I imagine most kids have gotten angry with one or more of their parents as youngsters and proclaimed, “When I’m a parent, I’m never doing that to my kids!”
I certainly did, but as a mother, I’ve actually tried to follow through with those declarations. I’ve raised my children with both thought and intention.
What does that mean?
For starters, I examined my own upbringing and discerned what techniques my parents used that were beneficial or detrimental.
I reviewed lessons I wished I’d known sooner, and thought about how I could teach those values outright.
I examined areas of my life that had gone horribly wrong, and divined critical intelligence about what could have thwarted it.
My husband and I also discussed parenting tactics, values and game plans. This is critical.
On the short list, I was positive about two things. First, if I loved my kids unconditionally and absolutely, I knew it would give them a foundation of good self-esteem.
Second, I knew I would never physically abuse my kids, further providing them with a safe environment in which they could flourish and feel secure.
I knew if I got both right, I would be way ahead of the game.
The other huge theme that has permeated my parenting is how to treat members of the opposite sex.
It’s no secret I’ve had a debilitating sexual history that included harassment, abuse and rape. One of the silver linings of overcoming that pain includes teaching my sons how to treat women.
My husband and I not only lead by example in our own marriage, but we have discussed with our sons their specific roles. We’ve also shared, from both of our perspectives, how females think and feel as well as how our sons should be treated by them.
This can be a fairly complex topic, but in the end, it’s about men and women treating each other with respect. It’s about understanding how to navigate through mixed signals. It’s about being true to yourself while expanding to accommodate another’s needs.
Fathers are in the unique position to understand the male dynamic while mothers have a grip on the female psyche.
My husband, who has studied the human race and had a birds-eye view of male behavior, believes most men are scum. Because my husband’s livelihood has always been steeped in male-dominated professions, he’s seen a multitude of men in their true state.
He has heard men belittle their wives and brag about cheating on them. He has seen men make lewd gestures and comments towards women, and also crow about how hugging unsuspecting gals gives them a chance to feel their breasts pressing against them. He regularly catches men checking me (and other women) out top to bottom, which he finds rude. And in his younger years, when he worked in a nightclub, my husband saw the lengths men would go — and the misinterpretations they would make — to justify pestering, harassing and indebting women.
I used to scoff at his claims, but other men have corroborated them and of course, I’ve got my own experience to draw on as well. I’m often surprised at how brazen some men are towards me, even now, in my mid-life stage, but it’s happened my entire life.
As a woman, I’ve presented my sons with the flipside as I am privy to understanding what makes us happy, sad, emotional, and tick in general. I’ve got some insight to our hormonal fluctuations, and how they manifest.
As for matters of the heart, women typically want more from men than they want to give — we want connection, love, loyalty, and monogamy…right now, in the first thirty days we meet, or sooner. We also want you to be a conflicting combination of sensitive, manly, vulnerable, powerful, gentle and tough.
Behaviors, sensibilities, hormones and the thrill of infatuation and love are good things to talk about with your children. Prepare them for all scenarios. Ground them in reality.
Warn your girls about how men can think and operate and what to do to take care of themselves. Help them understand their roles in relationships and how actions cause reactions. Teach them self-respect and how their dignity is precious.
Conversely, help your boys grow into well-mannered, chivalrous young men who treat women with regard and understand the word “no.”
Then as relationships unfold and fold, be there to help your kids through the process, pick up the chips and learn from their experiences.
We all know the main topics of parenting if just look at our own lives — we’ve practically got honorary doctorates. So go forth and teach, with intention.
This column appeared in The Journal on Sunday, July 12.
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