Raise Men, Not Husbands
I don’t have children, but I’m pretty far into the stage of life when almost all my friends have kids. I love them. I adore them. I hope and pray and worry for them. My friends are often overwhelmed and bewildered by the process of raising kids, which leads to a great many of them reading and sharing articles about how to navigate the minefield of childrearing. Most of the time, I ignore it. Tonight, I one caught my eye and, quite frankly, it is a mediocre, patronizing stink-fest at best.
See, the article, 10 Tips for Raising a Son Who’ll Make a Great Husband, made me wonder. I’m single, some of my friends are still single, and we know what it’s like to try to sift through the potential list of men. I might not be raising kids directly, but I certainly have a lot of them, nephews in particular, who are influenced by my behavior. What, I wondered, are the things that will make them into the men I hope they’ll be?
I should have known better. The problem lies in the title itself: the article is not aimed at raising good men, but rather aimed at raising good husbands, as defined by the dominant cultural standard of “good.” Gahhh!
The writer chooses a fairly random list of things that sound like solutions to her top pet peeves and reinforcements for the standard definition. They made me cringe:
1. Put the seat down.
A courteous gesture, yes, but one that insists that women’s needs are superior to men’s. One of my two best friends is a man, and when we go out, it’s generally me and his male friends. I’m outnumbered, and you know what? I put the seat down myself and then lift it back up when I’m done because there are more of them. Both sexes can operate a toilet seat. If women don’t want to sit in a bare toilet rim, they can take the 0.2 seconds to look and see if the seat is down.
Instead: Teach him to be courteous to people of all genders and physical needs.
2. Notice her haircut, even when he doesn’t.
I hate that the author so quickly jumps to valuing her physical appearance, and encourages him to lie in order to reinforce her ego and boost her confidence. She basically says to not feel guilty about making him go to the salon with you because it teaches him about how much effort his wife will put into her appearance. I can hear my friend Deb wretching as she reads it.
I don’t care a whole lot about my hair. Noticing that it is a few inches shorter doesn’t impress me. However, I am really impressed that someone has asked me several times what I’m reading and how the book is going, and if someone were to notice a particularly successful recipe, I would be over the moon.
Instead: Teach him to be interested in the things that encourage others.
3. Teach him to unroll his socks.
True- and then to continue the effort of doing his own dang laundry. Or, at least, doing his share of the work around the house, no matter what that arrangement might be. As a result of a bargain made long before I was born, my father did all the laundry. In fact, as a kid, I never understood why women would ever need to know how to use a washer because laundry is “men’s work.” Major points for my parents in teaching egalitarianism on this one!
Instead: Teach him to successfully do every kind of house work so that he can help in equal measure as an adult (or do it himself if he lives alone).
4. Teach him to walk with her.
I don’t have a problem with this one, other than to say that I hope it would be metaphorical as well as literal.
5. Teach him to walk by the street so that if a car swerves onto the sidewalk, he gets hit first.
What the everblooming hell are you talking about? If a car swerves onto the sidewalk, everyone is screwed, and my nephew’s legs are no less precious than anyone else’s. What this really is is reinforcing a kind of chivalry that seems cute, but is strangely nonsensical.
Instead: Teach him to use common sense while being courteous.
6. Put gas in her car, because it’s hard to do when you have kids.
Aside from the annoying assumption that kids are automatically a factor, it again comes down to the simple act of being courteous.
7. Choose battles wisely.
I am all for this one, as long as you also teach him to not be a doormat or whipping post, and to fight the ones worth fighting.
8. Wipe your hair off the counter when you shave.
Finally, one we can all agree on.
9. Surprise her with dinner and flowers, for no reason, but don’t miss Mother’s Day.
Alright, dinner and flowers are great for some occasions and for some partners, but that doesn’t work for everyone. The over killed idea of “love languages” is pretty valid. I know one couple who, after decades of marriage, has learned that while she may appreciate a nice bunch of daisies, what really makes her know she’s loved is when he does the dishes or cleans the bathroom without provocation. Hello, how’s that for marital success!?
Instead: Teach him to communicate in ways that will mean the most to his partner.
10. Make sure “I love you” are the last words she hears at night.
I don’t dislike this one, but I’d expand it to say that I would hope his actions and words are successful in communicating love as an overall message. His partner would, I hope, be able to say, if nothing else “I know he loves me,” even if it’s a bad day or a rough patch. I would also hope that he is honest about how he feels in a healthy way. He may be mad, or happy, or grumpy, or whatever, and he shouldn’t have to keep that from his partner.
And so, dear parents, I beg you, as someone who is still looking, and on behalf of the nephews, cousins, and kids I love so dearly: do not focus on raising a good husband. Focus on raising a good person. One who is kind, courteous, respectful, and loving to everyone, and not just the one he’s sleeping with. Your sons deserve better than to be groomed for marriage. They deserve to be taught how to be good people.