Raising Boys Who Aren't Violent
I first wrote this post on December 06th, 2009. Since then we have seen the evolution of the #MeToo movement, deservedly so. I am the mother of two boys ... men now. What follows are my thoughts from many years ago but I can assure you that I stand by these words even more now, as awareness has grown and people are more willing to talk about and less willing to accept any kind of violence, towards ANYONE.
December 06, 2009: My morning started out by reading this: “Remembering…..Anne-Marie Edward, Anne-Marie Lemay, Annie St Arneault, Annie Turcotte, Barbara Daigneault, Barbara Maria Klucznik, Genevieve Bergeron, Helene Colgan, Maryse LeClaire, Maryse Leganiere, Maud Haviernier, Michele Richard, Nathalie Croteau, Sonia Pelletier.”
It had been posted as a status update by @doulamama, a friend of mine on Facebook.
These are the names of 14 women massacred 20 years ago in Montreal at École Polytechnique by a man who killed for no other reason than because they were women. Donna Parker posted a comment underneath which read: “we just visited the memorial at Victoria Park the other day. My son doesn’t understand why violence is tolerated, I agree.”
That’s where this post comes from. As parents, how do we, in the face of all of the violence and anger we see every day, teach our children about anger management? How do we teach them to balance effectively the needs and emotions they feel inside of themselves and the needs and emotions of the people around them?
I want to say up front that I think it is clear that the man who acted in this horrific and heinous way was unwell. I don’t personally believe that someone can have all of their mental faculties intact if they go on a killing rampage such as what happened on December 06th, 1989. Regardless, it was an act clearly meant to inflict pain, anguish and death upon a specific group of women and it was based in anger.
RAISING RESPECTFUL CHILDREN
How to raise my children to respect everyone around them and to understand where their emotions come from has been an extended journey for them and for me. When they were young I believed, as Raising My Boychick describes, that I could teach them to listen to the “yeses” and “noes” of those around them and to ask that their own wishes be heard and respected in kind. (Admittedly the quote I have pulled this paraphrase from is more specifically about rape than other forms of abuse but “this argument is equally applicable to the fact that men beat, murder, attack, and abuse”.)
TEACHING RESPECT AS A STEP TOWARDS NON-VIOLENCE
Like Raising My Boychick I had to start by “teaching [my boys] that I have boundaries and limits and needs, too; this is a tough one, because I also believe that the more a child’s needs are unconditionally met now, in infancy and toddlerhood and childhood, the better off they are for a lifetime.” I wanted them to learn that everyone has needs that need to be respected and honoured and in so doing there are deeper levels of connection that are achievable.
TALKING WITH OUR BOYS ABOUT VIOLENCE
We have spent all of their lives talking with our children about the violence around us. My children have both walked with me for Take Back the Night and stood with me to mourn at candlelight vigils on December 06th. They have listened to me talk about disrespect, anger management, and coercion. They have tried to comprehend my unwavering difficulty with gratuitous violence on-screen and in playgrounds. They have held my hands and wept with me when I hear of another life gone, woman maimed or family destroyed.
I hope that I have laid the groundwork for my children to be emotionally aware and stable as they grow through their teen years and on into adulthood. I am at the cusp of this change in their age and maturity and have yet to know for certain how the lessons I hope I have taught them will play out. (I want to add a quick note here - December 06, 2018. As I was eating dinner with my youngest son, now 17, last night we spent some time talking about his feelings when he heard someone speak poorly [objectifyingly] about a woman he knows. He was angry and he said something about it because it is not something he feels should be tolerated.)
This is where faith in our abilities to effectively parent our children is truly put to the test. I was lucky enough to have home-schooled my children up to grades 3 and 6 respectively in their lives but at that time they both asked if they could try school and they were happy with that decision. There is little doubt however, that they were exposed to far more violence, manipulation and coercion in the playground than they were at home. It is the way of the world.
I have heard time and time again that my children are an exception to “normal” sibling rules because they like each other and are best friends with one another. In the hierarchy of many families the need for domination and control over younger (read: weaker) members of the family can be a trend that is perpetuated elsewhere. This is often seen in the case of bullies. My children LIKE each other and so for them there is little need for aggressive behaviour. (They do have minor disagreements but generally speaking they do not fight - even now, in 2018.) This contrasts with many of their peers who don’t like their siblings, have been put in positions within the family dynamics where there is a need for competition and struggle for dominance.
I could get into a long-winded rant about how much our young children NEED us to be around for them for MANY hours every day and at many different times of day; not just in the evenings and on weekends. Blame isn’t the point of this post though. It is about outlining how I have approached teaching my children to respect everyone.
It doesn’t help that everywhere I turn there is violence depicted being perpetrated on someone else. Everything from “The Lion King” and “Ice Age” to “Batman” and “Harry Potter” contain scenes of violence and domination struggles; people fighting to get what they need/deserve. In the end these movies have less stringent rules and ratings than the movies where human flesh is displayed frequently and unabashedly on the screen. We are THAT messed up as a world that we live in that we are more offended by the naked body than we are by a “villan” being killed by our “hero.” This is how our children are “taught” to learn to deal with anger, frustration, and disappointment. When they were young I, like Ruth Moss, believed the best way to keep them from becoming abusive was to enforce our belief that children shouldn’t play with toy guns, etc. They see it everywhere they turn though and how do I work against that? Truthfully that simply encouraged them to want them more, so what I had to do was talk to them about why I didn't want them to be the toys they chose.
LISTENING TO THE WORDS OF OUR CHILDREN AND LEARNING FROM THEM
I love that I can watch movies and television shows with my children and discuss, as we watch them and after we have seen them, about the parts of the movies that we had a hard time with. They have the voice and now, as they get older, the vocabulary to help me understand how they have interpreted what they have witnessed. Sometimes I am amazed by the lessons they have learned and what lessons their observations can teach me.
It is my nature to want to talk. Of course it is. I am a professional speaker. SO, naturally I gave birth to non-speakers. I am learning that their quiet isn’t a way of not processing anger and their need for solitude is not repressing and bottling up their emotions. It is their journey. In the end I need to respect that. I only make it worse to tell them that their way is wrong. They DO come to talk to me when they have had a chance to determine just what it is that they are feeling. We hash out our different opinions, we listen to one another to learn why we each feel the way we do, we outline what we feel are causes for concern and, in the end, we ensure the everyone understands where we are coming from and how our individual needs can be met.
Talking, watching movies together, reading stories and inviting their friends to hang out at our place are the most powerful ways I have found that I can be present for my boys and can help them understand and process the world around them. Tonight I will take them to the vigil and while I know they will be cold, I know they will understand to be grateful to be alive and to feel anything at all.