How to Raise a Feminist Son by Ariel Shumaker-Hammond, MPH/LCSW
Something I struggled with in the aftermath of the Waking Life scandal is that there didn’t appear to be a lot of discussion aimed towards helping educate men. I’ve found this to be true in a more broad sense as well. While there is always plenty of information out there on how to raise daughters to protect themselves against things like abuse and sexual assault, there just isn’t as much information on how to raise sons to not perpetrate that abuse in the first place. I am in no way an expert, and this is a learning process that I will continue to work through as my son grows up. But, in the mean time, here are my initial thoughts:
· A good place to start, even at a very early age, is teaching kids consent. This is a difficult and complicated task, but luckily, I don’t have to reinvent the wheel here. The Good Men Project has an awesome resource here. It includes tips on how to teach empathy, how to help kiddos read others’ social cues and body language, and how to ask permission before hugging or touching.
· Don’t shy away from uncomfortable topics. Even when you’d rather climb under the creepy part of your front deck then tackle a sensitive topic about sex/body parts/gender inequality. For example, when your kiddo asks about sex at an age you think is way too early (and they will), use correct scientific terms, be direct, and don’t lie. Sure, it’s more comfortable to talk about storks than penises and vaginas, but these little ones are growing up, and will need to be armed with the correct tools to help them understand and live in the world.
· Model appropriate behaviors and respect of others. Sometimes it’s so difficult to remember, but we are our children’s’ best teachers. They look to us from day one to model appropriate ways to act, talk and treat others. So, for example, if you hear someone making a derogatory comment towards someone, speak up. Your child may not acknowledge what happened, but trust me, they’re listening. They also see how housework is divided up. So I’m going to try really hard not to stick to the “traditional” roles. My kiddo will fold laundry and wash dishes, along with mowing the yard.
· Let kids play with whatever they want. These days, we actually hear a lot about how we should be giving the message to girls that they can “be whatever they want”. Often I feel that that message is not as flexible with boys if we’re talking about exploring different gender roles, or using toys that have been labeled “for girls”.
· Teach them that emotions are not only ok, they’re good. Expressing our emotions in a respectful way is integral to living healthy. Despite what The Cure tells us, it’s actually ok for boys to cry.
These are just my initial thoughts as I watch my 9 month old aggressively chew on a book. I’m sure there are so many other ways, and I hope to discover them as I go along, since this is a learning process.
Ariel Shumaker-Hammond, MPH/LCSW is a therapist in Asheville, NC, specializing in fertility, pregnancy/postpartum, family and couples counseling. Contact her to discuss services.
Raising an LGBTQ Affirming Kiddo by Heather Branham, LCSW:
Raising kids to respect and celebrate others, regardless of their gender or sexuality, is a wonderful way to set them up for future success and to contribute to a kinder world. If you're wondering how to begin, here are few ideas to get you started:
- Confront offensive language wherever you hear it. Words like “sissy” and phrases like “that's so gay” are meant to police gender expression and shame those who aren't viewed as in step with heterosexuality and the gender binary. It's important to send a message to your kids that you won't tolerate this type of language from them or anyone else.
- Make a point of asking your kids about the homophobia and transphobia they encounter when they're not with you and practice ways to stand up against it. ("I heard some kids at the mall calling a boy a sissy. Do kids at your school tease people like that?" "When I was a teenager, you could really embarrass someone by calling them 'gay.' Does that still work today?") You can't always model confronting offensive language and behavior because you can't always be with your kids. Talk to them about how to stand up for themselves and others when these things come their way.
- Gently confront young children's tendency to put everything and everyone into rigid categories. Preschoolers are rockstars when it comes to sorting and categorizing things. (The blocks go with the blocks. All girls have vaginas. Everyone has one mommy and one daddy. You get the idea.) This developmentally appropriate stage can lend itself to inflexible ideas about people and families. Without finding your way into a power struggle, expand your young child's world view by showing them real world examples of those who defy these kinds of strict categories. One way to do this is to ask questions. "What about girls who were born with penises?" "Do you remember our friend at church who has two mommies?" This is a great age to plant seeds and wait for curious questions.
- Make a point of exposing your children to different types of families. One way to counteract black and white thinking is to be sure that your kids have experience with all the gray areas in between. Representations of lesbian, gay and transgender people and families are readily available in mainstream media these days. If you don't have LGBTQ friends as part of your inner circle, watching these shows with your kids and having open conversations about them is a great place to start. And if you find yourself searching for real life LGBTQ folks to introduce your kids to, ask yourself why that is.
- Don't assume your kids will grow up to be straight or cisgender. Take a few minutes to imagine your child coming out to you as queer or transgender. What feelings come up? How would you feel about sharing this information with friends and family? Of course it's normal to fear discrimination if your child identifies as LGBTQ, but question if this fear is masking shame as well. Confronting your own underlying homophobia and transphobia is a good place to start when you're working to raise LGBTQ-friendly kids.
Heather Branham, LCSW is a family therapist specializing in non-traditional families based in Asheville, NC. Contact her to discuss counseling or consulting services focused on the LGBTQ community.
What do y’all think? Comment below if you have any additional ideas.