Tag Archives: boys

Context and Motivations Behind Intimate Parenting

Since I published my first post on intimate parenting last week, I’ve had a few opportunities to discuss my perspectives on Facebook. Usually with white, male, non-parents who presented almost universally as angry, offended, confused, or completely dismissive of what I have to say. Given that they are largely the product of a society determined to annihilate their ability to have authentic feelings or experience true intimacy with other humans, I’m not surprised by their upset and and disconnect. Their simmering rage and thinly-veiled hostility.

When I first began looking at gender issues, I believed that violence was a by-product of boyhood socialization. But after listening more closely to men and their families, I have come to believe that violence IS boyhood socialization. The way we “turn boys into men” is through injury: We sever them from their mothers, research tells us, far too early. We pull them away from their own expressiveness, from their feelings, from sensitivity to others. The very phrase “Be a man” means suck it up and keep going. Disconnection is not fallout from traditional masculinity. Disconnection IS masculinity.
–The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love by bell hooks

I’ve heard from angry white males who have no way to go back in time and reclaim what was stolen from them during childhood. Men stuck making the hard choice between looking at, acknowledging, believing, and then healing from their wounds—or maintaining their blind eye and forgetting it ever happened. A choice many people, perhaps even you, are intimately familiar with. The choice to continue believing that brutalizing children in the name of socializing them is a perfectly acceptable way to do business. The choice to continue believing that healthy intimacy with little boys will render them far too pussified for accepted masculine standards.

And so, in this context of choosing to heal from patriarchal-induced wounds and why one would ever want to take on arduous, terrifying work like that, I’m going to talk about some of the motivations and lived experiences that directly affect my choice to parent my son intimately. Because I certainly didn’t start from the premise that parenting was a divine calling, or that each of us possess a resonant field inside our bodies that seeks loving connection with other people, or that small bodies and feelings should be respected with the utmost care.

I am, after all, a child of patriarchy, too.

To love boys rightly we must value their inner lives enough to construct worlds, both private and public, where their right to wholeness can be consistently celebrated and affirmed, where their need to love and be loved can be fulfilled. –The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love

I never wanted kids, believing they were a horrid idea for numerous reasons. For starters, I had received wounds from my family of origin and didn’t want to perpetuate their warped worldview by foisting it on another human who had no choice in the matter. I also had many of the same complaints regarding children being uncivilized in public spaces that I’ve heard from the angry white males. Add to that, I worked in a children’s retail store where I daily had to deal with both unruly children and their clueless, checked-out parents. I basically loathed having to interact with them. But it was a small town and the only job I could find given my high school diploma education.

My no-kids stance persisted through the 15 years of my first marriage, where we were far too busy clubbing/partying and experimenting with polyamory to consider them a reasonable or desirable addition. THANK THE GODS. And then my marriage came to an end; I was 34 years old, barely knew who I was as a person, and had no idea what I was going to do with myself. Turns out it was an excellent time to start weekly psychotherapy.

Over many years of therapy, I came to understand that I hated children because I hated their perceived wholeness; that is, I resented the pieces of myself that had been sacrificed on the altar of fitting in, complying, and being a good girl. My abilities to intuitively trust, feel, and love had been disowned as a result of sexual abuse, emotional enmeshment, codependency, and being routinely shamed or manipulated by the adults in my life. Because that’s how we get civilized adults who mind their manners, acquiesce, and wait their turn to speak: we compress and “polish” them, conveniently forgetting how much it hurts to be rubbed that hard. How we eventually abandon parts of ourselves because of it.

It is now clear to me that our society hates children as much if not more than women. They are the most vulnerable among us, and we routinely enact violence upon them in the name of discipline, socialization, or because we are so sunk in our own re-stimulated childhood shame that we can’t protect them from our feelings. There has to be a better way. A way that doesn’t rely on abuse, shame, coercion, and fear. Because it’s crippling every single one of us, but our collective commitment to denial has us acting like we’re walking just fine.

Through my counseling, embodiment, and meditative work both solo with a therapist and in community with peers, I’ve come to understand how important authentic intimacy is to humans. How cultivating the ability to FEEL our feelings realistically and fluidly in the moment might be the most revolutionary, powerful work we take on. How it heals us; has healed me. I now know what it is to be seen, heard, and valued by other people who genuinely care about my well being. I know that this experience has helped me reclaim my identity and intuition.

I want my son to experience that from the start, for it to never be absent from his world. As a result, I reject the premise that in order to be accepted in our society a boy child must be circumcised, emotionally abandoned, shamed, and dominated. Because no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it, and detached disembodiment is a real problem. A problem I’m so committed to calling out and eradicating that I will suffer the personal discomfort of being judged and potentially ostracized by people who want to call me names, to laugh at the silly hippie lady, to discredit and minimize the power of love and intimacy.

I will continue to resist and contradict patriarchy’s violent, dogmatic lessons by choosing to parent him this way. Because I’ll be fucking goddamned if I stand by quietly and breed yet another misogynistic, entitled, white person without a second thought as to the sustainability of that choice. I believe our survival depends on our collective awakening to and rejection of violence. I believe that we must breed love and respect to survive; I really don’t see any other way out of this hemorrhaging empire we’ve constructed. I think we’ve hated ourselves long enough.

Mothers who ally themselves with patriarchy cannot love their sons rightly, for there will always come a moment when patriarchy will ask them to sacrifice their sons. –The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love

Devoted to Intimate Parenting

Even though sexism has always decreed that boy children have more status than girls, status and even the rewards of privilege are not the same as being loved. –The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love by bell hooks

In·ti·ma·cy (noun):  (1) the state of being intimate. (2) a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group. (3) a close association with or detailed knowledge or deep understanding of a place, subject, period of history, etc. (4) an act or expression serving as a token of familiarity, affection, or the like. (5) sexual intercourse.

Our world, and particularly its children, suffers from a chronic and debilitating lack of intimacy. Now, before you get triggered and label my intentions criminal, I don’t mean intimacy as its usually marketed and understood by western culture; that is, conflated with sexual intercourse. I mean the vulnerable space that exists between two people who are bonded through choice and intention. The example I’m going to use throughout this post is #2 from the above definition: a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group. So, when I use the term intimate parenting, you will come to know what I mean even as you may struggle with your reaction to what I’m describing.

What has been all but impossible to change is widespread cultural patriarchal propaganda. Yet we begin to protect the emotional well-being of boys and of all males when we call this propaganda by its true name, when we acknowledge that patriarchal culture requires that boys deny, suppress, and if all goes well, shut down their emotional awareness and their capacity to feel. –The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love

My husband, Brendan, and I parent our 4-1/2-year-old son, Avery, intimately. For us this means we choose to feel into the edgy, energetically-charged moments that occur as a natural course of interacting with a young child, and then model what healthy intimacy looks and feels like. Intimacy that isn’t conditional and doesn’t cross personal boundaries. Intimacy that isn’t filtered through the lens of patriarchy, which equates to disembodiment and disowning his feelings.

I would categorize our approach as a subset of peaceful or gentle parenting, which one source via Google search defines as: regulating our own emotions when dealing with our children and responding to problems with compassion. Based on that, I would define intimate parenting as:

Choosing to regulate my emotions when dealing with my son and responding to problems that arise with compassion instead of fear, shame, or punishment, always remembering that he is a human being worthy of love and respect.

During a late-night discussion with Brendan last week, I asked him what intimate parenting meant to him. His response was so good that I ended up recording the remainder of our conversation, and I’m going to include a condensed version of the portion that’s directly applicable to this topic since it beautifully explains our motivations and the container we seek to create as parents:

Parenting is a calling. Since what you’re called to is greater than you, you’re also called to develop skills you don’t have, to develop ways of being you don’t possess or yet have facility with. The process of becoming a better parent isn’t (or shouldn’t be) goal oriented; it’s context oriented and it’s ongoing. You won’t complete this task in an executive fashion and then stop because the experience goes beyond its immediate object (the child).

As part of our being committed to intimate parenting, we choose to devote our attention and express our calling in a way that recognizes there are parts of Avery that are eternally wise and divine. Those parts we’re speaking to in him can receive the love we’re giving, but they can’t return it in kind because they’re filtered through a 4-year-old’s understanding of the world. In essence, he can’t—without being trained and abused in traditional patriarchal ways—reciprocate our devotion.

By staying aware of our shame triggers and seeking balance, we can offer our love and attention from a position of devotion that recognizes his divinity without compromising his humanity. The devotion we’re offering him is appropriate to its object, which is a critical part of keeping the interaction both psychically clean and physically respectful. For example, fetishism is devotion inappropriate to its object, like making shoes into a god. In our case, Avery himself isn’t the object; it’s his divinity, which is the part we can relate to, can resonate with. That’s the part of him that we are nurturing and stimulating.

When we’re close to him, when we are lovingly intimate with him, and we can feel that humming in our chest? That’s resonance between his divinity and ours. As we attune to that, our divinity aligns with and comes into resonance with his divinity. So his becomes stronger, clearer, and develops more depth as we stimulate it in him. If we don’t, and it remains dormant for long enough, it will be disowned. He’ll have to reclaim it and endure the grief and loss process like we’ve both had to do.

What we’re trying to do is contradict the deeply damaging effects of patriarchy, to cultivate an alternative version of masculinity for Avery to embody—one that’s grounded in his body and his intuition. One that nurtures and cares, one that listens and understands, one that believes in its own worth and has a clear sense of identity. One that has no need to dominate or belittle or bully or rape anyone.

One of the tremendous failings of feminist theory and practice has been the lack of a concentrated study of boyhood, one that offers guidelines and strategies for alternative masculinity and ways of thinking about maleness. Indeed, the feminist rhetoric that insisted on identifying males as the enemy often closed down the space where boys could be considered, where they could be deemed as worthy of rescue from patriarchal exploitation and oppression as were their female counterparts. –The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love

So, intimacy and the direct modeling of it. Because if Brendan and I don’t model healthy intimacy, how is Avery supposed to know what it feels like when he encounters it in the adult world? If his child’s body is directed to deny its feelings, to suppress its need for love and affection, to react awkwardly and fearfully when someone tries to connect with him, then how can I possibly expect him to choose wisely? How can I entertain the hope that he will respect someone else’s boundaries; will consent to their wishes? How could he know what that looks and feels like if he’s never experienced it for himself?

Rape: A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, a baby boy was born to loving parents who had dreamed of his arrival for many years; they doted on him and he was their greatest treasure. Having recently been birthed from the source of all divine energy, the baby boy was whole and perfect, and he brought with him the possibility of unconditional love for his was a gentle and compassionate temperament.

But theirs was a kingdom of oppressive social and religious constructions, based on many thousands of years of cruelty, privilege, and domination. Not all the people were loved equally and even after much civil strife, the women and children were still considered to be only partially as important as the men.

So those loving parents strapped him down to a board and cut off their son’s foreskin, violating the sanctity of his body because that’s how it had always been done and they did not want him to feel badly about himself when compared to his father. Because to speak openly of bodily autonomy, differences, and sexuality with children was frowned upon in the kingdom.

And the boy’s body learned that skin was not a boundary worth respecting.

The adults in the kingdom worked as wage slaves, having internalized the precept that money was the ultimate commodity and that it could buy happiness, even freedom. Every day they exhausted their bodies by pushing to succeed in a world held paralyzed by lack, invisibility, and isolation—where they would never be enough, never have enough. Where they were praised for pushing past their bodies’ limits, for telling them to go faster and work harder, achieve more.

So those loving parents taught their son to sleep by putting him in a prettily-decorated cage and then shutting the door so that he could cry, unheard and isolated, until exhaustion took him. Because the parents knew little about respecting their own bodies’ signals, so couldn’t help their son and, instead, forced him to self sooth while flooded with stress hormones. Which was the daily reality for all the kingdom’s people.

And the boy’s body learned that its signals were to be neither trusted nor heeded.

The kingdom told its people that they must all be learned and productive in highly-specialized, narrowly-proscribed ways. So they trained the children rigidly: to value intellect over creativity, what is provable over what is felt. To sit still among strangers and learn the concepts of sharing space, following directions, and keeping your hands to yourself. None of which were intuitive or pleasant to learn because they forced smallness.

So the loving parents sent their son to school, where he was expected to get along, listen, share, pay attention, and do what he was told lest he receive bad marks and risk public embarrassment. Where the unspoken rule was shine too bright or act too big and you will be corrected, ultimately bringing dishonor to the family and shame upon himself.

And the boy learned that conforming to expectations kept him safe.

The boy felt a great sadness as his divine spirit and creative fire waned, slowly extinguished in service to tests and expectations and logic.

He sought comfort and understanding from his parents, but they were engrossed in the daily struggle of their own survival and in service to the notion that boys must be strong in the face of adversity. So they instructed him to be a little man; to not cry when frustrated; to not grieve as his feelings and experiences were belittled or dismissed.

Because he was now a little man, the parents no longer babied him. They curtailed their physical affections, hugged him less frequently, kissed him rarely; they admonished him not to cry and became frustrated when their attempts to toughen him up met with resistance. They worried that he was weak, that there might be something wrong with him; they became afraid and their eyes mirrored their thoughts.

And the boy learned that his feelings didn’t matter, that they could be minimized or ignored, especially if they were painful or inconvenient for someone else. He learned that being strong meant swallowing his grief and pretending it didn’t kill his spirit.

Finding no comfort with his parents, the boy turned to his peers, for he had heard it said that a true friend will love and see you. But the other boys had also been steeped in the propaganda of Be Strong and Don’t Feel and Never Cry, so even when their spirits bade them be kind with one another, domination arose in its stead for that was their experience and they had learned to be afraid of judgment. They teased and were cruel and played power games in an attempt to see who among them was a man, who could tough it out.

They punched in lieu of hugging because they were afraid of being called gay; they laughed in lieu of crying because they were afraid of being called pussy. None of them received from the pack what they had originally come to find: understanding, empowerment, and acceptance. Instead, they found twisted shadow versions that mocked their pain and required them to offer up their humanity on the Altar of Masculinity.

And the boy learned that all things feminine were weak, pathetic, and undesirable; that their body parts were insults; that their divine powers of compassion and empathy were less desirable than strength and reason. The boy learned that to be a man he must ignore, hobble, or kill all things feminine inside him; that to be loving and merciful left him open to attack; that to acquire what he wanted required swift action and much bravado.

His spirit in anguish, his body tormented, his psyche confused, the boy knew not what to do, where to turn. He wanted to believe that he was worthy of love, worthy of attention and affection—and yet all the kingdom’s lessons had taught him otherwise. Had proven to him time and again that he was born imperfect, flawed, unlovable.

His body had withered from lack of loving touch and he no longer heard its messages; he was disconnected from his own experience and utterly wretched.

Who could love such a creature? Who could see him for what he truly was? Who could help him feel strong even though he feared he would always be weak and alone?

And the kingdom, eager to find solutions for its people lest they become too aware through introspection, answered: Girls. The girls are the ones who will give you affection, the ones who will complete you, the ones who will see you. They are the ones we have chosen for you.

But how do I get them to give me what I need? asked the boy. The kingdom whispered to him about the ways of manipulation, coercion, and guilt. And the boy listened; his body and psyche understood, for they had internalized this lesson well.

The End.