before his first birthday!  Now, I don't even flinch when it happens but Andy especially has become increasingly fond of holding on to "willie," as we call it, and I know I'm only nine or so years out from puberty.

I've thought a lot about how to deal with those years and I'm not sure my feelings are what other mothers would think about it.  I never want my sons to feel ashamed of what happens with their bodies or what they do with them.  I'm not saying I'm going to supply them with porn (because like most boys, I'm sure they'll acquire it on their own) but I intend to discuss it early, give them privacy and information and let them know that it happens to everyone, everybody does it.  Please put your used kleenex in the trash.  Don't use your socks for cleanup.

Is that too much?  I guess there's a fine line between doing too little and doing too much.

Gut check:  what kind of man is a "Mama's Boy?" 

It's not something any man wants to be called.  The definition of the term implies emasculation.  Someone who is less of a man.  A Mama's boy probably still lives in his parents' basement at 35, is unfashionable, a loser, a failure with women, kind of geeky. 

What's "Daddy's Little Girl" like?  She's beloved.  An angel in her father's eyes.  Spoiled.  Has nice things.  Someone always has her back.'  She's close to her parents, spends holidays and vacations with them and drags her boyfriend/'husband along. 

Why is it that I can't take care of my son's, love them openly and completely,  and not have them get stuck with that horrible label?  How do I raise a man to be strong and classically masculine but also sensitive?  How do I make sure that when he matures and goes off to school and settles down to a marriage (or domestic partnership because all I want for my boys is love and happiness, with whomever it is that they love) that they will still want a close relationship with me? 

Since the day Andy was born, my mother has sung this stupid little rhyme to me: "A son is a son til he takes a wife, but a daughter's a daughter all of her life."  Every time I even think about it my eyes well up with tears and a little piece of my heart breaks because it plays into my deepest fear, that to be a successful mother of a boy means saying goodbye to my sons at some point and having to accept that their wife's family will have more time with them than I will; that I will become unimportant in their lives.

So I tried to think of some men I know who are close to their mothers without being "mama's boys." 

I guess, I'm lucky because my boys have several men like that in their lives.  I know this statement will come back to haunt me, but I think my dad is a great role model for a man who was close to his mother and family for his entire life.  My father moved to the United States from Spain when he was still a teenager.  He found a place to live and a job and started building a life in a new country.  He met my mom, became a citizen and a father in the same year and never once let a Saturday morning go by without spending an hour on the phone with his mother.  Even though they were separated by an ocean, he knew what was going on with her and the rest of his family, she knew what was going on with him.  My father traveled back to Spain once a year or so.  He was there next to my grandmother's bed as she lay dying. 
But he's no mama's boy.  He's very traditional about gender roles and family.  Before he retired, he was in a classically masculine profession: construction.  It forces me to wish that my grandmother was alive so I could ask how she did it. 

Maybe I'm too worried about this stuff, way too soon.  Maybe it's that right now there's a man I know who has totally cut off his mother (and father) for a woman.  This guy has a relatively new girlfriend with a whole set of crazy drama and baggage (though I really like her and she is very sweet) and the two of them picked up and moved halfway across the country for no good reason, without jobs or money.  This guy had been very close to his parents, still lived at home though in his mid-20s and spent his off-work time with them.  The rapid move happened in early April and he only contacted his mother two or three times since then.  The whole scenario makes my heart drop. 

Unlike the situation with my dad and grandmother, I know that it wasn't anything the mother did.  On the contrary, this mom was loving but not suffocating.  She made a lot of sacrifices in raising that boy to manhood and taught all of the right things.  Raising kids isn't a scientific environment and there are no controls to the experiment.  I just so want my experiments to work.

Doesn't anyone have a neat set of instructions for me?  I often call my mom for advice about the boys but it just dawned on me that she has no clue.  There were no boys in my family until 1999, when my nephew was born.  My maternal grandmother had three daughters.  My mother had two daughters.  Maybe talking to my mother is where I've already gone wrong! 

Since I've become a mother, I've reflected on my own childhood, what my mother did with my sister and I, to guide my parenting.  My sister and I have good, close relationships with my mother.  We have that sort of tv-modeled relationship, that girly-girly bonding thing.  We don't go out for mani-pedis together or anything like that but we are close.  How can she possibly know what to do about potty training someone with different equipment?  No wonder her advice never worked for getting Andy to talk or pick up his toys!  The tricks she used with us were based on estrogen! 

No Girls Allowed: Why Mothering Boys is Different Part 1

It's a Girls World, We Just Live Here: Why Mothering Boys is Different Part 3

Tags: momminess
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