or, how raising a boy taught me what I deserve
One of the Lakota values is pure and simple love. In some languages there are as many words for “love” as the Inuit have for “snow” and the Hopi have for “sand.” Because there are just so. Many. Kinds. of love.
I would like to be all lover, but I’m not. I’m half warrior. As in all things in life, there is a time to love and a time to fight. I like to keep those spaces discrete. Keep fighting in the ring, or the world—as need be. And keep loving in my home, in my close relationships, but sometimes also in the world—as need be. Sometimes we give our fight love, and others, we fight for love. Both are necessary. Both are difficult.
I have been single a long time, punctuated by some incredible romances, one marriage that didn’t work, and a few men that fell in between. Now, I have an incredible, beautiful child. A Boy. An insightful, curious, imaginative, intellectual, deep, mixed Boy who started talking about the same time the #MeToo movement was born. A few weeks ago, we were walking along and he said, “mama, what’s the easiest thing to do?” I’m his mother; he is my baby who I grew, carried and birthed. And there is nothing more innate, more hard-wired in humanity than the need, survival need, to connect. So, I said, “to love!” He replied,
“Oh, no, mama! Loving is HARD!”
Not for nothing, the kid is right. There is nothing more hard-wired than loving. But there is also nothing more difficult.
I’ve dated a few men in the last few years, most have children, all were black. One of the things we talked about was how I’m raising my white-black-red son, and how I’m preparing him for the world. How do I give him love, and what kind of love at home prepares him for the world? And that’s a big question, because I have a lot of responsibility on my plate to prepare a brown child for a world full of cops and neo-Nazis, but also to have relationships with women (if he’s hetero) that will be mutually supportive and healthy.
I feel pretty strongly that as his mother, I set the tone for all of his relationships with women. I would like him to feel safer, freer, and unbound by the toxic masculinity that makes messes of love in so many forms for so many, and has for at least 10,000 years. I want him to have all his feelings, not only anger. And I want him to feel free to express them with me so that when he goes on to have intimate relationships, he will feel safe and secure to share his inner world with the people he loves, or wants to love. If he cannot, intimacy will be hard to achieve, and that is a lonely life. Emotional, psychological intimacy and trust are bound up in one another. And they should support each other. This requires vulnerability. So, he is safe to be vulnerable with me, and explore whatever he feels vulnerable about. If not, his shadow can grow and become a demon that he will not be able to love and therefore live with.
Too many of the men I have dated, have wanted me to be tougher on him, some called it “tough love,” others called it “preparing him for the world,” yet it was never because he didn’t respect me, do what I asked, behave well, or had somehow gone out of bounds. It was “because he’s a boy.”
I’m calling bullshit. I think this thinking is part and parcel of toxic masculinity. And I think it actually ruins our boys for the world, for the ability to know when to fight and when to love. Here’s why.
When we feel loved, we feel safe. When we feel safe, we can be who we are, take risks, explore ourselves and the world. Love makes us courageous. Love urges us forward, it powers us for the fight through self-knowledge, confidence, having safe places to explore scary thoughts, feelings, patterns, experiences. Knowing someone has our back makes us MORE willing, not less, to go out into the world for the fight… for the work… for the risk.
Letting my son be vulnerable at home while knowing he is safe and loved no matter what IS what prepares him to go into the world to be courageous and strong when he needs to be. He will know himself, he will know he is loveable, he will know his strengths and weaknesses, he will be friends with his shadow self so that his shadow doesn’t overtake him. And in that process, if I reflect some insight back to him about himself, or try to teach him something, he will know he is loved and accepted, NO MATTER what, so that he can accept that new insight, without feeling defensive or angry or unlovable. But even that, is not really my job. My job is to help him know himself. Help him know that no matter what he learns about himself, he is still loved, so that he can face his own demons. Let him know this is a place to be free. Because he is safe. When he can explore freely, he will be ready to face the demons in the world.
It was during a time when my marriage was falling apart that I realized attachment theory (children and parents) applied to intimate, romantic love relationships. If we ask for something without response long enough, we will stop asking. We will detach. Babies will die. Adults will move on. We will find another source for connection, closeness, the give and take that is love. And so have I. I ask for a safe space. I ask for love. I ask for intimacy and vulnerability in my love relationships. You will feel safe to be, to show, to explore all of yourself with me. And just having me there to do that with you, will make it possible for you to grow yourself in the way you desire. And for me: the same. Let me feel loved, safe, that I can say anything to you, show you my shadow side, show you whatever is there. Because If I can show it to you, I can face it myself, and I can also grow to become who I know I am meant to be.
When love at home makes us feel safe, we can take the risks that make us strong. We become courageous enough for the fight in the world, for the love in the world.