Mothers are the first defense against toxic masculinity

How moms can teach young boys about healthy boundaries and respect for women

A mother and child.
(Image credit: Nadezhda1906/iStock)

With his tightly-sprung energy, frenetic percussion, and proclivity for chirping, buzzing, and clicking, my 10-year-old son drives me bananas. And yet, the love I have for my firstborn is impossible to measure. When he was an infant, our relationship was nothing but yeses; yes to every bit of sustenance and care he needed from me, with me, of me. With that kind of precedent, saying no — or even identifying the proper boundaries as he grows — well, it's a challenge. I think many mothers can relate.

We've just secured tickets to our first mother-son dance and suddenly the arcane Oedipal-ness of it all begs acknowledging. The mother-son bond is the first opposite-sex relationship for a boy, the first testing ground of what is okay, such as mutual appreciation, courtesy, and love — and what isn't. As I imagine dancing, perhaps a bit awkwardly, out on the floor with my son, I can't help but grieve the end of a simpler stage and glance over my shoulder at the infant — 10 short (and long!) years ago — who nursed all night and cried when he needed me. Now, he needs me less and less. And as he progresses inexorably toward adolescence, then dating, then adulthood, my husband and I must teach him how to have healthy relationships with girls and women.

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Danielle Simone Brand is a San Diego-based mother of two, a die-hard idealist, and a breaker of conventions. She began her career as a yoga teacher back when most people thought that was a strange thing to do. She holds a BA from Dartmouth College and an MA from American University and has worked as a staff writer, an academic editor, and a researcher on issues of international conflict resolution.