Monday, May 7, 2012

What About Less-Than-Ideal Male Role Models?

The current culture portrayed by the media denigrates both men and women into sex-starved animals. We are much more than that. This not only marginalizes women, but it also debases men. In addition to seeing portrayals of strong women, I believe it is important for boys to see men treating women with the respect and dignity they deserve.
     -- Don Gonzalez of Joe Catholic

I agree! And so do some of my other blog readers. Check out what this Anonymous commenter had to say about my recent blog post, "Helping Boys in a Sex-Soaked Society" :

Our children look to us parents as role-models and examples. If there is a respectful and loving relationship between husband and wife, I think it speaks worlds more than anything we may say to our boys. Make sure your marriage is something you would want for your sons someday.

But what if you're not married? What if the role models in your sons' lives are less-than-ideal?

I ask these questions as a divorced mother. My divorce was painful for many reasons, but one of the things that brings me continuing sadness is the fact that I can't show my boys a functioning, respectful relationship. I agree that it would be beneficial for my sons to see their father treating me with respect, but that's not the reality of our lives. It's not the reality for a lot of other boys either.

So how do we, as parents, teach our boys to treat women with respect when that's not necessarily the reality they're seeing in their daily lives?

Role models, I think, are tremendously important, and I am forever grateful that my boys have a wonderful. grandfather and four fine uncles. We're also blessed with an amazing network of friends. I do my best to make sure that my boys spend time with men with who treat women with love and respect, and I hope that those messages begin to seep into their brains.

But I'm still concerned about the less-than-ideal role modeling that many boys see at home and within their communities. And that's why I think we, as a society, need to begin to take the issue of abuse seriously.

All too often, our society ignores emotional abuse. Emotional abuse - -- disparaging, disrespectful and controlling behavior -- doesn't "count," it seems. Unless there are physical marks and bruises, our society implies, no abuse  has occurred. But what message are we sending our sons when we continue to tolerate such disrespectful behavior? When parents stay in emotionally harmful relationships, or when courts discount or ignore evidence of emotional abuse and leave children in emotionally harmful environments, we are, in effect, teaching our kids that such behavior is OK. And what effect does that have on their development? On their future relationships?

Taking emotional abuse seriously, I believe, is one step towards creating a healthier environment for our sons (and daughters). But that's a big-picture solution. What about here and now? The on-the-ground reality is that there are many moms, like me, who are trying to raise strong, healthy sons in an environment that includes less-than-healthy male role models. How do we help those moms raise great men?


  1. I think we do what you're doing -- find men who can model for them what they won't get at home. That's what Big Brothers programs do. I think you can be successful this way. And be open to discussion during moments when you witness behavior that isn't appropriate. Discuss what happened, invite your boys to ask questions, and continue to create the learning environment that you are. You do your best. It will no longer be ideal, but you do your best.

  2. @Jackie, you found me before I even had a chance to ask you to weigh in!

    Thanks for adding your voice to the discussion. You're right -- it won't be ideal, but then, how many of us are parenting in an ideal world? Virtually none of us! Effective parenting (and living, for that matter) is all about doing the best you can with what you have. It's about trying and growing and adapting.