The Good Men Project

In a belated-homage to Father’s Day I am attaching an article that someone sent to me.  It’s taken word-for-word from The Good Men Project, a website with wonderful information for mothers and fathers alike:

Rules For Dads Raising Daughters 

by Marcus Williams and Joanna Schroeder

All daddies with little girls want to raise them “right”, but how the heck are they supposed to know what that means?

If you spend any time on the Internet these days, you’ll quickly learn that pithy numbered lists are the path to enlightenment. It is in that spirit that we have collaborated to develop this list of rules that are guaranteed to guide fathers in the correct way to raise their daughters. This wisdom is universal, proven, and failsafe. *

*Not really.

Marcus is raising two toddler daughters, and Joanna is a daughter (in addition to being a mother) so we feel we have at least as good a chance as anyone at enlightening others. We are colleagues and friends, and while we find we disagree on many things, one area in which we often find common ground is in raising kids.

We agreed on many of these rules, though some only made it in when the other one wasn’t looking. For the tl;dr [too long, didn’t read] demographic, here’s the list in a nutshell:

  • Joanna says dads should be girly with their daughters.
  • Marcus says dads should be manly with their daughters.
  • It’s okay to be both.
1. Tell her she’s pretty, but tell her other good things about herself more.
It’s not that telling a girl she’s pretty is bad. It’s not. The point is that it shouldn’t be the only kind of compliment she gets, so she doesn’t feel that only her appearance matters. Compliment her intelligence, her resourcefulness, her imagination, her hard work, and her strength. Don’t pretend that her looks will never matter, but teach her not to judge herself or let herself be judged only on looks.
2. Teach her that handymen don’t have to be men.
Checklist of things to teach her: routine car maintenance, how to stop a toilet from overflowing, how to set a mousetrap, how to use the fuse box, how to turn off the water main. (Marcus’s note to self — learn to maintain car, fix a toilet, use the fuse box, and find the water main.) There’s nothing wrong with needing help to get things done, but self-reliance and confidence are handy if you need to change a tire, fix a toilet, or even squish a bug without needing a rescuer to do it for you.
3. Let her play in the mud.
No need to fill their sandbox with only sugar and spice. Mix in some snips and snails and puppy dog tails, too. Be cautious, however, about giving her any nicknames like “Sugar” or “Spice” while she plays in the mud, as it could lead to some uncomfortable career choices down the road.
4. Remember that the way you talk about and treat women will have a lasting impact.
Your daughter will pick up on generalizations you make about women, whether positive or negative. Intentionally or not, you shape her identity about what it is to be a woman, and how to expect to be treated for being one. Say positive things about women without pedastalizing. If you can’t be nice, at least be respectful and steer clear of the B-word, C-word, and other words for putting down her entire gender. All this goes double for talking about her mother.
5. Teach her the correct names for her genitals, and use them matter-of-factly.
If she wants to say wee-wee, that’s fine, but make sure that as she grows up, she knows her vulva from her vagina. And whatever you do … don’t call it a front-butt.
6. Indulge her imagination.
You be the kitty, she’ll be the mommy, then she’ll be the kitty and you’ll be the baby kitty. It’s going to get boring for you, but it’s good for her. Keep doing it. Meow some more. Don’t forget to hiss.
7. Cry when the family pet dies.
You don’t have to weep if you hated the critter, but the point is to show that it’s okay for men to feel and express emotions when they come up, even hard ones like sadness and grief. Sometimes the most comforting thing you can do with a difficult emotion is to share it.
Pro tip: If she wants to schedule a memorial service for the pet you hated, try to schedule it right after you’ve watched “Brian’s Song”.
8. Teach her honesty and integrity in relationships by demonstrating them in yours.
“Honesty and integrity in relationships” doesn’t mean blind devotion. It means living a life consistent with the values you hold dear, and helping the people you love to live consistent with theirs.
Live the integrity you hope she’ll choose for herself.
9. Read her books with great heroes — both boy and girl heroes.
Books with girl heroes are harder to find, but they’re out there. You can find a lot of recommendations at A Mighty Girl. Also, make up stories on the spot –they don’t have to be perfect –starring her as the conquering hero battling the dragon or saving all the kittens in a big thunderstorm.
10. Teach her that she has power over her own body and sexuality.
From when she’s small, tell her that her body belongs to her, and she is the boss of it. As she gets older, teach her that her body isn’t to be used in the effort to win love or approval, or to manipulate others. Teach her that sex is beautiful, and that choices to have and not have sex both carry power and integrity, as long as she is true to herself.
Allow her to talk to you about sex without getting squicked, but also leave room for her to have private conversations about sex and sexuality with other people.
11. Teach her about male sexuality without fear-mongering.
It’s tempting to tell her that boys are bad, that sex is evil and that guys only want one thing …
But we know from the last 50 years of Sex Education that this tactic simply doesn’t work, and it damages both boys and girls in the process. Girls learn to fear boys and see them as one-dimensional, or they learn that their parents have been lying all along.
Teach her that respect is key, and both boys and girls deserve it and are able to give it.
12. Share music with each other.
Play your favorite music and tell her why it’s great. Let her do the same for you. Teach her why the bridge in the middle of Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” is so crucial and really try to understand what’s so great about One Direction (and then enlighten us when you figure it out).
Teach her the courtesy of headphones and the wisdom of volume control.
13. Dress like a princess if she asks you to … And let her dress like a Power Ranger if she wants.
Yeah, it sucks a little playing dress-up for those of us not theatrically-inclined, but it makes a child feel important when you play the way she wants to play.
Also, playing ‘like a girl’ won’t make you one and playing ‘like a boy’ won’t make her one. So have fun with both.
14. Go with her to the nail salon and each of you get a pedicure.
No, you don’t have to get polish! Just enjoy the time with your daughter and the accompanying foot massage. (Unless you have an aversion to emery boards like Marcus does.)
15. Include her in your favorite hobbies.
Share with her the things you love, like watching Motocross, cooking dinner or playing the guitar.
Take her with you sometimes when you go to the bowling alley, or for a hike on your favorite trail. Go watch surfers in the ocean. Explain exactly what’s happening. Let her get bored after ten or fifteen minutes and then go do what she wants to do for a while.
16. Let her put on shows for you. Then put on a silly show for her.
It doesn’t take much—a goofy tap dance, armpit farts, standing on one foot—to make a little girl laugh.
17. Let her choose any color she wants for one wall in her room.
Yes, any. Then let her help you paint it. We recommend a very sturdy drop-cloth.
18. Roughhouse with her.
You won’t break her, and rough play is good for teaching confidence and resilience.
19. Inspire her with women role models who excel in traditionally male-dominated fields or activities.
She’s not going to grow up to be an NFL linebacker, but don’t crush aspirations before they begin by telling her what she can’t be because she’s a girl. The few things she can’t do will become obvious on their own, and the rest become possible if she’s allowed to dream and has role models who achieved great things without a penis.
20. Don’t shame her for what she wants to wear — but exercise the power to modify.
This one gets trickier with age, but most wardrobe choices by a toddler or little girl can be made to work. If a skirt is too short, leggings are great. If she picks a Spiderman tee for a wedding, try letting her wear it under a dressy top. If you have to overrule her choice, be pragmatic, not judgmental. (We couldn’t agree on the right approach to this once your daughter hits puberty, so you’re on your own.)
21. Look her in the eyes and have a real conversation at least once every single day that you’re together.
Even if it’s just about My Little Pony or Justin Bieber.
22. As she gets older, tell her the truth about drugs. Don’t use scare tactics, be honest.
Drugs are scary enough without exaggerating. But saying, “If you try drugs, you’ll die (or end up homeless, or become a prostitute, etc)” and having that as your “Drug Talk” will fail. Why? Because she will quickly learn that smoking pot doesn’t kill you—either from watching her friends or doing it herself.
Instead, try something along the lines of, “Using most drugs is like Russian Roulette… Five out of six times a person may be fine. But you never know if you’re going to end up as that one person who won’t be okay.”
23. Teach her that “No” means “No”, for both herself and others.
Teach her physical boundaries. Teach her how to say no directly, and that her no is to be respected, and that she shouldn’t be afraid or embarrassed to protect her body.
Make it clear that when someone — a little brother, a friend, or a parent — says no, that she is to respect that … including with boys.
24. Allow her to be girly if that’s her thing, but don’t force her to be if she’s not.
Let her wear dresses whenever she wants, but don’t force her to. Don’t buy everything in pink—unless she’s crazy for the color pink. If she loves Spiderman, go with that until she’s tired of it.
25. If she’s still little enough, hold her until she falls asleep sometimes.
You’ll miss it when you can’t.

Raising Boys (A Dad’s Advice for Moms)

by Tom Matlack

Let’s get one thing clear from the get go: moms are generally better parents than dads. And that goes double for me. I’ve had three kids across two marriages and I am undoubtedly the weak link. My 17-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son trust their step-mom more than they trust me, which proves that I married well but am still getting the hang of being a dad. Most of us are.

That said, there are a few subtle nuances that I have picked up along the way as a dad that might come in handy for moms raising boys.

Ladies, here are some things to think about with your boys:

  • Think caveman. Adult women have thousands of emotional states, as do girls like my daughter. Boys, on the other hand, tend to feel one of three: mad, sad, happy. Don’t project your complex emotional life on your son. His issue of the moment might not be that complicated. He wants to eat, poop, or run. On a really bad day he wants his toy back after some other kid took it from him. He doesn’t want to stare out the window and have lengthy discussions about the meaning of life, as my eight-year-old daughter often did.
  • Watch his body not his mouth. Again, like adult men, the clues to how your son is doing will show up first in his body language. Jumping up and down with six-inch vertical leaps is the natural state of being and is good. Slumped shoulders are bad. Yelling is good. Quiet needs attention.
  • When in doubt, hug. Boys will often have a much harder time than girls verbalizing their problems. My 5-year-old son will sometimes burst out into tears after seemingly trivial events. I know there is something deeper going on, but I am not going to get it out of him, at least not at that moment (whereas my daughter would not only tell me what went wrong but in no uncertain terms why it was my fault, which was generally true enough). So the solution is physical not verbal. I spend a lot of time just hugging my boys. I usually have no idea why. But as a default cure-all, it seems to work wonders. A minute later they are all patched up and ready to rumble again. This even works pretty well with my 14-year-old, who is a 6-foot-tall linebacker at Boston College High School.
  • Yes, it really is all about poop. Girls potty train 6 to 9 months before boys, but once boys make it onto the throne, there is no stopping them. Moving their bowels is pretty much the highlight of their day (true confession: it still is for me, too), and they are going to want to talk about it. Bathroom time is a participatory sport. My five-year-old likes to head to the bathroom just as the family is sitting down to dinner, sometimesduring dinner. It’s the first time he has been still long enough to realize he has to go. And he wants me to come with him, not just to assist in the wipe but to have a leisurely conversation about the status of his poop. As much as I found this inconvenient at first, now I just go with it. Quality time is quality time.
  • Batman lives forever. Boys, even at a young age, realize the importance of super powers. They want to be good and believe in the existence of ultimate good in the world. Boys sort out their identities in relation to the mythical characters they hear about. My son is obsessed with Batman. He wears a full costume, even through the airport and down Madison Avenue. What amazes me even more than his dedication to the superhero is how the guard at LaGuardia or the guy hanging off the back of a garbage truck sees him and shouts, “Batman!” My boy nods his head just slightly, acknowledging his public before moving onto the important work at hand, like going to kindergarten.
  • Pointless physical activity is perfect. My brother and I once convinced his two sons and my older boy, when they were all around the age of 10, that they really needed to build a structure out of rocks. The rocks were on one side of a beach, but the perfect spot where the structure had to be built, according to our sage advice, was on the other side of the beach. Each stone weighed between ten and thirty pounds. The boys started moving the boulders one by one, working together to lift the heaviest ones. My brother and I set up our beach chairs midway from the rock pile to building site. We read the paper most of the morning while the boys tired themselves out moving rocks and then assembling a tremendous cathedral. By lunch they were tired and happy, and my brother and I had enjoyed a peaceful morning.
  • Winning does matter, but less than you think. Boys — perhaps even more than girls — put themselves under extreme pressure to perform in school, in sports, and in social situations. They talk about it less, so the sting of failure can run even more deeply than with girls. With boys it’s important to emphasize the lessons to be gained from failure, instead of trying to win at all costs, and to emphasize the development of the whole boy. Too often in our culture, boys are pushed to become one-dimensional robots. Goodness isn’t about winning at youth soccer or having the most friends or being the smartest kid in class; it’s also about being kind. That’s something as a mom that you can particularly help your son understand.
  • Clothes matter. I know there are way more options for dressing little girls than little boys, so the tendency might be to just throw jeans and a t-shirt on your son and forget about it. But you better make sure they are the right jeans and the right t-shirt. The only consistent battle I have had with my sons is over what they wear. It matters way more to them than I ever would have imagined. They want to look cool; they want to be comfortable (pants that are tight but not too tight, warm and yet breathable). I do draw the line with clothes that have already been worn two days in a row, but I don’t discount the importance of fashion to my kindergartener.
  • Crowds, not so much. I have noticed that my daughter lights up when she enters a crowd, whether family or strangers. Mass humanity is something that gives her energy. With my boys, and, frankly, for me too, it’s the opposite. They get shy and tend to hide behind my legs. I try to protect them from these situations and not push them beyond their limitations.
  • Bedtime is sacred. Because boys are so active, it’s hard to get them to sit still. The best time of day is the ten minutes before they go to sleep. Crawl into bed with them, read books, and hold them while they fall off to sleep. If you don’t believe in God, you will once you have lain next to your overactive son while his body goes limp next to you, and he ever so faintly begins to snore.
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