This site grew out of one mother’s efforts to raise a boy semi decently. I will talk about my personal story in the blog, Clara’s Clearing. But here are some general reasons for why I started Mothers of Bad Boys.
There is a great deal of statistics that shows that boys are not having an easy time of growing up. Any quick search will reveal this. Boys are lagging behind in schools, getting punished more, dropping out, getting diagnosed or labeled with outlandish disorders, and generally “getting into trouble.”
What I find difficult is to distinguish between real problems affecting boys and our frustration at them for not fulfilling our expectations. Clearly a number of disorders are on the rise. Autism, for instance, is alarmingly prevalent, and more so in boys. The growing instances of ADD and ADHD cannot be denied. Getting to the bottom of what is causing these disorders is certainly crucial. But it is equally important for us “normal” adults to take a look at ourselves. I especially think it is important to look at what we expect of boys.
It has become increasingly difficult to separate the reasonable and unreasonable expectations we have come to have of boys. The confusion of parents, educators, and society at large over what is “normal” and “healthy” for boys, has certainly transferred itself to boys. But instead of labeling ourselves, we are labeling them. My first hope for this site is to help us understand boys a little better.
When I first mention the name of this website to people they either chuckle and say “Yes!” or they are a little shocked. “Boys are not bad,” they say.
It has been my experience that while it is unusual for any one to openly use the word “bad” to describe boys, we do not hesitate to treat them as such. It is by actually using this word that we can clearly see how absurd it is to call any child “bad.” Sometimes a little plain speaking can do wonders. For one thing, it might save us from well-intentioned hypocrisy.
Bad is a perfectly good word. It has been around for a long time and it cannot be willed away by replacing it with euphemisms. If we think our kids don’t see right through substitute words like “inappropriate” we’re kidding ourselves. All we need to do is to listen to the words the kids use themselves. Recently my son blamed something bad he had done on another boy because the other kid “is a bad boy.” I am sure my son had not heard anyone actually calling the other boy bad; he had just picked up on the unspoken consensus.
Some euphemisms are actually dangerous. I increasingly hear the words “at risk” applied to boys. Most of the time, if you ask the person who uses this phrase, “At risk of what?” they don’t have an answer. Their “knowledge” ends right there. But there are those who do have an answer and the answer is yet another label: starting with learning disability, ADD, ADHD, defiance disorder, etc., and leading up to more criminally charged labels as boys grow older. Now, whatever the reality of the physiological and psychological factors affecting children in general may be, the question is, are we absolutely sure that we are not attributing “disorder” today to what in the past was simply called “bad behavior”?
Another reason that we should look at the word “bad” closely is because boys are quite obsessed with it themselves. Aren’t they always either fighting “bad guys” or impersonating them? Isn’t the battle of good versus evil an almost constant motif in the stories that most appeal to boys? Just look at the billions of dollars that entertainment industries are making packaging and repackaging “bad”: Darth Vader, Valdemot, the Joker, the Shredder, and on and on. If children could articulate it they would probably point out how ridiculous our effort to banish the word “bad” is – how, shall we say, childish it is.
(If you think about it, facing the word “bad” makes us face our own worst fears, both rational and irrational. But let our boys start their own Sons of Bad Mothers website and explore that one!)
The most interesting thing about using the word “bad” is that it seems to have a very good outcome. It evokes contrariness in people: “Boys are NOT bad,” they retort indignantly. And then all the good things they have to say of boys flow out of them: Boys are funny, imaginative, and affectionate. Their energy is electrifying and awesome. They are hypersensitive to fairness, courage, and honor. They are very smart.
Aha… mission accomplished!
Could it be that we have slowly become accustomed to attributing negative things to boys? (I don’t need to remind you that automatically attributing negative qualities to any population group is called prejudice.) So let’s try to remember all the good qualities that boys have as we look into what makes life difficult for them—and for us.
Let’s face it, in the overwhelming majority of cases mothers are the ones who are held responsible for their children. We are the ones who field complaints from kids and adults alike. We get calls from schools. We are required to discipline kids at home. We are even expected to somehow, miraculously, control our kids’ behavior even when we’re not present. We are offered “training”—which inevitably requires that we never get upset, behave with utmost equanimity at all times, and know exactly what to do. And, of course, we are the ones who get blamed—not the least by our own kids when they grow up and find themselves psychotherapists who indulge the very self-centeredness that society blames mother for not preventing. Multiple whammies is our lot.
The truth is that our boys push our limits as they experiment with pushing their own and later, others’. We don’t like our patience tested so often. We do get tired of dealing with the consequences of our boys’ transgressions. We are frequently embarrassed by them. But worst of all, we worry. We worry that our boys will be mistreated and labeled. We worry that funny childhood pranks will develop into unfunny juvenile delinquency, or will be pushed in that direction by our reactions. We see how much depends on the resources of individual boys’ families and the privileges of their communities. We tremble at the thought of the brutality that may some day claim our boys as victims, perpetrators, or both.
And what exactly do we want?
We want our boys to be free spirits and civilized people. We want them to be bold and kind. We want them to know their potential and learn what to do with it. We want them to appreciate good things, get serious, and have fun. We want to be good mothers to our sons—and we want to have a life too.
Apart from the above, on a practical level, it make sense to perceive mothers as a sort of coordinator between the various influences at work on kids, a kind of relationship/information hub. Whether or not we think this is good or fair or politically correct, I think it would be productive to assume that this is how it is for now, and see how we can work with it to the best advantage for our kids and for ourselves.
Where do fathers fit into the picture?
That is the question!
I will not attempt to answer this question. I will invite—no, challenge—men to use this site to voice their thoughts, qualms, and insights. They are the ones who have first hand experience of being boys, if not bad boys. I suspect it is ultimately up to them to snatch boyhood from the clutches of its present crisis mode.
I would invite—no, challenge—men to do one thing here: Speak as men. Don’t worry about what you ought to be saying or what you think women want to hear. I know very well how overpoweringly and, yes, oppressively women can behave toward men. I think we might be the more verbal of the species (and we use this as our only weapon of domination) but that’s no reason for you to pout.
Please speak up, gentlemen. It is for your boys’ sakes. And it is liberating -- believe me, we’ve been there, done that!