I never thought I’d be here. If you had suggested to my feminist twenty-something activist self that one day I would be living in a house with four penises (it was five, but the dog died last year) I would have slugged you. Or at least given you a peaceful, non-confrontational alternative perspective.
But here we are, and I’m lost in the wilderness. Perhaps if I had married a calm, bespectacled, artistic, sensitive guy I would have calm, bespectacled, artistic, sensitive kids. Instead, I live in a cross between that one scene from Braveheart and a Broadway musical (it’s hard to explain, but they like a punchy soundtrack to their boxing matches).
I fought the good fight against play violence, but I lost. We started with lightsabers, progressed through foam swords, advanced to Nerf guns, and I just found a toy knife on my son’s “army-guy” Halloween costume. This is fine if you are teaching your kids responsible self-defense techniques, but let’s be honest, my kids are using these to try and kill each other. And sometimes me. I really only have one hard and fast rule in this house: no shooting mom. (Okay, there’s two: also ‘you must wear underwear before sitting on my couch.’)
Sometimes I can laugh it all off, but other times I get a sick worry in my belly. Even my most sensitive, ballet-dancing son spins around like the Tasmanian Devil, randomly knocking people on the head. Yes, I try to instill empathy and talk about feelings. Yes, we talk about respecting other people’s bodies, consent and keeping our hands to ourselves. Yes, I have an entire bookshelf full of feminist children’s books (I bought ‘She Persisted’ the minute it showed up at Costco!) But will it ever be enough?
I know that just because my boys fight incessantly now doesn’t mean they will become violent men. I realize that they are still learning impulse control and empathy. Still, I worry.
Especially in the era of #metoo, when those of us who lived relatively safe, sheltered lives became more and more aware of what can and does happen to so many women, I worry all the time. I don’t know if it’s better or worse to be worrying about your child being a victim one day or the perpetrator. I read all these stories of abusive men, and think to myself, “You were somebody’s son. What went wrong?”
Like other aspects of parenting, though, it’s not productive to sit around and compare challenges with other moms. Every day, we have to get up and put our big girl pants on. We hope and pray that our words and actions will be just enough to form our kids into decent adult humans, despite the myriad of other influences they have at school, on television and from friends.
I’ll keep reading everything I can find on raising boys. Feel free to send me advice. But do me a favor: don’t make it sound easy. And don’t just tell me to take away the guns. I tried that already.
Suzi Iverson lives with her husband and three monsters in Washington state, where she works part-time in medicine, parents full time, never cleans her house, and writes when she can. You can read about her travels with those boys (yes, she is that brave) at Travel With Monsters or just spy on them on Instagram. Follow Travel With Monsters on Twitter and Facebook, too!