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Editor’s note: This is the second in a four-part series about teens, sex, and social media. Read the entire series here



When we say, “boys will be boys,” what are we actually talking about?

That phrase, repeated on the playground when your toddler throws sand in his buddy’s face, or when your tween son discovers online porn, is a lazy excuse. What’s more: it’s harmful. It reinforces a set of low-standard stereotypes that perpetuate dangerously misogynistic values and cause our sons to be ill-equipped for the full human experience.

The truth is, boys will be the boys we teach them to be. 

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One of the most important challenges we face as parents is to dismantle traditional notions of masculinity. We need to encourage our sons to experience and express a broad range of emotions, and to seek out loving partners and close friends. 

And as it turns out, that’s what they want.

A 2009 survey conducted by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that 95% of respondents (1,200 boys, ages 15-22) would rather have sex with a girlfriend or someone he loves than with “a random girl.”

For the purposes of this discussion, can we just call that every boy? And can we let that sink in for a moment?

Your son would rather have sex with a girlfriend than with some random girl, which is the exact opposite of the common stereotype of teenage boys. Most sex ed curricula in the U.S. teach to the negative stereotype, talking to boys about erections and ejaculations instead of love and intimacy.

Our culture consistently fails to give boys the credit they deserve when it comes to love, sex, and relationships. We normalize behaviors and attitudes that are not, in fact, the norm. 

Illustration: Katrina Weigand

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If all these boys are longing for intimate relationships, why aren’t they talking about it? Why don’t we know about this?

The answer, says Amy Schalet, associate professor of sociology at The University of Massachusetts, Amherst, may lie with our cultural tendency to “dichotomize… We put all the love side of things on the girls and the lust side on boys.” 

This, in turn, informs a lifetime of education — formal and informal, conscious and unconscious – that leads our boys to internalize a fairly specific set of expectations; expectations that I would argue are actually limitations, and can have a dramatic impact on how your son carries himself in relationships and online.

Schalet, whose book, “Not Under My Roof: Parents, Teens, and the Culture of Sex,” explores differences between American and Dutch attitudes towards adolescent sexuality, explains that American parents tend to let sex “become a wedge in (parent-child) relationships that are often quite close, up until puberty.”

Conversely, if you’re “able to maintain that connectedness with your child,” – by remaining open and compassionate – “through this phase, then you can also have more influence and more control, ultimately,” says Schalet.

Say This, Not That 

There are several things you can do to counteract this pervasive programming. After all, the ways in which our children will perceive the world begin at the very beginning – with what we present to them as truths.

To that end, here are three of the most glaringly harmful yet incredibly common ideas we pass on to our sons about sex, sexuality, and generally how to be a boy, followed by a healthier alternative to each.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint, friends. So if you’re consciously implementing the healthier options and not seeing instant results (i.e. a son who wants to hear your thoughts on his latest girlfriend), have faith that your efforts will have an impact in the long run.

1 | Harmful: Be the aggressor.

This lesson is often delivered insidiously by way of these four words: “Act like a man.” Its analog stereotype would be the harmful message relayed to girls to be demure and submissive.

Professor Schalet says “there is research showing that men are more likely to embrace rigid stereotypes and masculinity beliefs,” and that boys who do buy into the rigid norms are affected negatively “in terms of their own sexual health.”

The notion that boys are supposed to be the dominant force in sexual situations is bolstered by the porn industry.

This matters because, as I wrote in my first piece in this series, boys are increasingly turning to porn as their de facto source of sex ed. The behaviors and attitudes learned in this sphere can eventually leak into decisions your son is making in his interpersonal relationships and, perhaps more easily with the option of anonymity, into his online behavior (pressuring girls for nude photos or sharing photos without consent, for example).

Helpful:  Be the lover.

Illustration: Katrina Weigand

Boys are naturally loving, as humans are naturally loving. We’re born craving touch and intimacy. How terribly sad is it, then, that we teach against this instinct when we pressure boys to “toughen up.”

Teach your son (nephew/grandson/friend’s son) that it is okay to want love. Schalet discovered in her research that many boys don’t know that, like them, their peers are longing for intimate relationships, too. “This is true across socioeconomics, across racial differences. There is a relational interest. Yet, (boys) don’t realize this is normal. They don’t realize that other boys feel this way,” she says.

Let your son know from the earliest stage possible that all boys want to have close friends and, eventually, loving romantic partners. We have to get this message out to our sons, because it’s not the one they’re hearing from their peers, pop culture, mainstream media, or even their sex ed class at school.

And not for nothing, when it comes to sex, being a lover means paying attention to the needs of your partner. It means empathy.

Spell out, in no uncertain terms, that girls have physical desires and preferences, too. (Imagine if your son could be the partner who helps a young girl realize this?) Boys should be encouraged to ask questions and to explore the sexual realm with their partner, and to take responsibility for doing so with at least one contraceptive measure in place.

2 | Harmful: Anger is okay. Sadness is not.

Boys are told in a multitude of ways that certain emotions are coded as feminine or “girly” and should be avoided at all costs, lest your manliness be questioned. So when a relationship ends, or in the case of unrequited love, boys are compelled to express their sadness as anger or hatred. They might even be driven to extreme lengths, such as revenge porn.

None of these behaviors should be excused, but parents must work to understand that everything is connected. When you told your kid to “man up” on the football field, he internalized that and will apply the message to almost any situation that feels painful. Break-ups are painful. Rejection is painful.

Helpful: Love hurts.

Tell your son that loss is sometimes part of loving someone, says Schalet. “And that it’s also part of the human experience. You’re allowed to be sad when something ends that you wanted to have continue,” she offers.

This message is helpful on multiple fronts. First, it validates the feelings your son was experiencing to begin with – feelings of young love that adults are so quick to dismiss. Schalet found that Dutch parents are much more open to the idea that their teens have been or are in love with their respective partners.

“It’s not that (Dutch parents) believe that the feelings that a 12-year-old has are the same as the feelings that a 30-year-old has, but they still recognize that, even at very early ages, people can be deeply moved by other people and attracted to them and care about them.”

“What is to be gained by saying that’s not love?” Schalet questions.

What, indeed. Certainly not your child’s trust. People at every age, of every sex, just want their feelings to be validated.

Secondly, allowing your son to experience and express the full range of emotions when it comes to young love helps reinforce the idea that the girl is worthy of his sadness. This supports the notion that women are to be respected, even when things don’t turn out the way you hoped, and never violated.

3 | Harmful: Girls prefer the strong, silent type.

The strong, silent guy is just a boy who never learned how to communicate. And who can blame him? He was told early on, in one way or another, that boys don’t do the talking thing so much. Boys hang out in man caves and silently play video games. Boys grunt while girls chatter on endlessly about nothing at all.

“American parents normalize that boys don’t want to talk. That may or may not be true, but how do you respond to it?” asks Schalet.

Helpful: Let’s talk… often.

While it’s completely fair to expect that your son may not always want to chat with you about the events of his day or his current relationship status, you don’t have to accept it. Schalet spoke to one Dutch mom who sits down next to her teen son’s bed every evening and asks about his day. The conversation may be one-sided at times, but she follows through with the ritual regardless.

Schalet suggests asking questions like these:

  • Is there anyone special in your life these days?
  • Are there examples of people you see dating where you really feel it’s working out?
  • What do you see as some of the problems couples are having?
  • Have you ever been in love?

Relating with your teen son on this level, about love and relationships instead of just the classic “Sex Talk,” provides him with a forum in which to practice his own communication skills. Schalet says research has shown that “girls get to practice being intimate very early because their friendships tend to take on a more talking, sharing quality.”

Most friendships between young boys, on the other hand, are centered around activities.

“What that means, and this is really fascinating, is that boys often enter into romantic relationships less skilled at doing the kinds of things that they are just as eager to do,” but haven’t had as much practice as their female counterparts, she explains.

You can be the best sex ed teacher

I believe that when we all decided to become parents, we entered into an implicit agreement that we would do our best to improve the world by raising good people.

Will changing the way you talk to your son about sex, love, and relationships actually change the world? I don’t know. But in a culture that is still heavily male-dominated, it’s a damn good place to start.

More importantly, your son needs this. He may not be able to express to you how badly he wants your guidance, but in that National Campaign survey, 61% of 15-18-year-old boys said that their parents had “a lot/some” influence regarding their decisions about sex.

Having the one Big Talk doesn’t work. Yes, you still need to tell him about birth control and sexually transmitted infections and why he gets a boner. You also need to talk to him about respecting people, opening himself to love, and being responsible in his online interactions. You should tell him that you understand the impulse behind sexting, but that it’s not the best, most legal way for him to explore those desires.

And all of this should be spread out over the course of your boy’s childhood and adolescence, not thrust upon him the day he announces he’s got a girlfriend.

If this feels like a big ask, I get it. But you’ve already got a lot of the information you need. You know about sex. If your own sexual health isn’t where you’d like it to be, all the better. Take this opportunity to educate yourself and your partner, then share your knowledge with your son when it’s appropriate.

It’ll be one of the best time investments you’ll ever make, and it will go a long way toward holding up your end of that parent agreement.

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When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.


While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.

$69.95

Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).

$79.95

Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.

$135.00

Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!

$79.95

Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.

$69.95

Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!

$50.00

Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.

$29.95

Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!

$9.95

Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.

$79.95

Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.

$59.95

Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.

$98.00

Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.

$39.95

Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!

$165.00

Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.

$59.95

This article was sponsored by GAP. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and Mamas.

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There's a lot of discussion about the importance of early education—but what about soft skills like respect and kindness? How can mamas teach children important values like cooperation, gratitude, empathy or politeness?

These values are basic, foundational beliefs that help us know right from wrong, that give balance and meaning to life and that enable us to form community bonds with one another. These soft skills are crucial for kids to learn at any age, and it's important for them to be reinforced, both in the classroom and at home, throughout their childhood.

Here are fundamental ways to build character in your young children:

Kindness

Performing random acts of kindness can have a positive influence on both the individual showing and receiving the kindness. As a family, think of ways that each one of you can show kindness to others. Some ideas may include baking cookies for the mail carrier, donating an unopened toy to a local charity, purchasing canned goods for a homeless shelter or leaving notes and drawings for the neighbors. Include your child in the process so they can see firsthand the joy that kindness can bring to others.

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Responsibility

Children have a strong desire to mimic adult family members. Encourage your child to help complete simple chores in and around the house. Children feel a great sense of accomplishment when they can do their share and feel that sense of responsibility. Two-year-olds will enjoy folding towels, putting books away, putting paper in the recycling box and tending to the garden. Older children may enjoy helping out in the kitchen or with yard work.

Patience

Patience is the ability to demonstrate self-control while waiting for an event to occur. It also refers to the ability to remain calm in the face of frustration. This is a skill which develops in children as they mature. While it is important to practice patience, adults should also be realistic in their expectations, evaluate daily routines and eliminate long periods of wait time from the schedule.

Politeness

Schedule a time when the whole family can sit down together for dinner. Model good manners and encourage older siblings and other members of the family to do the same. Use phrases such as, "Can you please pass the potatoes?" or "Thank you." Be sure to provide your child with guidance, by explaining what to do as opposed to what not to do.

Flexibility

Change your routines at home to encourage children to be flexible in their thinking and to try new things. Try being flexible in the small things: enjoy breakfast for dinner, eat ice cream with a fork, have your child read a bedtime story to you or have a picnic in the living room. Let your child know it is okay to do things in a different way.

Empathy

Children are beginning to understand different emotions and that others have feelings. Throughout their childhood, talk about their feelings and share one's own feeling with them as well. By taking the time to listen to how children are feeling, you will demonstrate to them that you care and reinforce with them that you fully understand how they are feeling.

Cooperation

Coordinate playdates or take your children to events where they can practice introducing themselves to other children, and potentially with adults. Find games and other activities that require turn-taking and sharing.

Gratitude

Encourage your child to spend five minutes every day listing the things they are grateful for. This could be done together just before bedtime or after dinner.

Respect

As parents, our goal is to teach children to recognize that even though people have different likes and dislikes or beliefs and ideas, they must treat each other with manners and positivity. Respect should be shown when sharing, cleaning up, and listening to others. Always teach and model the Golden Rule: treat others the way you would like to be treated. Also remind children that respect can be shown towards things in the classroom. Treating materials and toys correctly shows appreciation for the things we have.
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Medical researchers and providers consider a woman's postpartum period to be up to 12 months after the delivery of baby, but too often, health insurance doesn't see it the same way. Nearly half of the births in the United States are covered by Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and while the babies who are born during these births are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP for a year, their mothers often lose their coverage 60 days after delivering their child. There is clear data showing 70% of new moms will have at least one health complication within a year of giving birth.

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This week, members of Congress' Subcommittee on Health met to mark up H.R. 4996, the "Helping Medicaid Offer Maternity Services (MOMS) Act of 2019, and it was favorably forwarded to the full Committee.

What does this mean? It means that while this bill still has a ways to go before it potentially becomes law, its success would see states get the option to provide 12 months of continuous coverage postpartum coverage to mothers on Medicaid. This would save lives.

As we at Motherly have said many times, it takes a considerable amount of time and energy to heal from birth. A mother may not be healed 60 days out from delivering. She may still require medical care for perinatal mood disorders, breast issues like thrush and mastitis, diabetes, and the consequences of traumatic births, like severe vaginal tearing.

Cutting off Medicaid when her baby is only 2 months old makes mom and baby vulnerable, and the Helping Moms Act could protect families from dire consequences.

The United States has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the developed world, and according to the CDC, "about 700 women die each year in the United States as a result of pregnancy or delivery complications." This is not okay, and while H.R. 4996 is not yet signed into law this bill could help change this. It could help address the racial disparities that see so many Black mothers and Native American mothers dying from preventable causes in the first year of motherhood.

A report from nine American maternal mortality review committees found that there were three leading causes of death that occurred between 43 days and one year postpartum: cardiomyopathy (32.4%), mental health conditions (16.2%), and embolism (10.8%) and multiple state maternal mortality review committees have recommended extending Medicaid coverage to one year postpartum in order to prevent these deaths.

Basically, making sure that moms have have continuous access to health care the year after a birth means doctors can spot issues with things like depression, heart disease and high blood pressure at regular check-ups and treat these conditions before they become fatal.

The Helping Moms Act is a step forward in the fight for maternal health and it proves that maternal health is truly a bipartisan issue. Republicans and Democrats alike recognize the value in providing support for mothers during the postpartum period.

The Helping MOMS Act was was introduced by Democratic Congresswoman Robin Kelly of Illinois, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust. It was co-lead by Texas Republican Michael Burgess (who is also a medical doctor), as well as Georgia Republican Buddy Carter, Washington Republicans Jaime Herrera Beutler and Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Ayanna Pressley from Massachusettes and Lauren Underwood of Illinois (both Democrats).

"Incentivizing postpartum Medicaid expansion is a critical first step in preventing maternal deaths by ensuring new moms can see their doctor. I'm proud that my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, came together to put an end to the sad reality of American moms dying while growing their families," said Kelly. "We can't allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. This is a good, bipartisan first step, but it must be the first of many."

It doesn't matter what your political stripes, reducing America's maternal mortality stats should be a priority.

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Whether you're having a low-key Friendsgiving with your closest friends or prepping to host your first big Thanksgiving dinner with both families, figuring out all of the menu details can be the most overwhelming step. How much should I cook? What ingredients do I need? How does one actually cook a turkey this big?

But, don't worry, mama—HelloFresh is lending a helping hand this year with their Thanksgiving box in collaboration with Jessica Alba. Because you already have enough on your plate (and we're not talking stuffing).


Here are the details. You can choose from two Thanksgiving boxes: Turkey ($152) or beef tenderloin ($132). The turkey box serves 8-10 people while the beef one will serve 4-6 and both are $6.99 to ship. We got to try both and they're equally delicious so you can't go wrong with either one, but the turkey does require a 4-day thaw period so keep that in mind. And if you're wondering what the sides are, here's a sneak peek:

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  • Garlic mashed potatoes
  • Green bean casserole with crispy onions
  • Ciabatta stuffing with chick sausage and cranberries
  • Cranberry sauce with orange, ginger and cinnamon
  • Apple ginger crisp with cinnamon pecan crumble

While someone still has to do the actual cooking, it's designed to take the stress out of Thanksgiving dinner so you can focus on spending time with your loved ones (or watching Hallmark Christmas movies). You don't have to worry about grocery shopping, portion sizes, recipe curation or forgetting that essential thing you needed to make the meal perfect. Everything is super simple to make from start to finish—it even comes with a cooking timeline.

Orders are open through November 21 and can be delivered anytime through November 24. Even better? You don't need a subscription to order.


ORDER A BOX

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My mother's death propelled me to start the process of becoming a parent as a 43-year-old single woman. As my connection to her remained strong in spirit after her death, I was ready to experience the same bond with my own child. I began the journey with Intra Uterine Insemination (IUI), and after three failed attempts at getting pregnant, I decided to adopt.

The adoption process is a lengthy and humbling one—one that includes fingerprints, background checks, references, classes, doing a profile of yourself and your life that birth parents eventually use to choose adoptive families.

After my application was approved, a young couple chose me just a month later. I couldn't believe my fortune. But I had to get to work and prepare the house for my baby's arrival. I bought the best of everything—bassinets, clothes, diapers, car seats… the list goes on. I told close friends and family that it was finally happening.

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But all of this was in vain. The day I was supposed to pick my daughter up, I learned that the birth parents had changed their minds. They no longer wanted to give their daughter up for adoption. As time passed, it was difficult to endure no interest from potential parents but the faith in believing what is meant to be continued. To increase my potential, I enrolled with a second adoption agency.

A few months later, as I was getting ready to try IVF for the first time, I received a phone call to let me know that a woman had selected me to adopt her child. So I opted out of IVF and found myself in a hospital delivery room with the birth mother, assisting her in the delivery of MY child. It was a boy! I was so thrilled, and he was just adorable.

After six years of losses and disappointments, I was able to bring him home and awaited the final word that the mother and father have given the needed consent. I was getting ready to watch the Super Bowl with him dressed in football gear, I got a phone call.

Once again, the adoption agency informed me that the birth mother had changed her mind. That evening, I had to return the baby to his birth mom. I was heartbroken, and my hopes were shattered.

What now? Going back to IVF meant starting from scratch, and that would take a minimum of six months before being able to really start getting pregnant. I was 49 years old, and the clock was ticking. I really wanted to be a mom by the age of 50.

I was in Chicago, recovering from a collapsed lung, when I received yet another phone call from the adoption agency. An expecting mom had chosen me and had already signed over all of her rights. This little girl was mine. For real, this time. But I had to get to Southern New Jersey by Thursday to pick her up from the hospital.

After negotiating with my doctor to give me the green light to leave while recovering from my condition, I hopped on a train, and 22 hours later, I arrived to New York City in a massive snow storm. I took longer than expected to get to her, but after navigating the icy roads of New Jersey, I met my daughter!

She is now 2 years old, and she has changed my life in ways that just can't be fully described. What I can say is that I now understand my mother's love even more and her devotion to me and my siblings, and as I am sharing the same with my daughter, my bond to my mother keeps on growing.

Becoming a mom at 49 was never what I had envisioned. But whether you are trying to conceive or have decided to adopt a child, the road to becoming a parent is rarely easy. I know that inner strength and believing in what was meant to be kept me moving forward.

Life
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