Letters to My Tweenage Son
©2013 by Karsonya Wise Whitehead
1. Nurturing Masculinity
I watched you earlier this year at your first boy/girl mixer, as you were walking around with your hands in your pocket looking a little confused and unsure. I saw the girl that you like and I saw you follow her around the gym; looking for opportunities to say something to her, finding ways to touch her arm or grab her hand. I saw you try to dance with her and how the two of you, slightly embarrassed, decided to call it off and to just stand and talk instead. I saw the way you stood when other boys came over and tried to get her attention. I saw the protective shrug of your shoulders as if you were staking claim, letting them know that this space was your space. You did not know at the time but my eyes never left you. You were growing up right before my eyes. In so many ways, you are still my little baby boy who needs to be fed and carried, changed and comforted. You are my firstborn and everything I learned about being a mommy, I learned from practicing on you.
As I watched you that night, I realized that you are on your way to becoming the man—the person—that I had always hoped you would become. I have done (and will continue to do) everything that I can to nurture you. You once asked me what a feminist looked like and I–partly in jest—stated that if I have done my job right, you will see a feminist every time you look in the mirror. I laughed when I said it but later, after I had had a moment to reflect, I realized how much truth there was in that statement. I am raising you to believe in and defend equal political, economic, and social rights for women. At the same time, I am also raising you as a Christian. For some this may seem like a contradiction but for me, I can not imagine sending you out into the world without having deep roots in both of these areas. My hope is that this grounding and teaching will help you as you decide how you are going to see the world and your place in it.
As you and your friend made your way around the gym, talking and laughing at jokes only the two of you could hear, I realized that you were at the beginning of a dating ritual that goes back much farther than you or I and will now be a part of your life up until you get married.
I do want to caution you because it quite possible that she will break your heart. I say that not because I want your heart to be broken, but because I know that you are only twelve. You have a long way to go before you really understand what it means to fall in love and to commit your life to just one person. You are at the beginning and in so many ways; the beginning is really a good place to be. As you stand here, at the threshold of your unknown, I wanted to offer you some relationship advice that I hope will act as a compass to help you navigate yourself through this well-worn journey:
1. Be kind to her and treat her well. Just like you, she has parents who love her and believe in her. She is your equal, not your property, so give her the space to speak her mind and the ability to change yours. Treat her with as much dignity and respect as you treat me.
2. Make her laugh and enjoy laughing with her. There is nothing more comforting than being around someone you can laugh with. Laughter is a balm and a healing salve. Trust me, as you get older, there will be days when laughing will keep you from walking out of the door or from saying something that you can never take back.
3. Guard your heart and guard hers. You have been raised well and have been treated well. You know what it is like to be appreciated and supported and loved. Do not expect, accept, or offer to her anything less than that.
4. Be nice to her mother. Even though mothers are not perfect, some of us work very hard to give our children choices. We sacrifice over and over again to give you the best that we can afford. We try to raise you in such a way that you will have more victories than defeats, more friends than enemies, and more opportunities than regrets and after we have done all of that, we realize that all we have left is the ability to pray our heads off and hope for the best. Treat her mother as you would like for her to treat me.
5. Get the door for her, pull out her chair, and pay for everything on the first date (and I am smiling as I write this). I know that these are old-fashioned “male” values and that they probably go against everything I have done/said to raise you as a feminist; but, there is still something in me that enjoys those things. I call it two-sided feminism and I struggle with it everyday. I know that you know that women are equal and that we can get our own doors, pull out our own chairs, and pay our own way but I must admit to you how nice it is to come across a guy who cares enough for you to want to do those things for you.
6. Resist the temptation to make her your entire world. Although there may be days when you feel like the sun rises and sets only on her, it does not. As special as she may be, she is still just a part of your life and not your life. Furthermore, do not allow her to make you her world for heavy is the burden of being the only one responsible for making someone happy.
7. Be as honest as possible with her and with yourself, as there is nothing more painful than ambiguity from someone you think you like and who you think feels the same way. If you do not like here, then let her down easily and let her go. Allow her to move forward to find someone who will adore and cherish her.
8. Be a man of your word and if you say you are going to call or be there or do something, then just get it done.
9. Be good to yourself and be good to her. Even though this is probably not the girl that you are going to marry, you still want to leave her with fond memories of you. Your grandfather used to tell us to leave people better than when we found them, to not pull them down, or intentionally hurt them. You want to pull her up and build her up. You want to make her feel that she is visible and that she is important.
10. Be patient with her, with your relationship, and with yourself. Love takes a long time to grow. It must be nurtured and tended to and sometimes it must be left alone. You cannot rush the process nor should you have to.
11. Do not settle for anyone other than the best person that God has for you. Your father and I are pouring everything we have into you because we love you and we see your potential. In our eyes, you are a diamond and we are responsible for brushing off the dirt to help you to shine. It is not always easy for you to see your own potential or to believe that you are special but, in those moments when you cannot believe in yourself, believe in us because we believe in you. Sometimes, just knowing that someone believes in you will help you to make it through the darkest of days, the loneliest of nights, and to make the best decision.
12. Put God first. I saved this one for last because this is the foundation that everything else must be built upon. You are being raised in a Christian home and it is a part of who you are. As you make decisions about “who” to date and “when” to date and sometimes even “why” to date – my prayer is that you filter all of these questions through the lens that your father and I have given you. (I know that like me you will come to a point where you will make a decision about what you believe and about whether you want to live your life as a Christian –when you get to that point, know that I will be there with an open heart, a supportive word, and a patient spirit to either advise you or support you in whatever decision you make). My hope is that Christ is involved in every decision that you make. So..if you want to ask her out, I hope you pray about it. If you want a second date, then I hope you pray about it. If you want to ask her to marry you (or she has asked you to marry her) then I (really) hope you pray about it. And then, when you get married, I hope that like your father and I, the two of you start praying about everything—together.
You, my dear sweet son, are at the beginning and even if I wanted to, I cannot protect your heart from getting broken. All I can do is love you, support you, and do my best to help guide your ship into its port. The road will be long, but with good guidance and a lot of prayer, you will find the girl that is meant for you. I look forward to being there on that day and celebrating with you…