Single mothers carry an enormous load of responsibility, especially those having sole and/or primary custody of minor children. They nourish, they nurture, they teach, they discipline, they shelter, they protect, and they provide… all without the assistance of another equally-invested adult. One of the most challenging aspects of single-motherhood can be integrating the balance of a male perspective into the lives of young sons, typically provided by a father. Boys eventually begin to imitate other males whether they find their role-models at home, on television, or in the streets. By working behind-the-scenes to provide good male role-models and mentors, single mothers can “stack the deck” to assure their sons an opportunity to emulate decent men rather than the wide variety of unsavory alternatives. Here are four ideas for consideration:
1) Decent, Trusted, Male Family Members
It sounds like an obvious suggestion, but a surprising number of men raised without fathers report having spent little time with older, male family members even though they had ample access to uncles and grandfathers during their childhood. Many explain they just didn’t realize the importance of a male influence when they were boys; they were simply busy playing with their friends instead. What can a single mother do?
Take inventory of the decent, trustworthy men in your extended family or community and determine their willingness to include your son in their activities. Do they have hobbies such as fishing, wood-working, or fixing cars that can be shared? Do they have projects at home or at work in which your son can participate? Such relationships can be mutually beneficial: an uncle gets an extra set of hands while your son learns new skills; a grandfather gets a new fishing companion while your son develops new interests. By encouraging or arranging these associations, you are putting your boy in a position to learn from men of your choosing who model the virtues and values you deem appropriate. The more time boys spend with decent men, the more likely they are to imitate them. And when your son has questions more naturally asked of a male, you will have provided him with good mentors to approach.
2) Your Son’s Friends and Their Fathers
Boys also form their ideas about manhood from their interactions with male friends and peers. The older the son, the less power any parent has over selection of friends, but while a child is still young, a single mother can be very influential. Identify the boys in your son’s school, sports teams, or neighborhood who have decent fathers. Invite these boys to your son’s birthday parties and take advantage of other opportunities to socialize with their families. This helps stack the deck in two ways: your boy benefits from immediate exposure to the good male influence and also gets the opportunity to develop lasting friendships with these boys and their fathers. By surrounding your boy with friends you think more likely to model good behavior, you create the potential for your boy to develop key relationships that may pay dividends in the years ahead and maybe even throughout his life.
3) The Places You Go
If you find the inventory of decent men in your family and community lacking, consider the places you go as potential sources of good male role-models and mentors for your son. Every community has opportunities to volunteer (i.e. serving meals to elderly or homeless, building homes in low income neighborhoods, etc.). Participation in these activities often puts you and your son working side-by-side with good examples of male behavior. If you practice a religion, consider opportunities at your church or place of worship. There are also many organizations geared toward developing male mentoring and leadership: check-out Big Brothers, Boy Scouts, and similar programs in your area.
4) Bad Role-Models
In addition to providing good male role-models of your choosing, you can further increase the odds that your son will imitate decent men by limiting his access to bad examples of male behavior. While your boy is still young, be selective in allowing male influences into your home. Consider the male figures and messages in the television programs and music you approve. Consider the males you permit in your son’s life. Do they portray the values and perspectives you wish your son to emulate? If not, pull the plug while you can.
Proceed with Caution
Finding good male role-models and mentors can be daunting, disheartening, and even dangerous. We are most vulnerable when we seek to fulfill a need, especially a need pertaining to a child. Sex offenders and predators do target single mothers in order to access their children, therefore extra care is warranted. There are three rules to follow when recruiting role-models and mentors:
- Before you seriously consider someone as a potential mentor, get the opinion of someone you trust and proceed with caution. Although they are in the minority, some predators hold jobs as teachers, police officers, clergymen, and coaches.
- Teach your son to suspect and report anyone who asks him to keep secrets. Anyone who encourages secrets, especially regarding their mentorship, should not be trusted.
- Discourage gang involvement. Not having a role-model or mentor at all is better than having a bad one. While gang affiliation may seem to provide some of the many benefits of mentorship, it is ultimately a dead end at best.
Single mothers carry tremendous responsibility in raising the leaders of tomorrow, their sons and their daughters. The importance of their contribution to society in raising decent men and women cannot be underestimated.
Article by Anthony Rippo, author of the book “RETRIBING: The Unpaved Road to Manhood – A boy, a mentor, and the transformation to Man; a fable”
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