This story first appeared in Manhattan Parent and its sister magazine, Queens Parent.
When my first son was born I made a beautiful and idealistic decision. I’ll raise him without gender stereotypes, I thought. Prissy girls and aggressive boys are all just a product of our consumer culture, anyway. He’ll be free to be himself. He’ll be allowed to be nurturing if he wishes, and not programmed to violence with toy guns and swords. Of course violent TV shows were banned too. So it went for his first two years. Our home was devoid of toy weapons in any form, but I let him play with any other toys he liked. This little caveman was about to teach me a lesson.
One morning I was watching CNN when a segment about a conflict in Chechnya began with graphic footage of men shooting down a young soldier. I dove for the remote control, but it was too late. Little Connor had seen it all, and he was riveted. I was disturbed and tried to discuss it with him, but how profound a conversation can you have with a two-year-old? He got the idea that Mommy thought shooting people was bad, so that had to do for the moment.
That three seconds of images on a screen should have had such an effect still amazes me. It was like his little brain was hardwired to understand conflict, and those three seconds started some buried program running. He started solo war games with his stuffed bear tucked under his arm, its tiny brown leg out like a gun. Knee-high Connor charged down the hall in his diaper. “Bang, bang!” he yelled, the furry bear paw aimed at imaginary enemies. It was funny, but a little heartbreaking too. A lifetime of pacifism was so easily undone.
I began to see that he already was who he was, and there was nothing I could do about it. He had inherited all the instincts of a caveman, and hadn’t yet been filled with the expectations of society. It was fascinating. I was seeing the essential man, carrying the blood of our ancient ancestors who hunted and fought to stay alive. The world has changed, but the man stayed the same.
The more I thought about it, the more doubts I had about the way I was raising him. Even if I could make him into a pacifist, against all his powerful instincts, was that the right choice? After all, he was going into a competitive world. Was I cutting him off from his power, his birthright? I hoped to raise a son who was both strong and kind. Would the wrong kind of interference make him soft and weak? He is complete and whole as he is, and that package includes a certain degree of aggression.
Now my job seems so much more complicated. I have to honor the fighting spirit, the masculinity and pure joy of this little boy. Without severing his connection to his ancient strength, I have to teach kindness, fairness, and control. Pacifism was so much simpler. That afternoon I went out and bought him a shiny red squirt gun.
Causes Courtney Farrell Supports
Defenders of Wildlife