Raising Emotionally Articulate Boys

13 / 09 / 2012

Catherine Deveny has been busy of late, featuring in the recent SBS series Go Back to Where you Came From, and appearing on ABC Television’s Q&A program this week. She’s also preparing to have her first novel ‘The Happiness Show’ released in November.

In this piece for Sheilas, Deveny looks at the processes involved in raising emotionally articulate boys – a topic she’s quite an expert on, with three sons of her own. 

Living in an all male household has its ups and its downs. Upside? You feel like a princess. Downside? Your toilet smells like an animal enclosure. And I’m getting a t-shirt printed that says, “Where have you looked?”

With three boys and a trampoline the most important thing I’ve learnt is to call an ambulance when I hear the words, “Watch this, guys.”

I assumed I’d have two girls first because my mum, aunts, grandmothers and great grandmothers all had. And I liked the idea. The men in my family were generally creeps, messers??? and/or narcissists. The women were not all fabulous but at least they could communicate.

I have three sons. The ‘Mother of Men’ one friend calls me. Another: “The Boy Factory.” And I’m thrilled and relieved. I think I’m a much better mother to boys.

One the main reasons I’m a feminist is because I love men and boys – and always have. I hate the prescribed ways they’re expected to live, love and be.

Someone asked me what attracted me to my partner. I said ‘his manliness’ – and his total lack of machismo. His complete comfort in his own skin.

It has always been incredibly important to raise my children that way to be emotionally literate.

It’s probably the same with girls, but I have boys and I’ve been hell bent on encouraging men who don’t switch to sulking or anger when the wheels fall off. As so many do. I see many men who are just little boys in suits. They’ve  lost all connection with their partner, their kids and themselves. They are emotionally trellised, bonsaised and foot bound.

I want to show my boys a better way. Whether they choose it is up to them.

I acknowledge their emotions – ‘Okay I can see you’re not in a good place’. I ask them how they feel. That sometimes you don’t know why you feel rotten. That’s cool. What’s not is ignoring it or causing emotional pollution.

I say ‘All emotions are valid. Emotions change. Feelings are not fact. This is just how it is now. It’s important to listen to your emotions and deal with them but also not to emotionally pollute the areas of others. Can you remember feeling like this before? What helped you then?’

I suggest things that may help them and things that help me. If their brothers are there, I ask for suggestions.

I ‘m open about my own emotions. I say “I am really sorry for being so grumpy this morning – I didn’t sleep well, am stressed about work, I’m pre-menstrual “. I also say sorry if I treated them carelessly. I own my emotions.

‘Why am I cross?’, I ask them. It helps put them into someone else’s shoes. If a punishment is needed, I say, ‘What would you do if you were me?’  Not only are their ideas reasonable but tougher than mine! And I tell them that and we compromise.

I’ve always had MANY men caring for them for when they were babies – and now. Their dad, my boyfriend, housemates, uncles, friends. I do not want boys having a default setting that caring for anyone is ‘women’s work’.

There’s plenty of diversity around. Not only do we have plenty of GLBTQI mates but our housemate is gay, so they get to observe a gay man and his loves and heartbreaks close enough to hopefully counteract the heteronormative world around them. They also ask him heaps of questions that he is more than happy to answer. Most of the time.

I never refer to marriage, wife or girlfriend and never assume their sexuality. ‘One day when you have a wife’ they will never hear at my place. ‘One day when you have a partner’ they will.

And I took them to Slutwalk. I don’t teach them people shouldn’t dress to be raped. I teach them people shouldn’t rape.

I do not want my boys to have the soft burden of low emotional expectations.  For more information see television shows like “Don’t Tell The Bride” “ The Footy Show” or any American sitcom ever made.

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