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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




( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 20th, 2008 03:38 pm (UTC)
Hey just read in my Redbook magazine last night about a potty training class at a Boston area hospital for children! Have you heard of this? Obviously I'm not thinking you can just go to Boston (not sure how close it is to you) but the article said it's not the only hospital/place that does this sort of thing. I googled and found this...


Just a thought! :)
May. 20th, 2008 03:54 pm (UTC)
I had heard of it from some one, can't remember who. I talked to a different pedi at the practice and she said that the boot camp approach doesn't work with all kids and when he's ready, he'll be ready. We encourage and praise but don't push. It's got to happen soon.
May. 20th, 2008 04:22 pm (UTC)
I can understand a big part of the frustration of moms of only boys is.. they can't understand and will never relate to many things because they aren't male.

It's the same way I feel like there are a world of things I can't ever understand when it comes to Lexi no matter how hard I try. It makes me sad but that's why I'm glad I have you Juli. :-P

There are just some things that you have to learn from influences from the same sex. That stuff can't be duplicated, no matter how much we want to be able to. It's futile to stress over it.

As far as "mommas boys" I think some of how you end up that way are when there is no (or an absent) male influence on the boys. I think of one of my older relatives. He worked all the time and was never home. When he did come home he was too tired to spend time with the kids so he'd go to his office and read the paper or watch TV.

He was a great influence on teaching his boys to be "hard working", which they are. But otherwise he wasn't an influence on them much at all.

I think of his one son and how he's a relentless hard worker but is very docile in every other aspect of his life. His wife runs the show and he just comes along for the ride, which is about the same way you could have described his mothers relationship with her husband.

Their other son is very successful in business but has serious problems relating to just about anyone. I can only imagine that his gruff, matter of fact way of dealing with things much be the spitting image of how his father treated him growing up.

It's only been in the last few years that he's finally mellowed (in his mid-50's) and is learning to communicate in tones other than "just the facts and then leave me alone".

I don't think children can ever have too many good role models (male and female) but it's vital to kids to have one or more positive influences of the same sex.
May. 20th, 2008 04:44 pm (UTC)
One can debate what's vital, actually.

I've seen girls ruined more consistently by the absence of a father than by the absence of a mother. Sure, there's a use for both, but the relationship between a child and an opposite-sex parent is a model on which all future romantic relationships are modeled.

Boys need their mothers and girls their fathers in ways that are profound. Ideally, a child should have both, but a same-sex parent is handicapped in a way an opposite-sex parent isn't, because a boy can find his own place as a man, but he needs a mommy to relate to so that he can learn how to interact with women. Having a father around can never duplicate that experience. Likewise, a mother can teach a girl perhaps what she should be, but a girl will naturally grow into a woman. To the girl, that is a default. But a positive opposite-sex role model allows for that relationship to be modeled in youth. And you see the results when you observe which single-parent households are more or less functional.

Sure, same-sex single parents might find it easier in some ways. I "get" my son in ways my wife may not have, but I don't forget for a second that he learns things from her that no-one else can provide. Most of the stuff he learns from me he could pick up for himself, or is information that's otherwise irrelevant to my gender. In terms of gender roles and behavior, it's the opposite-sex parent that appears more decisive than the same-sex parent.
May. 20th, 2008 06:03 pm (UTC)
I've seen girls ruined more consistently by the absence of a father than by the absence of a mother. Sure, there's a use for both, but the relationship between a child and an opposite-sex parent is a model on which all future romantic relationships are modeled.

That's an aspect of all this that I didn't really consider but it's true! We've all heard the stories of girls with daddy issues who end up with older men. And that's just a mild example with a happy ending and not one of the hundreds of bad things that can happen!
May. 20th, 2008 06:46 pm (UTC)
Likewise, young men whose mothers don't give them the rules they need will end up walking all over women throughout their lives. It's interesting, how we get the education we need. And of course, men are more likely to walk out if they don't have any sons, which is a tragedy. Their girls need them the most.

And I know the whole momma's boy is such a common pejorative, but I don't trust a guy who doesn't love his mother, barring some kind of abuse or other tension. I'll always be close to my mom, and I think that makes me appreciate other women more.
May. 20th, 2008 06:01 pm (UTC)
I agree but unfortunately I think things are so messed up, with so many blended families (like ours!) that gender role models get confused and confusing. I think relational modeling is important too, so I want the boys to see helthy relationships between adults and between adults and kids so they can grow up and have healthy relationships too.

I think I've meandered off topic.

It's not just not being able to relate so much as not having the same kind of connections that girls have to their parents and almost missing that, mourning something that I can't have. Wow, and I guess I never really wanted it because I didn't want daughters. Ooh, this is turning into a therapy session.
May. 20th, 2008 04:48 pm (UTC)
Meg's mom had a similar caution when dealing with the boy's genitals. Luckily, I had no such qualms. I'm an expert diaper changer for Len for that reason--I know what's going to hurt him and what won't.

And of course, I don't know how it was for me when I was a baby. I never had a problem with being circumcised in adult life, but I should note that having an uncut kid was a breeze. It was a more frequent nuisance to clean waste off Lennon's back than to take care of his penis. But, whatever the condition, penis grabbing's a universal.
May. 20th, 2008 05:07 pm (UTC)
I have heard that "checking for adhesions" is like the #1 way to give the kid scars and stuff, but I don't know for sure. We left Len the way he was born.
May. 20th, 2008 05:08 pm (UTC)
The "to cut or not to cut" debate is one of the fastest ways to cause a flame war on any mommying site. I've seen it happen like 5 times.
May. 20th, 2008 05:11 pm (UTC)
I'm sure that's true. The only parenting board I was ever on was strictly no-cut save for the one family of observant Jews, so no wars on that front. :)
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )