Parenting from our Own Baggage


When my wife and I fantasized about having children, I would often get scared and shut down the fantasy.  I loved the “idea” of a family with children, but I was terrified I’d screw them up irreversibly.  I’ve long admitted this, but now add to my confessions that I was especially terrified of just how much I would screw up a (then hypothetical) son.  Okay, well if I have a boy, let it be two boys, because if it’s an older boy and a younger girl, he just may be reciting Gloria Steinem before the age of four.  For those of you too young to recognize that name, she is a rather renowned face to the women’s movement (think Ms.).

My wife and I believe the universe has an extraordinary sense of humor.  Fast-forward from fantasy to reality and I have my older boy, younger girl.  Perfect.P7

It is perfect.  Though I have to admit, sometimes I feel sorry for my son.  He is surrounded by pretty strong, opinionated women, and that includes his little sister.  In addition, I have worked in the field of violence against women (predominately afflicted by men) for over 20 years.  Poor kid.

The truth is that he gets both the best of what my life experience has to offer, and the worst.  My wife and I can offer him ways to challenge gender roles even as school and sports and the media work hard to defeat us.  We can work hard to allow him to have and express his feelings before the same forces try to make him stuff them down or act them out.  We try to offer a more rounded picture of what it can mean to be a boy and a man than mere muscle definition and “invincibility.”  Yet, the same drive to keep his mind and heart open, I fear, can push too hard.

My son and I have an intense relationship.  It is magical and playful, and when our stubborn streaks collide there are fireworks.  Ironically, it is me, not him, that has a hard time softening up or backing down when we’re in a power struggle.  While I’m still trying to figure it out, what I believe is that I fear raising a boy, into a man, who is used to winning.  I am afraid of what that sense of power and control could turn into.

“Not my son.”

At my workplace, we’re preparing to launch a “Real Strength” campaign that engages men and boys to take a stand against violence.  As we’ve prepared, we’ve talked to and surveyed 181 people, mostly youth.  86% of youth shared that they want to be seen as standing up against violence.  Eighty-six percent!  Yet, in real-life situations, statistics suggest that people truly stand up only 20% of the time.  As my spouse and I work to raise a boy who today aspires to stand up to save and protect the earth’s people and animals; I’m questioning how to support that without over 20 years of my experience, baggage and, honestly, trauma, being more hurtful than helpful.

When it comes to being my son’s Mommy, I think this lesson might be among the toughest, and bravest, of them all.  I’m open.


4 comments on “Parenting from our Own Baggage”

  1. Sharlene … this is awesome. The fact that you are so aware and so present in your parenting is just one of the reasons why you are an amazing mother. Love reading your stuff.

  2. Sharlene – there are several dimensions that develop a man into a man. The first, most obvious dimension is the biological science – the testosterone that gives a male his deep voice, his physical strength, and some of the tendencies that we attribute with boys. This is something that Mother Nature has put in place to differentiate males and females. Your son naturally has this whether you like or want it or not, and is not anything that you can control. The second dimension is more of an emotional science and is absolutely something you can and are in control of – what I see you doing is not pushing your son to a power struggle that will lead him to be one of those men that you describe, but I see you pushing your son towards an awareness and sensitivity of the issues you mention. With this awareness, your son’s biological and emotional tendencies will be in great balance with each other and I have no doubt that he will be a good man.

    I hope this made sense because I had trouble putting into words what I meant. If it doesn’t, just ignore my rambling!!!! 😉

  3. Wow Sharlene, I so enjoy reading each of your posts. They always make me think. Thank you for being vulnerable here and talking about your worries re: raising a son. I have no doubt that he will be a kind and compassionate man some day!

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