When I became a single mother, I knew it was going to be hard. I knew there would be a lot of guessing, especially since I didn’t have real parents. I knew it would be a tremendous strain on my energy, time and finances. I knew I would want to pull out my hair. I even knew it would be scary. But nothing could prepare me for my relationship with my little boy. Nothing could prepare me for the doubt, confusion and downright terror that come with raising a little boy, as a single mother, with no father-figure in his life.
I have made mistakes. I have spent much of the past seven years learning how a little boy is supposed to act. I don’t mean the societal norm that has been set for boys. I mean their innate tendencies that are so critical to their positive growth … the tendencies that society suppresses. I now understand that boys never stop moving … ever. I get that boys want to learn with their entire body and soul. I have come to realize that a full-fledged attack on my physical being is just another way of saying “I love you.” I have also learned about the male bathroom etiquette. Unfortunately, it was a little too late to avoid an embarrassing incident. I will always have a little guilt about that.
I have heard the stories about boys feeling pressure to “be the man of the house” when there is no man in the house. Before it happened to me, I assumed that other mothers were doing something to pressure those boys in to feeling that way. I am a self-described feminist. I believe that women and men are capable of anything. I have gone out of my way to show my children that I am a strong woman who can run a household financially, physically and emotionally. I don’t put pressure on my children to take on responsibilities that are beyond their years. I have always been concerned that they will be jilted out of a childhood because they don’t have a father. And I will not allow that. I have been learning to set clear boundaries, but I cannot claim perfection … just awareness.
So I was a little surprised recently when it occurred to me that my son may be acting out a felt pressure to help me run our household. It’s been going on for years, but it wasn’t obvious. Mainly, I just saw his actions as a “control thing”. He likes to have control over whatever he can. This is his nature. But I have come to realize that his constant suggestions may be his attempt to be an adult.
In some way, I believe he is trying to figure out what adults do. And part of that may be normal for his age. But I can’t help but wonder if he feels he needs to fill a role. His father left too early for him to remember the role in our household, but he sees it in other families. He sees it on television and in the movies. He knows the role exists in many homes. He may be thinking since he’s the only guy in the home, he better figure out how to fill the role.
I am a big advocate of the influence of environmental factors in raising a child. I do believe that biological factors can shift when the environment changes. I know this to be true because it has happened in my own life as I have escaped my own family environment. However, I do have to wonder about the innate traits that come with a little boy. Is there an innate biological inclination in boys to fill a masculine or protective role? Or is the societal message so strong that they feel the pressure right out of the gate?
If the societal message is creating the intense pressure on boys to be responsible for their family from an early age, then shame on us. If there is an innate tendency, we need to find a way to relieve the pressure they put on themselves, so that they don’t forget to let go and have fun.
The other day, my son told me something as fact while I was driving him to school. He was absolutely sure he was right. I explained to him that it wasn’t always true. He responded, “How was I supposed to know that, mom? I am just a kid.” I was relieved to hear it. On some level, I thought he had forgotten that he was a kid. I want him to embrace his childhood. I want him to play and build and be the physical boy he needs to be. I want him to leave the pressure of figuring everything out to the adults. I want him to worry less about the protector role that he may see as his inevitable responsibility. It is too early for that pressure. He is just a kid. I hope he can remember he is just a kid.