What makes a great man? Eeek, that's a tough one! Or, more importantly, what kind of men do we want our little boys to become? And, how can we better support them as they develop?
Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
There could be many different answers to this. What's your definition? Is a great man someone who is independent but also a team player, strong but emotionally connected and supportive, motivated, courteous, caring and affectionate, honest, protective, reliable, has good sense of humor? The list is almost endless and will be different for each person, male or female.
But what is a man's role today? Not that I aspire to the past, but just a few decades ago a man's role seemed far more certain -- the breadwinner, head of the house, protector. Now, women are actively encouraged to compete alongside men in everything from education to the workplace to sporting activities, including traditionally male-based events. This is absolutely as it should be and there is yet more to be achieved for girls and women's rights. But, while the focus quite rightly has been on female equality, is there a chance that in very recent times men, and particularly boys, have been overlooked?
What makes me say this? Well, being the mother of three boys I have a deep interest in their well-being, their opportunities and their role in life, and I have become aware of a growing number of negative challenges that boys of this generation are starting to face. You just have to hear the news to be enlightened about the concerning facts. In an Open letter to President Obama Mark Sherman quoted statistics for the U.S. (initially compiled by Tom Mortenson in 2011). These statistics state that boys are more likely to have a learning disability, to be suspended from high school, to lag behind their female counterparts academically, are less likely to graduate from school or achieve a bachelor degree and even more worryingly are more likely to be homeless, incarcerated in a correctional facility, and commit suicide. The position in the U.K. is worryingly similar. Why is this the case? And why does there not seem to be a greater focus on it?
On a social and cultural level, boys seem to face mixed messages when it comes to their masculinity. If they show too much emotion they may be branded a sissy (or dare I say a "momma's boy"!). Too much bravado and they are condemned for being unruly, rough and noisy. They should treat women as equals, but is being chivalrous OK? (I welcome it, but not all women do).
I wholly advocate boys being allowed to be themselves. Their differences from girls are what makes them unique, fun and interesting in their own right. Toy fights, mud, toilet humour, shows of strength, competition, what can seem like relentless energy, noise, thrill seeking and bravado are all things that should be celebrated about boys' characters. However, their softer side is also to be praised. Their creativity, imagination, thoughtfulness, sense of fairness and forgiveness, inquisitiveness, communication skills, caring nature and amazing ability to show love and affection are so very special. In a modern world where men are often a 50:50 partner in the home, especially when raising a family, these qualities learned in childhood will be embodied throughout adulthood. The male role seems to be evolving and so too surely must the typical male stereotypes -- hopefully including the ones relating to relationships with their mothers!
I am sure that every significant adult figure has a real lasting impact on a little boys' life. The father/son relationship is perhaps more easily defined but I would like to understand how mothers can also help their sons become some of the best men of the future. I have read a number of articles about this and the viewpoint that rings most true is that we should move away from the age old belief that a boy should be taught to be a 'man' from a young age - to be strong, stand on his own two feet and suppress his emotions. Instead, to support our sons (and if we are fortunate enough to be able to) we should try to develop solid and healthy mother/son relationships, which evolve as they grow on mutually agreed terms.
According to Dr William Pollack, author of Real Boys and a Harvard lecturer, "Far from making boys weaker, the love of a mother actually does make boys stronger, emotionally and psychologically. Far from making boys dependent, the base of safety that a loving mother can create provides a boy with the courage to explore the outside world. But most importantly, far from making a boy act in 'girl-like' ways, a loving mother actually plays an integral role in helping a boy develop his masculinity." Echoing these views Kate Stone Lombardi looked in detail at the benefits of a good mother / son relationship in her book The Mama's Boy Myth. So, as to the long list of qualities that people look for in the 'great man', I can't but try to play a part in helping my boys to achieve them... but nobody's perfect!
Looking at the bigger picture, to give all our boys the best possible start in life I would love there to be a more equal playing field, so that as they grow they feel as confident as their female counterparts that they can do and be whatever they want in their lives. In order to achieve this perhaps the time has come to raise the profile of boys and accept nothing less (or more!) than the same opportunities, choices and support for them as we campaign for, for our girls.
Ultimately, I think the kind of men our boys will become is determined by the individual boy himself. But, I do believe we all have an important role to play in providing the best possible support and environment within which they grow. Let's go for greatness!
Adapted from original post by Lucky Mothers of Boys