There’s been a lot of talk on the best way to raise girls — how to teach them to be safe, how to teach them to stand up for what they want, how to teach them to get ahead in a male-dominated world. I’ve seen it as a dad and I’ve passed it down to my own two daughters. What I rarely see is how to raise boys, and how the way that fathers raise their sons determines who they will be as men of the future. As a father of daughters, I worry about how your sons will treat them. So here’s what I hope you’re teaching them and showing them through example, every single day.
1. Doing things “like a girl” is not a bad thing. In fact, you should be teaching your sons that doing things “like a girl” may be the better option.
Never tell your son that throwing like a girl, running like a girl, or talking like a girl is a bad thing. You can motivate him to throw “harder,” but if you tell him he does something like a girl — and that that’s not okay — you are also telling him that girls can’t do what boys do. They can. He’ll never think girls have anything to offer worth any value if you signal to him that doing things like a girl is inadequate.
“Never tell your son that throwing like a girl, running like a girl, or talking like a girl is a bad thing.”
2. Never impose your will physically. Always use your words instead.
Your son may think he’s entitled to share that toy, or have the last cookie, but if the girl beside him isn’t having it, you must teach your boy to keep his hands off. Otherwise, in the future, young boys may think that they can be physical and take what they want from girls instead of asking.
3. Not only do your boys need to communicate, they also need to listen.
Just leading a conversation isn’t enough. Young boys need to learn that arguments are not about establishing dominance or driving the conversation or setting the rules of the game. Arguments help build consensus, make people learn from other perspectives, and help everyone become a better team. Besides, learning early that other people may have better ideas is a great way to become a life-long learner and a better leader. It’s not even about feminism. It’s just about being decent.
4. They need to be aware of their surroundings.
I can’t tell you how many times my girls refused to play in an area because the boys were running around blindly knocking people over during their games. This type of oblivious entitlement of space is unacceptable. Your boys must be aware that they are not the only ones in the room or on the playground — and teaching them that is the first and most important step.
5. That support doesn’t mean “solve her problem.” It means to support her decisions and wait to be asked if she needs you to intervene.
This is a lesson I learned late in life, but I wish I had learned earlier. Men like to consider themselves “problem solvers,” and mostly don’t approach each other with issues unless they really need the help. Women don’t always need that. Most times, they are simply venting, and are quite capable of figuring out the best course of action on their own. They just need someone to listen. Teach your boys that to truly support a girl is to understand that she is just as smart as he is, and to only offer advice when asked. Don’t mansplain.
6. Never treat her in front of your friends differently than you would in front of hers.
Don’t raise a Danny Zuko. The best (and worst) scene in the original Grease is when for a split second upon seeing his summer love, Danny Zuko lets down his guard and becomes the gentleman he was just a few days prior. But then, because he doesn’t want to seem “soft” in front of his buds, he puts on an act and treats Sandy like an object. He almost loses out on the love of his life. Young boys start to learn how to talk about women when they aren’t there really early on. When there is little respect for women in those circles, that enforces how women are treated in general, whether or not they are romantic interests or just people in the world.
7. No woman will ever be perfect, and neither will you.
Your boys will see perfectly shaped, toned women on their video games, TV shows, and movies. At some point, they will get access to pornography, where they will see stuff that looks like it could be real life, but it isn’t. As a father, it’s your duty to help them understand the difference between fantasy and reality. They need to know that women in their lives will not always look like, or act like, the characters they see, which are often written (or drawn) by men. They must also understand that they are not perfect themselves, and that not being perfect is what makes us human.
8. Don’t expect her to change her name. Especially if that last name is “Guadalupe.”
I know how much passing the family name has been the goal for time immemorial. But you have to wonder why it has been the goal. Women being expected to change their surnames to their husband’s surnames denotes a sense of possession. It also reduces the importance of the family from which she came. The goal in modern marriage is to become a partnership. And that means being okay with her hyphenating her name, or even in some cases, keeping her own. My daughters, in particular, are determined to keep their names. Sorry, boys.