A couple of months ago, I wrote an article entitled, If I Had A Daughter, Would I Teach Her To Think Like A Man? in response to the recent Steve Harvey movie based on his book. The premise of the article was to address some gender disparities that exist in America.
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Once my clients, students, friends, and family read the article, I began getting more and more questions about single parenting and how effective one parent can be in raising children. From both men and women, I was confronted with an age-old question: Do you think a single woman can raise a boy to be a man?
The question typically emerged when “Little Johnny” has done something wrong in school or in the community and the mom finds herself at wits end by trying to figure out why she might be struggling to get her son to “act right.”
Typically, many parents would typically short-change herself by rationalizing her son’s behavior by saying things like “Well, I’m just a single mom,” or “As a woman, I can’t teach my son how to be a man,” or “Boys will be boys and I just don’t know what to do with him.” So, can a single mom raise a boy to be a man?
Raising a boy to be a man means teaching him responsibility. Responsibility means commitment to oneself and one’s community. It means that when a boy becomes a man, he is able to be responsible for himself and be willing to care for the people who are closest to him.
There are a few types of responsibility to consider: emotional responsibility (e.g., keeping it real about how he feels rather than not saying anything); physical responsibility (e.g., making good decisions about what to do). Teaching boys to be responsible is NOT gender specific and does not require a man to be around to teach it.
Similar to responsibility, raising a boy to be a man means teaching him how to be independent. We have too many grown men who live with their mom and rely on them for food, water, shelter and clothing. All of us have a brother, cousin, or friend who lives at home with his mother because he is afraid of striking out on his own. Moms can teach independence to their boys by responsibly allowing their sons to explore their environment. The key word above is “responsibly” meaning that moms should take into account her son’s age and maturity when it comes to learning about what’s around him.
Allowing her son to be positively rewarded and sometimes failing can instill a sense of confidence for boys. Holding him back by manipulation to suit her own emotional and social needs keeps many boys from becoming strong and independent men.
Being responsible and independent also serve as substrates for being assertive. Many, if not all boys, are taught to fight for themselves or fight when they are disrespected. It does not take a man to teach a boy how or when to fight. Moms can teach their sons to advocate and make good decisions for themselves.
Whoopin’ someone’s ass to get a point across or cursing someone out may seem great in the moment, but does it really solve anything? Moms can help their sons by helping him consider alternative solutions when he gets angry, frustrated, or annoyed. Boys can model their mother’s pro-social behavior and have discussions about what is the right/best thing to do.
Single moms and dads have so much power and influence when it comes to affecting their child’s decisions. Encouraging boys to feel positive about themselves, their families, and their communities can enable them to become productive men for tomorrow.
Dr. James Wadley is an Associate Professor and Director of the Master of Human Services Program at Lincoln University. He’s a licensed professional counselor and marriage, family, and sexuality therapist in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The author of “The Lost and Found Box” can also be