February 2016 – What should we tell our sons

Sunita Behl

Following our popular series in 2015 on ‘What should we tell our daughters?’ http://www.womenempowered.co.uk/grit_feb_2015.html, this month we asked contributors to share advice for our sons. Thank you, as always, to everyone who took the time to write to us with your personal stories and insightful views.

Next month we are celebrating Mother’s Day with an issue that is all about mothers. Is being a mother really one of the hardest jobs in the world? Do you believe a traditional mother’s role has changed? How did your mother influence your life – was she a role model or the reason you decided to follow a different path? What lessons have you learnt since becoming a mother yourself? Please send your ‘Mums the Word’ article (400-700 words) to grit@womenempowered.co.uk before 20th February, 2016.

We look forward to hearing from you.
Sunita Behl, Editor.

Be what you want to be – By Sumita Sarma, Bonafide Oenophile and Wine Reviewer, Founder and Writer, Sumlier

The biggest paradox in life is God’s creation of Adam and Eve. The intention was to create Paradise by celebrating differences. But did that happen? Somewhere along the way, interpretations got misconstrued and intentions got lost. “Man as the leader, woman as a follower. Man as the giver, woman as the receiver and bearer of his children”. In an attempt to establish roles, we have ended up creating a hierarchy for the sexes, allocating specific responsibilities to men and women, rather than attempting to share them. But why is there pressure on the male sex to be the bread winner?

Fast-forward to today, with our increasing use of online social media and unlimited access to movies. Everywhere there is a constant pressure for young boys to conform. We promote unreal facades of men with six pack abs which go hand in hand with the parental teachings from our respectable older generation such as, ‘Boys should not to cry like a girl’; ‘Our boy will take our family name forward’; ‘Our son will get his millionaire dream job and look after his family’. All of these statements have a common theme – they put our sons on the forefront of performance.

Drip-fed through generations of irrational beliefs, they have become responsible for proliferating gender stereotypes. The end result is that our sons are left more vulnerable and many succumb to this pressure, as illustrated by the rise in mental illness, depression and high suicide rates amongst young men1 . But what if a boy wants to cry when he is afraid? What if he is limited in his abilities to be the leader of his family? What if he enjoys taking care of his family and cooking for his household?

Our son was diagnosed with Autism at the age of three. We have not had the usual experience of bringing up a ‘normal’ boy. He has faced learning and social challenges and received Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy to help him with language since he was a toddler. While his peers are currently busy dealing with the pressure of getting into the UK’s top secondary schools, our son faces a pressure of a more primal nature – getting through with a basic education so that he can learn to read and write and become independent.

Last year, his then school washed their hands of him, as they could not support his needs anymore. My 9 year old child fell apart and completely lost his self-esteem. He felt insecure that he could not make any teacher happy because he made mistakes. Don’t get me wrong – he is bright, but in his own unique way. My son can fix your lights in a jiffy and give you suggestions on how to repair your blocked drains! But will he be “able” enough to choose 10 GCSE subjects when he is 14 and succeed with A grades? The answer is I don’t know and after worrying for the past 10 years, it does not matter to us anymore, as long as he lives a meaningful life.

Last year he was finally accepted into a lovely, warm school for Aspergers. Here he is allowed to be himself, follow his passions, make mistakes and learn from them, rather than follow the rigorous grading of the national curriculum. The reality is what our society perceives as a ‘Successful Man’ may never really be for him. It is what he wants and likes to do, that will define his “success”. At the moment, as crazy as it sounds, he wants to become a sewer engineer!

Despite these challenges, this is what I tell my son every day:

1) Be confident and love yourself; but also …
2) Be sensitive and kind to others.
3) It is alright to make mistakes, it is alright to fail.
4) It is alright to feel weak, to feel intimidated, and to feel different from others. After all, you are you, not them!
5) Enjoy each moment. Make like-minded and understanding friends and remember your family will always be there to support you.
6) Follow your passion with dedication. You can pick any career that you have an aptitude for – whether a sewer engineer or a home-creator.

The dictionary defines success as “accomplishment of your aim(s)”. Glamour, celebrity status and the number of Instagram followers you have do not determine success. They follow success. Finally, I will quote what Emma Watson said in her “He for She campaign” at the UN in 2014 “Gender Equality is as much about men as it is about women”. Being a man does not mean that you cannot feel vulnerable or scared. You are who you are and you can be want you want to be!

Sumita is founder of Sumilier – a soulful journey into Wine & Spirits appreciation.

For more information visit www.sumilier.wordpress.com

1. According to Mental Health Statistics by Mental Health Foundation “Disorders affect 10.4% of boys aged 5-10, rising to 12.8% of boys aged 11-15, and 5.9% of girls aged 5-10, rising to 9.65% of girls aged 11-15. (Mental Disorder More Common In Boys, National Statistics Online, 2004)

Why I will give a dowry to my son – By Ray Janjua

Dowry is something I have always been against. I cried hysterically when I saw my Mum remove the last of her gold bangles leaving her wrists empty after a phone call from my future in-laws. The beautiful hands that were once adorned by my Father’s love with 24 carats seemed like an abandoned land to me. And this was all for me – the daughter they were giving away with excessive jewellery I wasn’t going to wear and household appliances I did not need.

I was going into the home of a millionaire yet my mother felt compelled to buy everything from bedroom furniture to dinner sets, gold and so many outfits. When I left my in-laws home I left everything behind…..50 pairs of shoes and over a 100 dresses!

I cried for days during my wedding preparation, from guilt and shame. I was the daughter that acted like a son in my parent’s home. I had been my parent’s companion during our rough times and struggles, but I felt completely powerless now. My brother’s expensive gifts of a watch, ring and a huge suitcase of clothing and shoes were not enough.

I came from a humble background; an independent mind-set and self-made character. Material possessions had no place in my life and now this concept had vanished completely. I decided at that point, that if I ever had a son, if needed, I will buy the household appliances for the couple when they marry. I will buy the clothes and the jewellery. I would never want another parent or young woman to go through what I did, just because of deciding to marry my son.

Most girls feel happy when they buy for their wedding day and future married home. They are happy to receive gifts from their maternal home, but for me it became a curse. The more I saw my parents spend, the more my heart broke. We did not have the money and I worried what my family would go back to after I had gone. One day I may also have my own daughter and I don’t want to live through the pain that the tradition and obligation of a ‘dowry’ can bring.

Let go of other people’s expectations – By Harinder Ghatora, Holistic Life Coach and Counsellor

If there is one message that any young man who would like to feel happy, healthy and content needs to internalise, it is to let go of other people’s expectations. As parents it is often our expectations of our sons that have the potential to cause them the most harm.

Young men are bombarded with “You should…” messages from an early age. These messages are always well-intentioned, and can include expectations on their behaviour, friendships, academic achievement, relationships, career choices and social activities.

A parent would argue: “Young people need guidance, support and boundaries. They need to be told what to do and how to behave.” I would agree, but I believe that the balance of power between some parents and their sons needs a serious rethink. For some young men this imbalance can lead to frustration, resentment and feelings of powerlessness and despair.

Whenever we tell someone they ‘should’ do something, we impose our beliefs onto them. We take the stance that we know better. We do not consider where the other person is coming from: we ignore their feelings, wishes and desires. We also turn a blind eye to the challenges that the other person may be facing.

When it comes to our sons, if we project our wishes onto them firmly, consistently and over a long period of time, they start to internalise them. And, in an attempt to win our approval, they begin to judge themselves by our expectations of them. Sadly, more often than not, these expectations are unrealistic and sometimes, simply unachievable.

The idealistic view of life that some parents may project onto their sons could include expecting them to be: perfectly behaved at all times; physically and mentally strong and resilient; academically excellent; a member of a respected profession; a high earner; married to someone who is loved and adored by the whole family; a parent of perfect children; living in a beautiful house; driving a big car; independent; tough-skinned; confident; competitive. And of course they are also expected to be happy all the time!

How many men do you actually know who live such a perfect life? I don’t know any. Unfortunately, many young men carry this sort of idea of how their life should be because that is what others have projected onto them. This leaves them in a no-win situation.

They initially try to do their best, but won’t always be able to live up to these high expectations. They may then begin to feel bad about themselves, which negatively affects their sense of self and erodes their self-esteem. Persistent feelings of inadequacy and imperfection lead to frustration and unhappiness, and for some young men this results in “acting out” behaviours such as excessive drinking, drug taking, anti-social behaviour or mental health issues such as anxiety and/or depression.

So what can we, as parents, do? First we can stop our sons ever entering the ‘land of should’ by being mindful of what we are projecting onto at them with regard to our expectations. We can let go of our perfectionist ideals and instead listen to what our sons actually want. We can encourage them to identify and articulate their own thoughts and feelings. We can help them to express their needs and wishes and the life choices they make. We can notice and praise the special qualities that they possess. And, above all else, we can love and validate them as people.

Also as mothers we can do our future daughter-in-laws and grandchildren a huge favour by raising emotionally intelligent, resilient, happy young men who feel good about themselves and their life; young men who have the courage to be themselves, especially when the world is constantly trying to make them someone else.

To download a free copy of Harinder’s eBook ‘Balanced Living: The 11 Simple Secrets of a Happy Healthy Life’ visit www.harinderghatora.co.uk F: www.facebook.com/HarinderGhatoraLifeCoaching E: info@harinderghatora.co.uk

“Mummy – ladies don’t go to work!” – By Ami Lakhani, Strategic Consultant

My 4-year-old son announced decisively after a day of pre-school: “Mummy – ladies don’t go to work”. This, after a day of school run, City commute and meetings for me, and after-school childcare for him. How to respond to this? My son is blessed to be surrounded by female relatives and family friends with a variety of professions and interests, as well as those who, indeed, don’t work outside the home. But how do I explain to him that women do in fact ‘go to work’ and those that don’t may have equally pressing local or caring commitments?

I challenged my son to name any ladies in his acquaintance who ‘didn’t work’. He promptly named his two grandmas. I explained the concepts of retirement, and home-making. Without missing a beat, his next answer was his teacher. I turned slightly purple but tried to remain patient while explaining the notion of teaching as a job that pays money. At the end of the conversation, I tried to work out if I would have reacted differently had my daughter said something similar, or whether I was immediately on the defensive because he is a boy.

As the mother of boy-girl twins, this dichotomy is a struggle of which I’m acutely aware. Parenting two individuals of different sexes with the same age and cognitive development starts to get more complex once they are verbal, and responsive to the gender-specific cues life throws at them. This, so far, is what I’ve learnt is important in how I parent my son.

Let him see you doing everything his dad does, and vice versa. I don’t want to hear ‘ladies can’t / don’t do that’ from my son again. This means I force myself to, casually, have a go at tasks that are alien to my personal capabilities, from cooking steaks to fixing the washing machine – not always successfully, but always visibly and without fanfare.

Encourage emotions appropriately. I’ve heard boys being told ‘Why are you crying like a girl?’ and it makes me wince.

Don’t project your (female) childhood experiences on him. Having grown up in a female-dominated house and education system, I remind myself that my childhood emotions were partly reactions to that construct, and that my son will see things differently, especially at school.

Accept that sometimes, nature trumps nurture, despite your best endeavours. I can tell myself that treating my twins in a consistent, gender-blind way is in their best interests and will encourage broad, free-thinking personalities. However my son certainly prefers football to ballet, and, despite a couple of experiments, has decided that painted nails are not for him.

Ami is the founder of a new network for parents of twins and multiples who work in the City. For more information contact ami@suchal.net

I tell my son to be ‘Savvi’ – By Rita Chowdhry, Savran Coaching and Consultancy

Like many parents, all I want for my son is for him be happy and achieve his best. In today’s competitive society, you have got to stand out from the crowd. In order to accomplish that, I tell my son that he has to be ‘savvi™’, Pronounced savvy, this is how I define being ‘in the know’ – an acronym for five main factors, without which, success seems distant and intangible.

Savvi stands for: Self-awareness, Achiever’s mind-set, Values, Verbal communication, and Inspiration. As a parent, I have shared this framework not only with my son, but with my daughters too; as a Teacher, I have instilled it in my students and as a Coach, I have used this to guide my clients including other parents, students, business owners and teams.

Self-awareness – recognise your strengths and weaknesses

Don’t concentrate on what you can’t do, but on what you can do. Many children focus on the latter, not knowing how this can damage self-confidence and self-esteem. When my son was told he was dyslexic, he began recording his lessons, using his auditory learning skills to overcome his weak literacy. What I have always said is to develop an awareness of strengths and use them to combat weaknesses.

‘Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom’ – Lao Tzu.

Achiever’s mind-set – develop this

When you have the right mind-set, you can take your ability so much further. I have encouraged my son to set goals that will stretch him and help him develop in all areas of his life, whether it’s socially, career wise, or emotionally. Results are not determined by ability or luck, but from developing an ‘I can’ attitude.

‘Your “I can” is more important that your IQ’ – Robin Sharma

Values – recognise the importance of them

Many issues faced by children stem from peer group and social pressures, such as engaging in anti-social behaviour. What I did with my son was to agree our family values, and for them to act as a moral compass in life’s journey. If you don’t have clearly stated values within the family, there’s a high chance that your son will pick up the values of others, which could throw them off their path.

‘I stood for nothing so I feel for everything’ – Katy Perry

Verbal communication – be an effective communicator

These days, children are more connected to their phone than with those around them. It’s important to have strong verbal communication skills not only within the family, but the ability to connect with lots of different people in order to form good relationships with future colleagues and partners.

‘Change your words, change your world’ – Andrea Gardner

Inspiration – seek it proactively

Our children are more fortunate compared to previous generations, who were motivated by desperation. So it’s important for our sons to look instead for inspiration to drive them to grow and lead a fulfilling life. What I would say is to seek inspiration from those who have achieved success.

So what I say to my son is: Be Savvi, be successful!

If you would like more information, tips and practical tools on how to be a Savvi parent or to develop Savvi children, please contact Rita Chowdhry at rita@savran.co.uk

Savran run workshops and 1:1 coaching sessions for parents, children and young adults

What I learnt from the men in my life – By Mani Kohli, Founder of The Khubsoorat Collection and the Asian Fashion Network

I have been fortunate enough to have a father who nurtured my first 18 years, a brother who sustained the weather of my emotional highs and lows, a husband whose rejection reinstated my belief in myself and a son who progressively takes on new challenges.

There have been many men throughout my life who have also given me strength; men who I have worked with me; business colleagues, co-workers and friends. All of these male relationships have made me uphold the values I attach to male relationships and my expectations.

I grew up in a male-dominated family and battled for income in a male-dominated industry. My key male relationships played an important role in my life. For me my father was the unopposed hero, my brother the fighting warrior, my husband the devil, and my son, I’m sure has elements across all spheres!

So, how have my relationships with the men in my life impacted how I have brought up my son?

I have always let my son know that he has a strong, motivated mother and an ambitious sister and that he should be prepared for all of these traits in a life partner. However, he should also seek a soul mate; someone who will bring him peace and be a supportive mother to his children.

He must understand how to use the toughness he inherited from his grandfather, who migrated from British India to India as a soldier of the British Raj and made a life for us in India. This will enable him to make difficult decisions across many fronts in the work environment. The values of discipline and education which were driven into him under my father’s guidance are valuable life tools which he has been advised to use well.

The determination to overcome emotional burden and assertiveness is a lesson that my son should learn from my brother. Siblings are important, not only for blood reasons but for support as you learn to deal with the emotional upheavals of life; lessons which only your nearest and dearest can teach you.

The negatives traits that were observed from my son’s father should have taught him that ego and ugliness does not merit any success. These traits should be overcome to avoid any pitfalls during his life journey. Respect is a not just a word but has deep connotations that apply to all aspects of your life. Your reputation is dependent on it and will help you be a better father and a giver.

As a son, I have advised him to build relationships that add value to his life and to avoid those which are counter-productive. Competition and pressures will come from all genders in today’s world; from parents and peers to the wider society. He should use his life experience and values to gain a better understanding. Success cannot be measured purely in the accumulation of monetary assets. Wealth is a means, but mental well-being will enhance physical health and determine your path to success. God be his guidance.

Boys AND girls? Or Boys FOR girls? – By Sonal Parekh, Family and Litigation Solicitor

In today’s generation where women are becoming the bread winners and equalling, if not standing tall to rival the stereo typical old school attitude of “the man of the house” what can we teach our boys?

As someone who does not have a son, my attitude on what I would teach a future son maybe considered as somewhat idealistic in approach. But, living with my husband of nearly 3 years now I can see how his up-bringing and my mother-in-law’s forward and “modern” thinking mind set has put us in a better stead to work as a conventional, business minded yet, homely couple.

But the real question, leaving the domestic life aside, is whether as a son and husband he feels the compelling obligation to provide all the time. And the difference is very real, whilst there is a sense of wanting to be there for everyone, is this outweighed by a duty? I sincerely hope not. I don’t put excessive pressure for him to succeed, he does this anyway and I wouldn’t want to think he is affected by gender stereotypes.

We couldn’t come from more different backgrounds and could not have opted for such distinct careers, I am a solicitor working in Family and Litigation law. He has his own film production company, filming weddings, the irony, he documents a couple’s happiest days, their wedding day and I divorce them. He is passionate about his business and we are able to share our experiences together.

The differences in careers make no difference really, there is no pressure for him to bring in more money, life is not a competition. There is no race between men and women, we got our emancipation, we vote, we work, we clean and cook, what else? Today’s empowerment is measured by equal success and doing away with gender pigeonholes.

I’m a women who has been bought up to be independent, both financially and emotionally. Maybe the real question at the centre of this is, daughters and women should be taught independence and learn that working and earning money is something that is fulfilling. Gone are the days of women being tied to the kitchen or the iron, and if the men we choose don’t see this, it is never too late to change their minds.

I have no qualms with working long hours, it is a choice that I make for the betterment of my career and I am whole-heartedly support by the hubby. I come home to my husband and the stress of a long day in a busy law firm somehow dies away.

So does he do the dishes and cook? Yes, is the short answer to this. At 29 years old, I can safely say that as a son he was taught how to respect women from an early age, being surrounded by 4 resilient aunties, this son knows how to deal with women, so to speak.

Make no mistake, whilst fairy tales can be lived in, reality can from time to time deal a nasty blow. How best to deal with this? My firm believe is, with your man, hand in hand and if he is a son who has been taught that life can be difficult, but that success and happiness is achievable through hard grafting at times, today’s sons are set for life.

So yes, my husband, is with me. For my pleasure and delight. And we are equal in all ways, yet we are very different. He is a boy and I, am a girl, this is our only difference. Money is, well money. Our lifestyle and the choices we make, that’s what makes today’s sons/boys/husbands different and worthy partners.

This is what our sons need to be taught along with responsibility, how to live, to laugh, to love and be happy. And our daughters, that princess can work and have gorgeous nails all at the same time!

Do you want to write for GRIT?

Each article needs to be submitted to grit@womenempowered.co.uk on the 20th of the preceding month (eg an article for June should be submitted by 20th May). The newsletter will go out on the 5th of each month to our subscribers and will be uploaded on our website and our social media will direct to it.

All submissions should be between 400-700 words. They can be written in the first person where appropriate. They will be edited for content to ensure suitability. Please ensure they are verified with source if it contains factual content. If the topic is personal then please ensure that you have been mindful of others where appropriate and ensure your account is as accurate as possible. Articles submitted will be chosen at the discretion of the editor. Please also be sure to include a photo and your name as you would like to be credited (title / position etc if applicable)

2016 GRIT Topics

JAN 2016– My Fresh Start
Have you made a fresh start that has had an impact on your life? Has changing your career or relationship, a life event or moving abroad triggered an unexpected opportunity or made you reassess priorities? We want to hear how a fresh start has changed your life and your advice for others who may be contemplating a change.

FEB 2016 – What should we tell our sons?
Following our popular series on ‘What should we tell our daughters?’ during 2015 this year we want to hear your advice for our sons? Do you think there is too much pressure on boys to succeed? Are boys as likely as girls to be affected by gender stereotypes? How can the way we bring up our sons affect their future relationships with women? Please share your thoughts and views for our next generation.

MARCH 2016 – Mum’s the word
To celebrate Mother’s Day on Sunday 6th March this month is dedicated to all the women who arguably do one of the hardest jobs in the world! What ‘words of wisdom’ did your mother pass on to you? How did her views or values shape you into the person you are today? What have you learnt since becoming a mother yourself?

APRIL 2016 – The Bigger Picture
It is natural to focus on our immediate world. However what are the bigger global issues that impact us on an individual basis? Do you feel strongly about global politics, child poverty or human trafficking? We want to hear about any major global issue that you feel passionate about and how it impacts you.

MAY 2016 – Is it still a man’s world?
Women today are excelling across multiple fields. Do you feel your gender has hindered or helped your career? Do you believe women now have as many opportunities as men or that women still take on the burden of childcare and struggle to ‘have it all’? Do you feel less like a woman and more like a man in today’s world? Please send us your views.

JUNE 2016 – We should talk more about …
This month we want to hear about any issue that you feel we do not discuss enough but should discuss more. This is your opportunity to have your say and raise awareness of any subject big or small.

WE needs YOU!

Thank you.