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A letter from a mother to her sons.

So this powerful letter has been making the rounds, and it's beginning to show up on the parenting blogs.

It's from a mother to her sons, now six and three. It's for them to read in twelve years. It's about what it means to be a man. It's also about the My Lai massacre, and about rape. It's strong stuff.

What do you think? Would you give this letter to your teenage sons? If not, how would you address the issues Flea raises in her letter? How do we raise our children to be heroes?

(Posted to parenting101, fatherhood, altparent, and attachedparents.)

Update: Wow. Glad I asked. I've posted some thoughts on the original letter and the comments here.

Comments

( 44 comments — Leave a comment )
takenbylovely
Mar. 10th, 2006 06:20 pm (UTC)
I certainly would. That was painfully beautiful and raw.
mystixs
Mar. 10th, 2006 06:46 pm (UTC)
I would never write a letter like that to my son.
absofrickinlute
Mar. 10th, 2006 09:28 pm (UTC)
why?
mystixs
Mar. 10th, 2006 09:30 pm (UTC)
I do not have the same beliefs as her, nor would I ever use that sort of language towards my son.
meldawen
Mar. 10th, 2006 06:50 pm (UTC)
Absolutely. I have a son. I want him to grow up to be a man. Not a wimp, who follows the crowd, not a jerk, not all the many things he could grow up to be, but a man, strong and faithful, and true, who stands up for and to others, and who knows right from wrong. This is an excellent letter.
brandyc
Mar. 10th, 2006 06:53 pm (UTC)
I thought it was complete crap. There could have been other ways to express her hopes for her sons' mettle without resorting to melodrama.
I was thinking she was going to say the man in Mai Lai was somehow relevant, but instead said to BE LIKE THAT GUY, and if you don't, you're a failure.
And as for the poor girl raped and spit upon and given no justice, is that really the image you want to give them?
HATED IT.
Thumbs down for me.
brandyc
Mar. 10th, 2006 06:58 pm (UTC)
Holy shit. It was her.
I had stopped reading.
That was really startling.
ham_bone
Mar. 10th, 2006 07:45 pm (UTC)
Whoa - I did not catch on to that until you said something.

I still agree with your original statement though. I think it is great to have high hopes for your kids and express them - but the letter was crap!
brandyc
Mar. 10th, 2006 08:08 pm (UTC)
MELODRAMA
Didn't that kinda creep you out?
"That girl was ME."
ham_bone
Mar. 10th, 2006 08:11 pm (UTC)
Re: MELODRAMA
Yah that was creepy. I know if my mom was going to tell me something along those lines, I would much rather have a face to face conversation with her. I know it was hard talking to my mom about the abuse I had been through but I still told her face to face instead of on paper. And if (and I probably will) I tell my daughter (and future kids) about what happened - definitely will be face to face.
sayga
Mar. 10th, 2006 10:54 pm (UTC)
I don't think it WAS her. She wrote the letter for her boys to read in 12 years. So when she said it happened 12 years and one week ago, she meant it happened 12 yrs 1 wk ago for her boys, who are reading that 12 yrs in the future. To her, it just was last week as she sits and writes the letter. She's just saying that girl "was" her because the same thing happened to her (in 1987, she even gives the date: that's more than 12 years ago).
hisrisingstar
Mar. 11th, 2006 01:01 am (UTC)
Yea, I agree, I dont think the whole video scenerio was her.
brandyc
Mar. 11th, 2006 01:33 am (UTC)
ooooooooooo I see...kinda.
So, the same thing happened to her in 1987 that happened last week to this poor girl?
Ah, so.
hisrisingstar
Mar. 11th, 2006 07:39 pm (UTC)
No, she wasnt videotaped and stuff, she was just raped (as far as I know). She was just using the girl that was videotaped as an example, and she says it in her comments that it WASNT her, she did have a similar experience being raped.
absofrickinlute
Mar. 10th, 2006 09:34 pm (UTC)
It's not melodrama, it's just not pretty.

I would also consider it a failure of character and of my parenting skills if my son grew up without the values this woman wants for her sons. It IS a failure.
Why should these boys - or every boy, not hear that story? Not learn to see that it happens? Yes. I'd want my son to know. Maybe if more parents did - their sons wouldnt grown up to rape women?

The world isnt sunshine and candy - and you cant pretend it is just to make your child happy.
Keep in mind she was addressing them not as they are now - but older and more mature.

hisrisingstar
Mar. 11th, 2006 01:05 am (UTC)
Yes, but there is a tactful way to express that the world isnt sunshine and roses. Not by telling her 15 yr old that girls may be sluts and whores and bitches, but they still shouldnt be raped! Thats not the right way to express that messege.
absofrickinlute
Mar. 11th, 2006 05:32 am (UTC)

I agree with you, there is a lot of problematic ideas and words in her letter. It's by no means the way I would have expressed things, but I just appreciate that she felt it was appropriate to broach these issues with her sons. I think that is important.
brandyc
Mar. 11th, 2006 01:37 am (UTC)
Girl, please don't fucking preach to me. My kids are well aware the world isn't sunshine and candy. You know less than nothing about me.
I thought the letter was utter and complete crap. Please don't respond back, 'cause I'll just eat your fucking head.
absofrickinlute
Mar. 11th, 2006 05:30 am (UTC)
Yes, I can see that you are right in one regard. Your lose grip on civility makes it quite apparent that your children would have a very real idea of the world's nastiness.
brandyc
Mar. 11th, 2006 01:03 pm (UTC)
RRRRR.
And again, you miss the boat entirely.
Whatever, I need to be less defensive with strangers.

I find the sexual assault aspect of it nasty and strangely chauvanistic...does that clarify?
sayga
Mar. 10th, 2006 10:58 pm (UTC)
The "you're a failure" thing was a bit much for me. She gives her three year old a kitten and tells him if he hurts it, he's a failure? He's three years old. I wouldn't fully trust a child with a kitten until about 8 or 9 years old. You're right, it WAS melodramatic. It had it's good parts but overall, thumbs down too.

You can't raise a kid then dump a letter like that in their lap when they're 15. You have to teach that to them throughout their entire lives. If she didn't, then expects them to get it when she finally tells them, then SHE'S the failure...
bethien
Mar. 10th, 2006 06:57 pm (UTC)
I would definitely give a letter like that to my son when he is older. It was beautifully written and heartwrenching to read, but one of the most important life lessons to teach a young man.
hisrisingstar
Mar. 10th, 2006 07:04 pm (UTC)
I think the messege was good, but the wording and way she put it was HORRIBLE.

I mean, she said if they hurt the cat they were a failure?! WTF.

My 1 yr old pulls the cats tail occassionally (while I strongly discourage it) but I wouldnt call him a FAILURE because of it.

And the rape thing was totally unnecessary and vulgar, and there are MUCH better examples to show them how to be a real man.
brooklynite
Mar. 10th, 2006 07:26 pm (UTC)
I mean, she said if they hurt the cat they were a failure?! WTF.

One of the commenters on Flea's blog actually made that same criticism, and she agreed that she'd phrased it badly. See the comment from "LaurieM," and Flea's reply three comments down. (If it were me, I'd go back and change the original, but apparently she doesn't blog that way.)

So yeah, there's some stuff in there that could have been put better. I'd be interested to hear how you think mothers (and fathers) should talk to their sons about rape, though.
hisrisingstar
Mar. 10th, 2006 07:50 pm (UTC)
Thats a tough subject, but definately not by telling them that their mom was raped (and she doesnt even put in good points about WHY its wrong). Teach your children right throughout life, and when the time is right (when they are older, but before they are sexually active) put it tactfully and why its wrong and how it destroys self esteem, etc.
___pinkbullets
Mar. 10th, 2006 07:20 pm (UTC)
i thought it was disgusting. the gendered language, explicitly patriarchial message and horrible analogies were painful to read and definitely not a message i'd give my son.
brandyc
Mar. 10th, 2006 07:23 pm (UTC)
"the gendered language, explicitly patriarchial message..."

I agree.
___pinkbullets
Mar. 10th, 2006 07:26 pm (UTC)
i'm glad i'm not the only one who disagrees with the letter. i just can't imagine putting the idea into my son's head that he needs to be this protector of all, some big strong masculine hero. it's a horrible gender stereotype and implies that women cannot take care of themselves. UGH. it makes me want to puke just reading it. i see that she wants her sons to be good people but this is NOT the way to do it. she should be teaching good morals from a young age, not pushing offensive ideas on them when they're nearly adults.
jexia
Mar. 10th, 2006 07:31 pm (UTC)
Agree.
brandyc
Mar. 10th, 2006 08:06 pm (UTC)
...not pushing offensive ideas on them when they're nearly adults.

EXACTLY. Preach oooon!
mystixs
Mar. 10th, 2006 09:18 pm (UTC)
I disagree with the letter 100%
brooklynite
Mar. 10th, 2006 09:20 pm (UTC)
I've quoted a bit of your comment on my own blog, here:

http://brooklynite.livejournal.com/61276.html

If you'd prefer I didn't, let me know and I'll take the quote down.
___pinkbullets
Mar. 10th, 2006 09:24 pm (UTC)
no problem. ♥
lavielavie
Mar. 10th, 2006 09:44 pm (UTC)
you put exactly what I thought into words.

I agree with you 100%
ham_bone
Mar. 10th, 2006 07:45 pm (UTC)
I agree.
haileymarie
Mar. 10th, 2006 07:39 pm (UTC)
There are so many better things that could have been stated to get the point across of what kind of a man you would want your son to be. The whole rape thing is not something you put into a *letter* for your *12* year old son(s). And why can't you talk to your children instead of writing them a letter like that? Sit down with them and have a conversation. Save the letters for how much they've grown, and how proud you are of them type things. How hard is it to sit face to face with your child to talk with them????
tzitzilini
Mar. 10th, 2006 07:43 pm (UTC)
I dunno...something about this letter didn't sit well with me. I appreciate and agree with the overall message of standing on your own and not just following the pack, and just trying to be a good, decent man. However, I think I would have to agree with pinkbullets on the whole "gendered language, explicitly patriarchial message" description.

I think that this letter is telling her sons to grow up to be big, strong, MANLY men who protect all the little helpless women and children, which is sort of *barf* but the idea behind it is okay, I guess. There are worse things. The thing that sticks with me is that it's like she wants her sons to grow up to be what she didn't have during her gang rape, if that makes any sense. She's projecting her own feelings about what happened onto them, asking them to be the potential protectors of another girl, if it were to happen again.

I have two sons, ages 8 and 10 and I would not show them this letter. Your kids should grow up with morals that would make them automatically help someone, ANYONE, in trouble without basically telling them that they're a FAILURE if they let anything smaller and weaker than them come to harm.

The whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth.
missbefferz
Mar. 10th, 2006 08:13 pm (UTC)
I liked it for the most part, except the so very American idea that it's your job to protect the poor helpless peoples of the world instead of minding your own damn business and protecting yourselves and your families. That irritated me, I don't think it was too graphic I think the message about her rape was very touching and by the time they read it, they should be old enough to know something like that about her. The other thing I didn't like was the "do this or you're a failure" attitude. That may not be how her children feel, and it's too bad that she wants them to think that's the only way they can be good people. Maybe they want to be good people that mind their own business!!!!
___pinkbullets
Mar. 10th, 2006 08:23 pm (UTC)
except the so very American idea that it's your job to protect the poor helpless peoples of the world instead of minding your own damn business and protecting yourselves and your families.

that too. i went back and read it again. gee, not only is she preaching patriarchy and sexism but she's also preaching american hegemony and elitism.

she's a real winner! *snort*
lunachele
Mar. 10th, 2006 09:42 pm (UTC)
I don't like the letter. Not sure I can adequately articulate the many ways it bothers me, but I have a problem with telling a child his only choice is to be a hero, or be a failure. I also do not like the patriarchal men strong/women weak potential victims bit, especially since rape is about power. You can teach your kids to respect others without casting them as either supermen or goats. Is telling someone they have the power to do tremendous harm the best way to build compassion? It just seems off to me.
lizziey
Mar. 11th, 2006 12:22 am (UTC)
My husband is a soldier, and our boys are a couple years apart also, and I damn sure would give a letter like that to my boys, at an age where they are old enough to understand it.
tracied
Mar. 11th, 2006 01:15 am (UTC)
Okay. I had to think about this for a bit before I said anything because I don't want to get my point wrong. First of all, we have to assume that this woman is not leaving all moral teachings up to this letter. We have to assume, right or wrong that this letter is meant to compliment their parenting.

I was touched by the image of the massacre and about standing your ground despite losing face. Yes, some things maybe could have been worded differently. Had I written it, I think I would have worded differently the idea of being either or hero or failure. What does hero mean? I don't think she means the whole macho patriarchal thing. And I don't think she means failure as in worth nothing. But the point is lost. What I would have said, is that being a hero is not about physical macho actions, but about standing for what you believe in, and that whether man or WOMAN, you are a hero if you are watching out and protecting those who can't protect themselves. Standing against abuse, rape, child labour, poverty, those sorts of things, or as 'simple' as standing up for the kid who is being bullied, not being THE bully. And instead of saying you are a failure, I would say, you have failed, now knowing that, do better next time.

As for the whole man/macho thing? I do want my boys to grow up to be that kind of man. Not a misogynist, not believing that women can't take care of themselves (hey I am a single mom), but that something has been robbed from men. In an attempt to even the playing filed (as it should be), we have broken down men to the point where boys do not know what it means to really be a man, and they swing between two extremes. I do believe that as the stronger gender, it is a man's role to watch out for his family, for those less able than him. That is not to say that woman are less able or anything like that. But we have lost the ability to see that boys need to know how to be men. And to ME, that means, strong, moral, kind, compassionate, a provider, and a good friend. A real man is committed, hard working, and puts his family first. A real man is not violent, but can defend his family and friends or a stranger if he needs to. A man does not use physical strength to get his way, but can use his physical strength to work, and improve the quality of lives. A real man, does not abandon his family or give up on commitments to seek the easier way.

I am not American and I am definitely not for countries going in and imposing their ideals on others, nor am I for any army going in to any country for any other reason than a truly justified reason, such as defending your own country from 'real' danger, or to aid someone who can't help themselves. I mean what would have happened in WW2 if we hadn't gotten involved? I guess we will never know. But my point? We need those men who are willing to give their lives to save others. And not every man will want to nor should be a soldier, or police officer, or firefighter, but every man can have their own strength that they can use to be a 'hero'. And that may be something as simple as volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, being a good and involved father, or being a loyal friend, an honest person on a day to day basis.

So while I do disagree with the way she said some things, I would give a letter like that to my sons and it would most definitely be in conjunction with what I am already teaching them. And it would be something personalized, a sort of right of passage kind of thing. I may share my own stories of abuse at the hands of those very 'failures' I don't want them to be. And telling them about being abused will be for the same purpose as hers; to make it more vivid to them, to bring it home. That girl could be my sister, my mother, my aunt, whoever. It wouldn't be all or nothing, as I assumed while reading that letter that it wasn't but rather a tool to reinforce my parenting journey with my two sons.
hisrisingstar
Mar. 11th, 2006 01:23 am (UTC)
*Just for those that didnt see it: she is NOT the rape victim she is referring to, she states it in her comments*
goodgirlzero
Mar. 11th, 2006 01:39 am (UTC)
Okay, My opinion. I love what she is trying to do but I myself would have tried to word it differently. One thing I totally agree on is her telling them about rape though. It happens at all ages by all ages of people and kids are doing things at a younger age now so they need to know this these. If they dont know then they are only blinded by the bad things and dont ever see why its bad and not good. There have been tons of girls pregnant in the 7th and 8th grade. If I am right thats near the age that they will be reading this... its better to learn from their mother than make a mistake and learn the hard way.
( 44 comments — Leave a comment )

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