Well, a lot actually. Firstly, I want to debunk the myth that the gender difference would be a limiting factor. With me being a woman and my sons being, well males obviously, some might think that this lesson will be off to a bad start from the outset. Actually, I think that’s exactly where its strength lies. Getting a group of young men to think outside of their male egos (and I don’t use that phrase with derision) would be a great first challenge for them.
To be honest, when I first thought about that question, I was tempted to write a shopping list of things that my boys could learn from me as their mother. However, I knew I had to break it down a little. I believe there are two broad categories of lessons to impart to my sons: 1. the tangible, routine things like cooking, household chores etc. and 2. the spiritual lessons which are more implicit but talk to their higher being.
From the surface, it would appear that any attempt for a woman – a mother – to teach her male offspring anything, is doomed to failure. Wrong. Alhamdulillah, I have always made it a point that that fallacy is hammered on the head right from the start. Irrespective of my situation now, on my own without their father, I continue to consciously make sure that my sons grow up to be self-aware of their actions (or even inactions) and how all this impacts those around them. I don’t know how to measure how successful I have been, if at all, but it’s a principle that I hold dearly.
I’ve never subscribed to the traditional Asian mentality that says that sons are to be revered and held above our heads. That is just so wrong! I grew up in that environment myself although I exonerate my mother for doing it. It was all she knew and that kind of thinking was what she had inherited herself. However, it is a potential breeding ground for resentment. There are many cultures that favour the son over the daughter although I am not quite sure why. (That is another discussion in itself. ) Conveniently, I don’t have any daughters but I have always maintained that my sons would learn to appreciate the role of a woman, namely their future wife, in their lives. What better place to start than with me, their own mother?
As such, from a young age, they have not been strangers to household chores – from mopping floors to washing dishes and, more recently, cooking meals. Some readers might gasp thinking that I must be a cruel slave driver. Images of me sitting with my feet up in blissful oblivion whilst my children rush around like minions are maybe what come to mind. That is not my style. I have never shied away from housework. Yet, now they are much older, I definitely allow myself days here and there to resign all responsibility of the house over to them. It is not a punishment. It is a subtle form of training for life. Rather than give them rambling lectures on how to prepare for their future, it is better to give first-hand practical experience. That kind of lesson is never forgotten.
Nobody can appreciate the work of another unless they step inside their shoes. It’s for this reason that I make sure my sons know the relentless role of a homemaker. Even down to the nitty gritty things such as knowing how much laundry detergent to use for a load of washing, or when to put the rubbish out in time for the bin collection…these are seemingly trivial, yet immensely important, skills to learn for life. In honing them, they might just appreciate how effortless their mother -and many women worldwide – make these tasks. This is where the deeper lesson of respect towards women as a whole will be garnered because, more often than not, it is women who take on these thankless tasks day in and day out. So, the ultimate plan is to help them to help themselves in later life should they one day live independently but also to never take things for granted. Moreso, I never want them to take me for granted.
As I mentioned already, in the process of understanding the dull monotony of life’s daily chores, my hope is that the future generation will be better prepared to help out their own wives should they get married one day. There is nothing worse than having raised a young man who feels entitled to be satiated by his every whim and sees his role in the family as only a financial one. For both the wife and husband, there has to be a suitable overlap of responsibilities and which is mutually agreed upon. I am not a modern-age feminist who has clear role definitions for men and women. In fact, I am more a traditionalist and do believe some roles will always inherently be the domain of one individual or the other. However, respecting the input the other party makes is what my focus is here; being flexible enough to take over a task, even temporarily, when the need arises, is a mature outlook.
So, how does this all link to the spiritual being? Unlike a job in an office, which produces tangible results, a woman’s work in the home doesn’t end up in data charts or end of year profits. It is a wheel that just goes round and round and more often than not, there is not much to show for it. I’m of the opinion that empathy towards the role I have in my home will automatically plant the seeds of respect towards not just me, but women/mothers overall. If my boys get involved, they will learn to appreciate the behind-the-scenes juggling act which I effortlessly balance to keep this household ticking over. They will never consider themselves above these tasks. It is a vital lesson in humility.
On a personal level, I want to help this new generation of would-be husbands and would-be fathers understand that having humility is a check on arrogance itself. Arrogance should never be given the chance to rear its ugly head. It is, arguably, the root cause of so much self-destruction and often overspills into family disputes and even wider society at large. I can testify that if I have been dealt any signs of that from one of my sons, I have countered it by asking them to do a menial chore such as cleaning the toilet. It is surprisingly more effective than exchanging words. As the old adage goes, “actions speak louder than words”.
So, not having father around isn’t a loss per se. Alhamdulillah, I have the spirit and determination to try and fill his shoes too. If anything, one of the inadvertent repercussions of his departure is that he taught the boys exactly how not to treat a wife. And those are not my words…