I’m raising boys. One of which is 21, and so far so good with that one – and now two more to go. My younger boys are almost 13 and 9 so I’m currently living deep in the trenches of a crazy combination of trying to navigate blossoming testosterone, bicep flexing, preteen eye-rolling, race car contests, dirty and/or smelly feet rubs, gymnastics practices, Kenpo Karate classes, wrestling, climbing, jumping, yelling, witnessing awkward glances at girls, arguing about nothing, sweet and sweaty boy hugs, homeschooling, allowing some staunch independence intertwined with being needed beyond all reason, and always dodging Nerf gun bullets. Sound exhausting? Yes, yes it is. I’m a powerful (sometimes) woman trying to raise good men and trust me; it’s a challenge, especially in today’s world.
Our family has made a lot of decisions over the years to protect these crazy Fragoso boys – to let them be boys, and to stay true to their needs despite the fact that I’m raising boys to be men in what is becoming an ever increasing female driven world. Now before you start writing me your hate mail, please understand that I’m not at all suggesting that I’m ignorant to women’s rights issues. I’m not at all suggesting that women should be oppressed or seen as “less than men”. I’m not even close to saying that men should always lead women or that women can’t keep up with men, so hear me out – please. This is not my opinion of men vs. women. This is my opinion of the needs of boys and how often these needs are ignored. I’m also well aware of the severe women’s issues in today’s world, all over the globe, and I’m an advocate for continuing to make change and bring awareness to these issues, and I’m absolutely not turning a blind eye to the huge neglect, shame, and fear that many women must live through every single day. This post is about my opinions, struggles, and observations of raising boys, not about ignoring women’s issues. This post is about bringing up boys in America, in a society that is expecting me to raise my boys in such a way that isn’t set up for boys to thrive in – at all.
Despite the fact that there continues to be issues, women really have come a long way in our country – which is great, and I am thankful, but we’ve come so far, in some areas, that I fear we have changed society in such a way that being masculine has been deemed as scary, even wrong, and not expected or wanted – and forget chivalry, we can open our own damn doors! Boys are sent to school and expected to sit quietly for hours, to line up perfectly, and to always pay attention. They are taught to not question authority or to act assertively and if they are caught fighting it out on the playground – it’s instant expulsion from school. Sports programs are fewer and far between, and PE has been dumbed down to jogging or throwing a ball around; no more climbing ropes, racing, competing, or even breaking a sweat if you don’t want to. If boys act out, they must be medicated. If boys fight, they must have anger management issues, and if boys try to question authority, they obviously are disrespectful and must be put in their place.
But wait? How is this affecting our young generation of boys who are trying to figure out how to be men? I have hopes for my boys that might seem strange in today’s world but here they are. I want my boys to be chivalrous. I want them to be masculine. I want them to be strong and brave and tough (when they want to be). I want them to stand up for their women someday if they have to and to lead when it’s appropriate and to know how to and be confident in their abilities to defend themselves and their families and to be assured that it’s 100% ok to be a lover and a warrior and a peace maker and a leader and a MAN, despite what society might expect of them.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, the expectation that we are all homogeneous people who can fend for themselves equally, and in general, has taken the masculinity away from boys who’s natural tendencies are typically to rough house, play fight, yell and scream, have pretend battles, pretend about “killing bad guys”, protect when they need to, and to work through the hard stuff; often without words but with their bodies. This kind of “play” and “acting out” is where boys learn how to handle their own strength, how to stop when it’s too much, how to listen when their friends have had enough, how to value each other as competitors, mentors, and adversaries, and how to handle their anger appropriately; when they are actually allowed to be angry.
They then need to be led in the direction that has the most peaceful yet impactful outcome; this is when boys learn to be warriors – and not just fighters.
These preceding reasons is in part a huge reason why I homeschool. My boys are in a place where it’s safe to be THEM – where they can punch a pillow when they are mad, learn how to talk it out instead of going straight to war, and to get it all out in a safe place so that it doesn’t come out years later after having to repress every single natural urge and tendency that most little boys have. I need them to explode in rage at home when their bodies don’t know what else to do so that I can help them learn to control that rage, that innate need to protect themselves and others, and that desire to prove to the world what they think is right, to guide them through the scary life stuff, to give them opportunities to fail and succeed, so someday they don’t explode when stuff gets too tough to handle and no one has taught them how to control their very intense emotions. When boys aren’t modeled and taught these life skills when they are young, this is when we later read horrible stories in newspapers about men doing horrible stuff to other people. Again, this is all my (not so humble) opinion…
I also want my boys to understand their responsibilities someday as men – that they will be put in situations where they must know how to respect women AND men, where they must know that they have incredible strength and power, and that they must use their power for good, for protection, for respect, and for what’s right. Instead, when boys are medicated, ignored, belittled, and told to sit quietly – when their successes are only measured on a piece of paper with a letter written at the top telling them their worth; how are boys supposed to know how to be men? How are they supposed to be innately who they are without being able to quantify their value and self worth in any type of way that makes sense to them besides what society expects? How are they supposed to learn to control all of that awesome testosterone when they have zero opportunities to do so, or when they do, being told it is bad, or too loud, or too crazy, or just straight up wrong – rather than showing them where and how to distribute and use that amazing and powerful energy?
Another huge problem that I worry about with my own boys is the lack of competition. Boys AND girls are very rarely expected to compete, especially in a school environment. We are teaching our children, that everyone wins – all the time. In video games, they always come back to life, and are given more chances than they’ll ever get in real life. Sports teams hand out medals to every participant and everyone always has a chance to go first, they always get picked, and often nobody even keeps score. Disappointment no longer exists when it comes to anything that might be considered competitive, and although I don’t believe we should demolish our children’s dreams, or make them feel like failures, or suggest that they are worthless, we should be realistic with them that sometimes things just don’t work out, that sometimes we aren’t that great at something, that sometimes we come out on top, and sometimes we don’t, and in order to achieve greatness it takes really hard work, dedication, visualization, positive thinking, determination, and commitment.
This is why I’m grateful that my boys have found sports like gymnastics and karate. These two disciplines take DISCIPLINE and concentration; one wrong move or lack of focus and you will get hurt. If your score isn’t high enough, you don’t get a medal. If you can’t perform the moves, and you fail to practice and focus, you won’t get another belt. These sports have built in consequences, something else children rarely face – where everyone else generally stays at the same level and are offered the same opportunities and given the same feedback no matter how great, wonderful, horrible or indifferent you might be; and if you mess up, there’s a million more chances, and if you’re awful at something, we cheer you on anyway. Where do kids have the opportunity to learn to handle failure or rejection when everyone is pretending you’re awesome at everything and yet we have high school students who don’t even know how to read? Where do we start helping kids focus on what they are passionate about instead of helping them be kind of OK, sort of, but not really – at everything?
I will reiterate again, I fear that by emasculating our boys we are making them oppress their natural tendencies. They need to mimic our hunter-gatherer ancestors, to learn how to be brave and given the opportunity to do a variety of things that challenge them physically and mentally so they will know how to handle life when they are older. Boys are not allowed or given the chance to do so many things that they innately need to do in order to know how to be in this world, and I’m concerned that society is becoming afraid of masculinity in general, and I’m terrified that our boys are starting to feel like they simply are no longer needed as they are, but rather as something that they were never intended to be.
I suppose I do have an antiquated point of view, all blended up with my modern day powerhouse womanhood voice that I am proud to have. Speaking from my heart, I personally want a man to be stronger than me, that can hold me up, that can show me where I’m wrong, and that isn’t afraid to (lovingly) call me on out on my craziness. I’m ok with this, and I want this, because I know I am strong, independent, capable, and amazing – but sometimes I am weak and sometimes it feels really good to have a man to rely on, to have a door opened for me, or a hand to hold me up when I need it (or don’t need it), and it feels great to know that if I need to be protected, or helped through a challenging time, or supported when I’m exhausted, that I don’t have to do it all on my own. In my opinion, it’s actually a natural way for a woman to feel, exactly like a woman – feminine and powerful, yet ok with not always having it all together – or at least it is for me… I want my boys to know that it’s ok to follow their instincts and be there physically, emotionally, and in any other way that is helpful and real and makes them feel needed and masculine to their future women.
I also want them to lead fearlessly, but with respect and attention to what others around them might need. I want them to make choices based on their knowledge that everything in life is not always perfect, and that they might fail, but that it’s worth going for things that they want to achieve, even when risk is involved. I want them to be confident in who they are, even if it means being a bit louder, a bit more out of the box, and maybe not as submissive or sensitive as they are expected to be, but with enough compassion to know exactly when to be there when someone else needs them. I don’t want them to be afraid. I don’t want them to be confused, and I don’t want them to float through life unsure of which line to stand in, which scenario they must stand up and fight for, or which passions they should follow. I want them to be strong and able and focused because as little boys they were allowed to be boys and not singled out for their fierceness, their warrior spirits, and their innate need to provide for their packs and to be willing to risk their lives trying (even when it’s all in fun and play).
My hope, that when my job is done, I can look at my boys, and be confident that they will respect, honor, cherish, love and protect their families without shame, and that they will know that they have a mom who loves them for exactly who they are.