How to Raise a Boy is a weeklong series centered around this urgent question in the era of Parkland, President Trump, and #MeToo. Here, a mother of five sons reflects on what she taught them.
I have five sons. They are 6, 9, 13, 22 and 24 and all live at home with me and my husband. By the time I had my third, the first two were old enough to help in the process. My fifth was born in 2011 and my oldest became his godfather. He really helped out. He’d get up in the middle of the night with the baby, he’d change diapers and cook dinner.
There is a testosterone overload in my house. I have had so many candid conversations about the male reproductive system, you wouldn’t believe it. If something’s going wrong, one of my sons will pull me into the bathroom and say, Mom! Look at this!
Initially, I put the responsibility of talking about sex on my husband, but now I do it myself. I want them to understand women’s bodies as well as their own. They all want to know about periods – when women get them and why they get them. Whenever I talk to them about vaginas I make sure I use that word so they have the right language.
Each of my sons has talked to me about wet dreams and masturbation. Even my 6 year old had erections very early and was like: What is this? It’s not always easy. Thank god we have Google now. My 9 year old has been asking a lot of questions so I searched for a video about sexual urges. I watched it myself then we watched it together on his tablet.
I decided early on that regular, open communication was going to be important if I didn’t want them to shut me out as they got older. We have a weekly family meeting where they know that whatever they tell me, they won’t get in trouble. During one session, one of my sons said he was worried that something was wrong with him because he wasn’t going into puberty at the right age. He said he felt like he wasn’t tall enough and needed to go to the doctor. I listened, and talked to him about how people grow at different times.
When I started being a parent I had no guide. Each child was a chance to improve my parenting. If I failed it was like it’s OK because I could correct it with the next child and do it differently! One thing I’ve learned is that it’s good for them to see me get emotional. When I get sad, or when I get upset – those are teachable moments. They need to understand feelings.
I think it’s important that I raised my sons to take a woman’s perspective into account. It’s true that you can tell a lot by about a man by the way he treats his mother.