Love or hate them, several powerful men (e.g. Stephen Colbert, Kanye West, Anderson Cooper, etc.) have made memorable public tributes of love to their mothers, giving them credit for the men they became. It got me thinking about my own mother and her role in shaping my character. Now that I’m a husband and father, I’m especially conscientious of what and how she taught about respecting all women.
Walking the Walk
Primarily, I’d say my mother showed us how to respect women as opposed to telling us. Without any conscious intention of raising “feminists”, I believe she simply aimed to shape in us the qualities of integrity, intelligence and confidence. I like how Lisa Belkin, Senior National Correspondent for Yahoo News, describes her experience as a mother in this regard:
“I would love to be able to tell you we talked about it explicitly, but mostly, it was just me walking the walk. The goal was osmosis. They saw me in a marriage that was a partnership of equals, doing work that I loved in the same way as any of the men in their sphere, and it was pretty clear that this was my worldview. So it became their worldview. “
This is how I intuited the better part of my attitude towards equality, but further talks and teachings were needed as I endured my teenage years.
Teaching the Teen
I was probably luckier than some to have a mother who was expert at communicating with teens. When I had bust-ups with her as an adolescent, she never became domineering or lashed out in contempt. Even in the face of any disrespect my siblings or I might throw, she simply listened without interruption – thus showing she respected us. Once the angst was spent, she would calmly say, “I hear what you’re saying. I can be an ally, but only if you treat me with the respect I am due.” This had much more power to humble us than yelling or crying. It’s worth noting though, that a special set of skills may be required for helping troubled teens.
The best theory I’ve found for teaching young men about respecting women, one that is similar to what I was raised with, is called the RIGHT Way. Parents are encouraged to consistently work in direct and brief counsel or conversations on the five virtues that make up the acronym:
- Respect – learning to keep a calm manner and develop good listening skills
- Intelligence – applying wisdom to confusing situations, learning to say “I don’t know how I can help” instead of becoming frustrated or quarrelsome
- Gallantry – using kindness and generosity to make others feel valued and emotionally safe
- Humor – using lightheartedness to deter disharmony
- True – conducting yourself with integrity
In short, a mother’s love and strength have a great deal to do with the deep-set ideals that dictate our relationships with wives, daughters, friends and others. If she’s still around, call and thank her.