Earlier this year I wrote article entitled, Would you let you date your daughter? It turned out to be one of those proverbially stakes in the ground for any father of girls. The title of the piece put forward a simple but powerful concept, would my actions and behaviors as a man, husband, and father still be as acceptable if it was my daughter’s boyfriend, fiancé, or spouse who was doing them instead of me? When looked at through the lens of this question it puts an entirely different spin on how fathers should perceive their conduct and live their lives.
As the dad to a 10-year-old girl I am growing more and more anxious about the boys she will eventually encounter and the man she will one day fall in love with and hopefully marry. I wonder about the kind of person he will be, what character and standards will he have, and how will he view her as a woman and possible mother. I also question the example I am setting for her right now. How are the behaviors she sees in me influencing the way she will come to view men, and how will those experiences with her father shape how she gauges the worthiness of boyfriends and a husband?
Because this is another truth I have come to wholeheartedly believe in, the type of man she observes me being today will directly influence the kind of man she looks for tomorrow. As her father I am helping establish her future expectations about men and shaping her basic assumptions on what to expect from them – by her simply watching me. The way I treat her and other women can potentially become her norm for all men. If a girls’ father is critical of the women in his life why would she not expect, and accept, other men to be critical of her? If a single father exposes his daughter to one strange woman after another he shouldn’t be surprised when she seems drawn only to men who are emotionally unavailable while moving from one dead relationship to the next.
As fathers we must remember that our actions set the bar for every future man who will compete for our daughter’s attention, what she sees in us can ultimately set that bar high – or remove it entirely.
But if we stop to think for a moment, is this dynamic any less powerful between a mother and her son?
There’s no doubt that a boy’s principal ideas about women are rooted directly in the behavior he sees from his mother. For the first eighteen years of life, my mother represented almost the totality of womanhood. As I entered college anything I claimed to know about the opposite sex I learned from watching my mom, and as I got older it was those same characteristics that served as the baseline by which I judged all other women.
Any mother that doesn’t understand this association had better begin paying attention; because once that fundamental principle is grasped the real issue then becomes how will your behaviors influence where your son will set his threshold. Will he use what he’s witnessed in his mom as the benchmark for other women to aim for or will he view his mother’s traits as something, when seen in others, to be avoided entirely?
If a boy witnesses his mother medicating her way through life with bottles of Merlot and Lexapro why would he anticipate anything less from all women? If she is a cold and unaffectionate wife towards his father how can he have a positive outlook on romance and marriage? What message does a mom send her son when she openly flaunts her disrespect and condemnation of his dad? Are any of these the attributes a mother would wish for her son’s wife? If you wouldn’t desire that for him then why model it to him?
Many women may well scoff at the idea that their behavior, in any way, could influence the type of woman their sons may eventually choose. But are you prepared to make that bet? Are you willing to let his first crush, that first heartbreak, or a divorce be the only things that teach him about true womanhood; would you just sit back while ignoring the fact that his most persuasive and powerful instructor is you?
As a man and son, the influence a mother has on her boy’s life is monumental – in one way or the other. Her life will either serve as his example of what real womanhood should look like or will be his case study on the type of women to avoid. And as that man and son I can think of no greater tribute a boy can pay his mother than the hope to one day find the woman of his dreams – who is just like his mom.