It's a fascinating exercise to raise both a son and a daughter. The experience of having both male and female children gives me so much insight into the genders, my own issues and relationships with each, and myself. I find that I write a lot more about my daughter Helena, 6 than my son, Lucas, 4. Maybe I spend more time thinking about the female role model I want her to have. And it is only natural that I see so much of myself in her, being that we are not only both females but also happen to share a lot of personality traits (assertive, curious, prone to emotional extremes and love of storytelling in all its forms).
I also, of course, love Lucas just as much. And I am just as important of a parent to him as I am to his sister. It is also important I also be a strong, female role model for him — for all the reasons you should, too. That he will one day choose to surround himself with other smart, strong women. That he will expect for women to be his equal. And because, well, that is just what is going on in our house so get used to it, kid!
But with boys something else is at play. Both Helena and Lucas see a mom who “does it all” — work, family, home. He doesn't see a man doing that every day. This is the story for millions of boys.
That is not to say that Lucas doesn't have a lot of great men in his life. He has a loving and caring dad who spends time doing fun things and teaching him all kinds of important life skills (shoe laces, speaking languages, soccer playing). He has awesome uncles and people like the T-ball coaches. But not the all-day, everyday, every-part-of-life stuff. There's a difference. There just is.
There are lots of challenges in general that come with parenting without a great husband. My kids don't organically learn what it means to be in a romantic partnership. They don't have the benefits of two parents supporting each other — thus making more space and energy for good things to happen in a family. But when a child doesn't have a same-sex role model for life, does that relay the message that life doesn't need him?It's a slippery slope, but single moms — especially those who handle the vast bulk of responsibility — can raise empowered men:
- Stop trying to do it all because no one can do it all. People are not meant to be autonomous robotrons. If you haven't already, build a community. This might be an old group of friends you see often. Maybe a new group of friends you know through your kids' school and activities. If you are lucky enough to have a great extended family nearby — celebrate it! For me, my immediate community is a combination of friends and neighbors who live in the area, plus my brother and sister-in-law who live in my building. This grows and changes as our lives change, and extends to family and friends who live afar. Let your children see that you are human, vulnerable and require support. Let them see you ask for support. That is not only OK, it is good — because that support comes in the form of loving people who are now a part of your kids' lives, too.
- Careful with the pride. On one hand I feel very proud of the life I've created for my family. I'm proud of my kids, my business, our community and the life we live. It is not easy, and in fact it is downright rotten with difficulty some days. Express gratitude for your riches, but check your ego and avoid espousing that you do it all (even though you're likely are doing most of it!).
- Over-emphasize the positive qualities your son shares with other men in their lives, especially their dads. The other day Helena was upset at bedtime, owing to some scratches she acquired rolling down a hill. Lucas got out of bed, fetched her favorite Jessie doll and quietly brought it to his big sister. “You are such a sweet and thoughtful boy,” I said to him. “You know who else is sweet like that? Daddy.”
- Date. Not every week or every day, if you don't want to. But make it clear to your son that a man, a romantic partner is an important part of a family. I don't have one right now but I want one. It is important. Even if you are not yet ready to date, or burnt out on dating, let your kids know you believe life would improve with the right guy in your lives — all your lives.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.