For the holidays, I took a little break from my “mom”bbatical and spent two weeks with my boy. I was struck by how much he has changed. His voice was a little deeper. His back was a little broader. I could see him approaching his manhood slowly, but confidently with each facial expression and protest to my motherly pestering.
I’ve been thinking about mothers and sons a lot lately, poignantly inspired by the passing of the mother of someone very dear to me. I had never met her, but she was a delightful presence in our conversations. The details he shared were sweet, like when she told him he wasn’t normal because of his slightly OCD approach to his recess lighting installation. Or how she would put his legs over hers whenever she was feeling a bit cold and that they would share an apertif of Martini together from time to time.
As I listened to my friend’s stories, I thought about my Emmanuel and the fun we have playing video games together or how we call each other “goobers” when either of us does something slightly idiotic. My favorite is when he pats me on the head as he pulls me in for a hug. So when I learned about the death of my friend’s mother, my heart broke into pieces as I thought about how heartbreaking it must have been for her to leave him.
In the midst of one of my many squabbles with my own mother, my father once shared the old adage, “Mothers love their sons, but raise their daughters.” Perhaps he was trying to normalize my frustration at the perceived imbalance of maternal empathy that was extended to my brother. Not having a daughter of my own, I cannot truly test the theory.
But, what is a mother’s job in raising a son? In this era of #metoo, R. Kelly and the diminishing dominance of men in the seats of political and economic power, how do we not just love, but raise our sons to be respectful and vulnerable and untethered to the toxic masculinity that defines the eras of their fathers, grandfathers and beyond? As the collective feminine strives for the empowerment and redemption of our girls and women, how do we successfully raise boys who will stand against the daily and persistent misogyny evident in our culture?
I have tried to leverage the tenderness of my own relationship with my son to drive home lessons about how to treat and honor women, especially Black women who have been woefully unnurtured in our world. But, sometimes I do wonder if when he confronts the institutions that reinforce the patriarchy, like universities, courts and industries, will he remember the lessons? Or will he succumb to cynicism or peer pressure? Will he take a stand?
Only time will tell. But as the evidence mounts of how much we have failed to protect our daughters, sisters and nieces, I have never felt the urgency of mothering a son more than in this moment.