Raising Sons

Portrait by Joshua Reynolds of Elizabeth Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, with her son (c. 1765), Source https://hoocher.com (PD-Art, Age-100)

Raising children is an enormously challenging endeavor, under the best of circumstances.  Human beings are complicated creatures.  Abuse adds dark forces to the mix.  It shapes us as children and impacts the parents we become.

Modeling Behavior

Parents attempt to model the behavior they want their children to adopt; strive to give their children the things they, themselves, never had.

If we are to raise sons who do not abuse the women in their lives, we must – first and foremost – protect them against exposure to abusive men [1].  By this I mean not only men who might molest them, but men who treat us (and them) badly.

Consciously and unconsciously, boys take their cues from the men in the lives.  This is only natural.  It is not to say, however, that we as their mothers have no influence.  We have tremendous influence, not only through what we say but what we do.

Children are observant.  They watch us closely.  They see how we react under pressure, see the choices we make in our own lives.  And they seek to imitate us.

Teaching Abuse

The example we set is important.  When we submit to abuse, we teach our sons – however inadvertently – that abuse is acceptable.  When we tolerate abuse by men in the public eye, we teach our sons that women are not worthy of respect.

Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory and stretch themselves out on their couches…who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp…who drink wine in bowls and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!” (Amos 6: 4-6).

The politicians involved in tawdry sex scandals; the men in power who harass and assault women as a matter of course; the athletes who treat women as playthings; the men who commit date rape, who view quaaludes and rohypnol as expedient means to an end; the college students who consider themselves entitled to sex with blindly intoxicated coeds; the men who cheat regularly on their wives (not to mention those who batter the women in their lives to death) were all once boys.

All sons.

Ethics, Morality and Limits

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2: 4).

Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (1 Cor. 10: 24).

We cannot simply place the blame for such behavior on the mothers (and fathers) who raised these sons.  Adults make their own choices.  We can and should though examine the standards of ethics and morality these men were taught as boys…and whether any limits were set for them whatsoever.

Are we making the same mistakes with our own children?

Permissive Parenting

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22: 6).

Adult children of abuse carry with them scars.  Desperate for love, longing for approval, we can be people-pleasers [2].  We feel responsible for other people’s happiness, apologize constantly, have difficulty saying “no”.

To fill the void, we may have children, in part, because we assume they will love us uncritically.

Children, of course, are born with their own needs – needs that were not properly acknowledged or filled for us in childhood.  That may leave us grappling with how to be better parents than our own were toward us.

We must not follow the trend of permissive parenting set by society these days [3].

We must not attempt to “buy” our children’s love with expensive toys.  We must not give into every childish whim, with the goal of safeguarding our children against any possible unhappiness.

Our children need to be taught appropriate limits.  And they need to be taught right from wrong.

However complex its motivation, abuse is at its heart narcissism, the subordination of one person’s rights to another’s selfish desires.  We do neither our sons nor daughters a service by enabling such behavior.

A Risk Worth Taking

Someone I loved deeply when I was young chose to marry another kind of woman, a less vulnerable, less troubled woman than I was at the time.  I strongly suspect his mother had a hand in the decision.  She was not acting out of cruelty.  I merely represented risk, could not guarantee her son a placid life.

That is the case for many of us.  We carry scars not of our own making.  We represent risk.  But we remain deserving of love.  And loving us is a risk worth taking.

Raising children is, also, a risk.  I have not had children of my own.  But I have, through mentoring, had the chance to help raise them.  I hope I taught my “sons” to respect women; to be tender, as well as strong.

That, at least, was my intention.

[1]  Both women and men can be abusive.

[2]  Psychology Today, “10 Signs You’re a People-Pleaser” by Amy Morin, 8/23/17,  https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201708/10-signs-youre-people-pleaser.

[3]  Very Well Mind, “What Is Permissive Parenting?” by Kendra Cherry, 2/25/18, https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-permissive-parenting-2794957.






Filed under Abuse of Power, bullying, Child Abuse, Child Molestation, Christianity, domestic abuse, domestic violence, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Politics, Rape, Religion, Sexual Abuse, Violence Against Women

22 responses to “Raising Sons

  1. Great post Anna.
    I see a trend of poor parenting.. I worry about how the children will handle issues in life as they grow up with so much fighting in the home..
    I am sure you would have been a wonderful wife and mother.. God has given you children of others to love..

  2. As always you write with authority, wisdom and compassion – an exceptional mix! Every parent would do well to keep a copy of these these guidelines and refer to them often. Well done Anna!

  3. Good stuff Anna and good morning to you

  4. Loving anyone is a risk. The measure of love is how much we are willing to show that the ones we love are worth having despite their flaws. Without exception, we are all scarred, albeit differently. You are a beautiful person, Anna. I enjoyed sharing the wisdom in your words.

    • I am very touched that you would think so highly of me, Gbolabo. I agree wholeheartedly that love involves risk. But we lose out on the best part of life, if we think to protect ourselves by avoiding love.

  5. Reading this post has brought to the surface some long ago events that I had believed were buried,never to see the light again. As a young boy, I saw the aftermath of abuse in my family. Women with blackened eyes who wore sunglasses at all times. Unexplained hospital visits for injuries I could not see.

    I once heard my own father say to my mother that he would kill her. I myself was beaten many times as a child for infractions that seemed so minuscule at the time. Beatings that would land a parent in prison today. I also had a younger sister who was horribly beaten by her worthless husband.

    So much abuse, so much rage, it seemed like I was surrounded by it. I can only say it was a miracle that I managed to escape such behavior, for surely God had another plan for my life. To this day, I am the only one to become a Christian, yet sadly have been unable to win any of my family to the
    Lord,so deeply does the cycle of abuse run in them.

    Thank you Anna…

  6. So goes the father, so go the sons.

  7. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the negative acculturation of boys in our society. Its good to read your choice of topic for this post. Take care.

  8. Reading entries like this makes me grateful that we know each other. I second the person who said you write with authority and warmth, not to mention compassion. And that’s what’s missing with many parents. Children are not stupid, they intuit so much. Yet, so often they cannot express why exactly something is off. Emotional abuse can be so subtle at times, a child will feel but not comprehend. Like you said, children look to us for guidance. Like you, I have no children, but I’ve worked with and have mentored plenty. I believe if you’re honest, over half the work is done.

    • Thank you so much for the endorsement. I agree that children can sense dishonesty. Oh, we can lie to them about our motives. In fact, they may well absorb and live w/ our lies for a lifetime. But they intuitively pick up on inconsistencies in our behavior. Those leave them feeling uneasy. It is better when we have no answers — for example, in the face of evil — to acknowledge that fact. Our children, too, will have to confront demons and danger. We must set them a standard, give them a reason to act honorably. They deserve more from us than platitudes.

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