Raising Boys While White
I’ve been absent for a long time, while I moved from Oklahoma to Florida. I wanted to come back in a fun, catching-up way, but here we are.
I am raising three boys and they are white. When I see the pictures from Charlottesville, I think, someone raised those white men from boys. What went wrong? Am I doing everything in my power to raise mine differently?
The blame is not wholly with the families/parents of those men. They are grown and have made their own decisions. Mine will be grown and make their own decisions in too few years. I cannot control who they become. All I can do is teach them everything I know to be true.
To be clear, my boys are just…boys. They eat a lot. They enjoy computers and laughter. They sometimes cry and sometimes rail at the void. They love fiercely. They question and seek and forget and remember.
Since they were itty bitty, we have taught them about no. That no means no the first time every time. That they have a right to say no to any interference of their body or mind, and we will stop – tickling, hugging, whatever. They are expected to hear and heed a no from others whether the no is said verbally or nonverbally through winces, screams, tears, deflection, shaking the head, whatever. This has not been a one-time lesson and it still isn’t. They tussle. They annoy. We say, no means no. We remind them. We teach them. We role play.
With any subject, once is not enough. Sex. Critical thinking. Respect. Math. Cooking. Grammar. Love. Once is never enough.
I miss the days when I would gently explain that every person has a Secret Code, one that cannot be overridden, one that is theirs alone. I miss it being enough to explain that every Secret Code is sacred and therefore every person is to be honored. I miss DNA being shorthand for differences: skin tone, body structure, hair, and so on.
They are too old for The Secret Code to inspire much awe, and our conversations surrounding race and bodily capacities and internal views and external views – they grow and morph as is necessary. I wish it were easier. I wish it were simple. I wish it were one-and-done. I wish I could embue them with goodness greater than mine all on my own.
But that’s not the goal. That would be the shortcut. No, the goal is to help them build goodness within themselves and recognize it in others.
Last night I taught them more about Nazis. I showed them the Nazi salute. I told them about Charlottesville. I answered their questions. I hated it, but I cannot put them, unawares, on a school bus today learning about all this from their peers or watching news reports with hot takes. They deserve to be taught what racism is as much as what it isn’t. They need to know how much hate a hand gesture can communicate and what to do if they see it. They need to be 100% clear on mine and Husband’s position that Nazis are doing life wrong, that racism is to be reduced rather than glorified.
I cannot stop their whiteness any more than I can stop my own. I wouldn’t want to rewrite our Secret Code. And that’s not the answer even if I could. The answer – my response, anyway – is to teach them how to inhabit who they are in a way that honors who the people they encounter are.
A few years ago, our family saw a therapist, mostly to help us reengage after the worst phase of my conversion disorder. He asked what our family rules were. No one knew. I sat astounded. I had thought the rules were clear. I had thought the rules were communicated and understood. It wasn’t exactly anarchy at our home. But my kids couldn’t articulate our family’s rules. That sent me on a journey to put words to what our family believes, what we expect from one another, and what we value.
Husband and I share a biblical worldview, so our rules and values have roots in our faith. Eldest, Middling, and Third have learned and continue to learn that the values are ours – mine and Husband’s. We’d love for the boys to share our values. But at the end of it all, they each must determine what they value. Our values exist to put them on notice what we find unacceptable. Still, we’ve asked them to consider the values a roadmap, a way of figuring out the terrain in their own lives.
Each summer I revise and clarify and repackage rules because the kids are older and can comprehend a higher level. I do the same with the values because we evolve and find new and better ways to express them. Often, the newer inclusions are more wordy because we’re still defining them to our boys.
I’m sharing the ones I just revised a week ago, NOT because they are perfect but because they are a start. Maybe they are a start you need. A roadmap to clarifying your own rules and expectations and values. Lots of people talk about ‘our values’ or ‘family values’ or ‘community values’ or ‘organization values’ – how many can list what those are? Ask your kids, what are our house rules? Or, what does our family value? Or, what does being a member of our family mean?
If they cannot say, it may be that they cannot articulate what they feel to be true. It may be that the rules and values haven’t been consistent or clear. It’s nothing to get mad about but an opportunity to capture your family’s not-so-secret code of living.
As a mom, I often feel my primary mission is to parent in a way that produces good humans. These small people are my sphere of influence in current, tangible, and lasting ways. Teaching my own kids and sharing that with you is not the only response – or my only response – to Charlottesville, not by a long way. It is one mom trying to reach out to other parents who all want the same thing: to raise good humans doing good in the world.