The relationship between mothers and sons in our community sparks many interesting and varied debates in my social circle. It is no surprise that Tamil mothers spoil their sons to no end and hold on to the traditional gender roles defined by Tamil society (and elsewhere).
For the vast majority, this was the case in previous generations. For many women in my generation who never co-habited with their spouses prior to marriage, a few days of living together is all it takes to snap out of post-marital bliss.
I feel a huge sense of responsibility to raise my son “right”. I do not feel any more or less of a responsibility for my daughter, and I strive to raise both of them to be good human beings. However, there is an identified gap in our community with regards to the way mothers raise their sons. I know this exists in many other communities as well.
As the first female role models in our sons’ lives, we should play an active role in shaping their perceptions about life and women. Leading by example is better than trying to “train” them to be a certain way. You don’t have to be a feminist to see the gender disparity in our patriarchal Tamil community. As parents, we have the unique opportunity to shape our next generation.
Although the list below is by no means exhaustive, here are some things that I hope to teach my son:
- Be respectful: Teach him to look past people’s differences and respect everyone. Good manners build character. It will also help build positive relationships. You cannot say “Please” and “Thank you” enough times.
- Be independent in the kitchen: Teach him general life skills but also teach him to cook and clean and be self-sufficient. He might move out or he may choose to live with you until he gets married. Whatever the case, these skills should not be neglected in hopes that his future wife will fulfill them. There is a common notion in our community that men do not need to learn these skills. I hope that is slowly changing as more women are engaging their sons in the kitchen.
- Express feelings: Teach him that he is not less of a man for expressing his feelings. Tamil men do not typically talk about how they “feel”. If we teach boys to not be ashamed of expressing their feelings they will grow up to be empathetic men who will also understand the feelings of others.
- How to treat a woman: Much of this is learned behaviour from family and the community. Boys who learn to treat peers of the opposite sex with respect will grow up to treat the women in their lives the same way. As the first and foremost woman in his life, you can use everyday moments as learning opportunities. Teach him not to mistreat women and to respect her body. Be comfortable in your own body and teach him that women come in all sizes. Most importantly teach him that beauty is not defined by skin colour.
- Consent: Yes, this conversation should happen with daughters too; yes it is essentially about sex and intimacy; however, it doesn’t have to wait until they are teenagers. Teach him that "NO" matters. Teach him that it is also OK for him to say no to situations that make him uncomfortable so he knows that his opinions are valued and that he too can learn about boundaries. For instance, don’t force him to hug someone because you think it’s the nice thing to do, even if it is family members or relatives.
- Take responsibility for actions: Teaching accountability at a young age will have a lasting effect on him. Tell him that it is OK to make mistakes, but he should acknowledge them and learn from them. Real strength is not in the physical capacity; it is the ability to understand your weaknesses and constantly strive to improve.
- Build positive relationships: Teach him that developing positive relationships with those around him will contribute more to his happiness than simply acquiring material things. Help him build trusting relationships from a young age so that he can learn to develop positive relationships with his friends, his boss, with his wife and with his kids.
- Be kind: Teach him to be caring and kind towards others. It goes hand-in-hand with being empathetic. These qualities will help him build positive relationships and also help him feel good about himself. The world can always use more kindness.
Image credits: http://bestfamilytraditions.com