In a World of Wild Beasts
Boys will be boys. And moms can still raise sons who are gentlemen – right? The day my first son was born I looked into his eyes and promised myself that I would do everything I could to raise an honorable, loving, gentleman. Now that I have 3 sons who race around the house, sending Nerf darts flying everywhere, and finding humor in the grotesque, I wonder: How will I ever raise these scallywags to be gentlemen?
What is a Gentleman?
You might envision a gentleman to be the white knight rescuing the damsel in distress and saving her from every discomfort imaginable. Those who prefer the old-school ways of raising gentlemen have high standards of behavior, including those on a list put out by Judi Vankevich (AKA The Manners Lady). Some of her top 10 ways we can raise gentlemen include:
- Gentlemen seat a Lady at the dinner table before they seat themselves. They rise when ladies excuse themselves and when they return. The gentleman takes care of the lady to his right.
- The Gentleman protects a Lady from danger. He walks on the curb side of the road as a courtesy of protection and to keep the lady from getting splashed by puddles. He also stands behind a lady on an escalator going up; and in front of her going down to protect her from falling. He walks down a dark theatre aisle first and the lady will follow.
- As mothers, we need to slow down and allow our husband to pull out your chair for us at dinner and wait a few extra seconds for him to walk around the car and get the door. Our sons are watching.
OK – I’m extremely dedicated to raising gentlemen, but I’m not so sure I want to wait at the van until my dear husband opens the door for me as he’s balancing his coffee mug in one hand and a stack of books or a computer in the other. I don’t need someone shielding me from puddles or protecting me from falling on an escalator. Perhaps it is because I am also raising a daughter who I want to be strong, independent, and capable that I don’t want her thinking that she needs a guy to lead the way.
That being said – I also believe that men and women are different. Women do have different needs, and I do want to raise sons to acknowledge and respect those. In our home we define gentlemen a little differently, and want our sons to:
- Be honorable in their actions
- Have integrity with their words
- Be filled with self-discipline
- Never strike someone, especially a woman
- Be dignified and honorable in regards to intimacy and sex
- Guard the honor of women (don’t be the guy who heckles the attractive woman walking down the street, but be the guy who tips his hat to her and offers to walk her to her car)
- Greet people with a smile and stand when introduced to others (and offer a handshake)
- Make eye contact
- Open doors (for women, children, the elderly, and anyone they see coming through – my kids do this and can see the small ways it makes a difference for people – they do notice)
- Offer seats to others on the subway, at gatherings, etc. (my boys are healthy young men and can afford to stand, even when they might rather sit)
- Carry things for others – it’s just the nice thing to do
How Do I Raise a Gentleman?
Many of these things we feel define gentlemen are also what we expect of our daughter, but there is something innately different about raising boys and girls. But the question still remains – how am I going to raise these boys to be gentlemen?
Set a positive example. My boys are fortunate to have a gentleman for a father, but it also means surrounding them with positive male role models. They see their grandfather, uncles, and dear friends as examples of how to live with integrity.
Talk about sex. Guys are thinking about it so parents need to be talking about it. Especially as my boys get older it is important that they learn to make healthy, respectful, and honorable decisions for intimacy – and they won’t be able to do that if we hide our embarassed parental heads in the sand.
Discuss the media. Kids are bombarded with images from the media about what it means to “be a man” – and how men should treat women. We need to clarify and flat out refuse a few of those assertions. If I’m watching a show with the boys and I see something that doesn’t reflect a gentleman’s behavior – I ask them what they think of it, and then I chime in with some advice, too.
Attack from both fronts. Both my husband and I need to reinforce our expectations – it is valuable for our boys to hear about both sides of the coin – and this includes everything from table manners to sexual intimacy.
Give him space to be a wild beast. It would be like trying to bottle a volcanic eruption to expect my boys to behave like gentlemen all of the time. We give them opportunities to be wild – testosterone filled evenings having belching contests with friends around a campfire, beaming each other with marshmallow shooters, and telling gross jokes. Outlets for guy energy are essential.
There is room inside each wild beast to behave as a gentleman – we just need to give them the tools with which to do it.