By Dr Dain Heer
As a society, we put a lot of expectations on young men to behave in a gentlemanly manner: to be respectful of others (particularly women), to pursue a career and provide for the future, and to eventually have a family and be a solid and dependable force in everyone’s lives.
But are we so concerned with what our sons need to be for other people that we inadvertently encourage them to lose themselves in the process?
I believe that being a gentleman is about more than what we’ve traditionally been taught. Sure, there are gentlemanly traits we hope our sons will naturally acquire, but there’s something bigger and all encompassing that has to happen before any of that.
Simply, being a gentleman happens when our sons like and honour themselves, and when they are at ease with who they are. This is how we give them the best chance of leading happy lives, full of rich experiences and amazing relationships.
There are two founding principles about parenting:
- Children are aware
Even when they’re tiny babies — or perhaps especially when they’re tiny babies — children are alert and in tune with what’s going on around them. They’re not vessels for us to fill, or pieces of clay for us to mould: they are bright beacons of light, with their own ideas and points of view about the world. Respecting and acknowledging that is essential.
- Parenting is not about teaching, but being
The easiest and most natural way for you to pass on any of what I’m about to share is to be it yourself. It’s almost a case of practice what you preach — though I don’t recommend preaching of any kind! See it more as a case of being what you teach.
Here are four ideas on raising your son to be a gentleman:
Raise him without judgement
Judgement is the most limiting mindset we can adopt, and yet it’s a societal norm. We constantly decide whether people, actions or decisions, are good or bad, right or wrong, and it stops us from seeing the whole picture of anything or anyone — including ourselves.
If you can get out of the habit of judgement by raising your son to be open and inquisitive rather than conclusive, you’ll be giving him such a gift.
Also, notice how often you criticize yourself. Could that be picked up by your son? Are you reinforcing the idea that self-judgement is okay? How do you speak about others around him? Do you assess their looks, or their choices? Again, think about the messages you’re communicating.
Crucially — never judge him or any of his choices, no matter how hard you have to bite your tongue!
Just noticing where you use judgement is the first step towards eliminating it. Show your son there is a different way to be.
Ask questions — and don’t try to have all the answers
When you’re together, be in that moment. Give your son undivided attention. Listen to him. When he’s sharing a problem with you, be present and resist the urge to tell him how you think he should deal with it.
Then, ask questions. If you’re not sure what he needs from you — that’s your first question. How can I help? How can we make this problem lighter?
Questions allow us to see a multitude of perspectives. Answers, on the other hand, are conclusive. When you let go of the urge to hand answers to your son, you are giving him the space to grow as the leader in his own life: a mark of a true gentleman.
Don’t try to be perfect, and acknowledge your mistakes
If you make a mistake, take responsibility for it. Don’t judge yourself and don’t dwell on the past. This shows your son that there are opportunities for starting afresh in every moment, and that no one has to be a prisoner of past choices.
If your mistake affects your son, ask, “What can I do to make this right?” This question shows your son that you value him, and that it’s okay to be vulnerable.
Be his equal, and let him be… him
Accepting and honouring your son for who he is naturally is, while supporting him to make his own choices and carve his own path, is the key to raising a gentleman. As his equal, you understand that you can learn from him too, and this allows the two of you to have an easy, happy, light and supportive relationship.
In giving him the freedom to make his own choices, form his own identity, and essentially be who he is, you are giving your son an amazing start in life, and guiding him on his path to becoming the gentleman he naturally is.
Photo credit: Pixabay