As one of three girls, I always wanted a son. What I didn't imagine was that I'd be raising him as a single mom. While there have been challenges (I consider the biggest of these to be the hours I've had to play Power Rangers, trumped only perhaps by the frequency with which I've had to mop the bathroom floor, so really, not that bad!) these have been far outweighed by the lessons it has taught me. The biggest and most interesting surprise has been about feminism.
Am I a feminist? If you see that word to mean, as I do, simply believing that men and women are equal, that they should be treated equally and given equal opportunities, then I am as much a feminist as I am a mother, a woman, a writer. Am I bringing up my son to be a feminist? This seemed like a much murkier question. But should it be? If we are to uphold my initial definition of feminism to mean standing for equality between the sexes then why should bringing up your son to be a feminist be any different to doing the same for your daughter?
And progress definitely seems to have been made, at least in our household. When I explained the definition, he was bewildered as to why these things should even be a 'thing'.
Truth be told, I never consciously decided to bring my son up as a feminist, but it seems I've done it naturally. And for what it's worth, I think this is how:
I've tried to respect and get involved in his boyish interests whilst at the same time introducing him to my perhaps more traditionally feminine ones. He loves to go for a coffee and a chat and loves a rom-com more than I do.
He sees how I work, earn the money to support us both, look after the house, parent him and have a social life. He sees his father do the same. The message I want to convey is that there are no gender roles, both men and women can do it all.
I try to grow his emotional intelligence and teach him to value it highly. When he reached an age where he understood the concept of dating, I kept all the details of my dating life from him. I thought that unless I knew that a man I was dating was going to be a permanent fixture in his life, it would be damaging for him. All this changed when I had gone on a few dates with one particular man—my son told me he felt 'betrayed' and 'left out' that I'd never talked to him about dating.
It taught me that it's not just okay, but healthy for him to be involved in the conversation and the journey. So now he will ask 'how did the date go?" and I will tell him, "He was a nice person but just not the right person for me." He probably has a more nuanced idea about relationships than most boys his age, but I hope it stands him in good stead when he starts dating.
Both his father and I have always had friends of the opposite sex but most importantly, we're friends. Research shows that boys who have girls as friends and vice-versa are less likely to see women as sexual conquests. Our son sees us showing platonic affection to one another. I hope this teaches him that sexual and romantic relationships with the opposite sex are not the only ones of value and that mutual respect and companionship are just, as if not more important.
He has—as many sons of single moms seem to do—a lot of pride in my accomplishments. I try to encourage him to see other girls and women in that way, too.
After writing this piece, I discussed with my 14-year-old son what a feminist was because it is, whether we like it or not, a loaded word that means different things to different people. I wanted to know if he thought I was teaching him what I thought I was.
He thought about this for a second. "I think you are bringing me up to respect all people. It doesn't matter if they're a man, a woman, or a child; if they're rich or poor (his words!) I just know to be kind and respectful to all humans," and that's the biggest compliment I could ever hope for.