Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Spoiling Our Daughters and Raising Our Sons: How We Are Unconsciously Raising Sexist Children

In the past, my wife has frequently accused me of being a sexist. In fact, she has accused me of being a sexist of the worst kind because others see me as a good father, as a genuinely good individual, and no one dares question or challenge me. They, instead, listen to me and sometimes even try to emulate me. Allow me to reveal the reason behind this accusation.

I have two daughters, two intelligent, absolutely beautiful young women who I dote over. One of them is in college right now, and the other still lives at home. In my eyes, they can do no wrong. And I cannot think of anything I would not do to ensure their happiness, to make them smile.

And they both know this and use it to their greatest advantage. They manipulate me unmercifully. Even when I know I am being manipulated, I lack either the power or the will to say no to them.

On the other hand, I have two sons, two intelligent, charming, handsome young men who I love no less, who I wish the same happiness. However, whereas I am a soft touch with my daughters, I have always been hard on my sons, sometimes painfully hard. Nothing they do gets past me, and they must earn everything they receive. After all, I am raising men not boys, right?

Let me tell you this short anecdote so that I might put everything in perspective. It has to have been about ten years ago because my oldest son was still in high school. I got a call from the school informing me of some infraction or another on the part of my son. In anger, I snatched my keys and cell phone from the counter with the intent of going to the school to straighten him out right then and there.

But my wife stood in the doorway blocking my way. She insisted that I sit down and calm down. She insisted that I not go to the school and embarrass him, that I wait for him to come home. And when he did, she insisted that I hug him, tell him I loved him, and sit down and calmly talk to him just as I would one of my daughters. No yelling, no threatening or stalking about.

And I did what she asked of me on that day, and as we moved forward, I tried to discipline my older son her way, but old habits are hard to break. Sometimes out of frustration and impatience I lapsed into yelling screaming tirades. I threatened him, and I stalked about. After all, this is how my dad raised me, and I turned out all right, right? But in the end, he left my house just as I had left my father’s house, angry and bitter.

I now recognize the fallacy of my ways. And I must begrudgingly admit that there might be some grain of truth in her accusations. I am now actively trying to be more equitable in my treatment of my children. I am now actively trying to raise people—not men or women but people, people who think critically, who act not out of fear but out of rational thought, who are independent and confident in themselves and driven from within.

As my youngest son approaches adulthood, I am really putting forth an effort to be less sexist in my treatment of my children. However, I still have a problem saying no to my daughters, and I often defer the decision to my wife. She doesn’t have any problem saying no.

And my wife often points out how much my oldest son is like me. She points out that indeed he is a strong minded young man and has that entrepreneurial spirit; he now owns his own business in Atlanta. She points out that in discussions he frequently mentions books he has read or is reading, and they are all from all my favorite authors: Baldwin, Williams, Ellison, Morrison, and others.

It seems that despite all my mistakes he happened to pick up a lot of my best traits; I can only hope that he also learned to discard all the worst.


Read in Colour said...

Very interesting. Coming from a woman's POV, I see it totally different. Mothers raise their daughters & spoil their sons. I have seen in my family, and those around me, several cases of daughters excelling because they're expected to. They're pushed forth by their mothers and go out into the world ready to handle whatever comes their way, simply because they've been raised. On the other hand, I see men/boys fail repeatedly, especially those whose mothers coddled them and made excuses for their shortcomings. The jails are full of these men. While what you're describing sounds like Daddy's little girls syndrome, I wouldn't think it's the norm across most of black America. Were we really raising sons, the state of the black family would be much stronger.

Kim said...

Hmm usually it's the other way around, particularity in black families.. It's usually the raising of daughters and the spoiling ofsons.

Max Reddick said...

@Reads4Pleasure & Kim

I agree with you both. In my work with young people, I have often noticed this phenomenon, especially among single mothers. In an earlier draft, I did include mention of it. But due to space considerations and because I was attempting to speak from my POV, I deleted it.

But his is the gist of the whole matter: whether we are raising boys and spoiling girls or vice versa, in order for us to move forward, we need to look at the ways in which we are raising our children and the unconscious messages we are passing along.

Read in Colour said...

Agreed. Raising both & creating the same message across the board would be the best solution. Is it feasible?

Max Reddick said...

It is feasible, but a lot of it depends on raising consciousness. If we do not get it out in the open, if we do not talk about it and discuss it, we cannot move forward.

ThePrisonersWife said...

I must say i agree w/ Reads4Pleasure. too often, i see women/moms spoiling their sons, and being harsh on their daughters. i look at my own house growing up. my mom ALWAYS told me to be independent, even when married, and i've out paced my brothers (love 'em, but they get too many passes).

but i'm happy you are looking toward raising your children as people. it's important. clearly you're going to treat each child differently (because they're different people), but the key is the treat them fairly.

just think, what signals are you sending to your daughters by being manipulated? how might that effect their relationships in the future with men?

as parents, we do the best we can & it's key that you're learning to adapt to what your children need.

Max Reddick said...


The consensus seems to be that this is happening more with young men than with young women. Again, I have noticed this, mainly with single women raising sons. They absolutely spoil those young men and in the end they end up ruined.

But his is my reality, and keep in mind that reality is relative to the individual. And this is a wakeup call for me because I thought it mainly happened with men spoiling daughters.

And you are correct in your assertion of the effect this has on young ladies. Instead of learning to be independent and depend on themselves first, they learn to be dependent on men. My oldest daughter is in college and I don't think she knows how to solve a problem alone. Anytime she is faced with a difficult situation, her first inclination is to call Daddy.

Denisha said...

I was daddy's little girl growing up but, instead of getting all I wanted, he forced me to think & do for myself. He spoiled me as far as giving me whatever I wanted if I got the grades, the scholarship, test scores, etc. so I didn't see it as my dad making me dependent but teaching me that rewards come to those who work hard. Now, I am more successful than my other siblings and it's partly due to ambition and determination.

I do have 2 little boys who I do the same thing with so maybe it's not about something one sex does to the opposite....maybe it's how that parent was taught and raised at home. I don't want any one of my kids coming back home to live with me during their adult years so I am making an effort to teach them well.

Max Reddick said...


"[S]o maybe it's not about something one sex does to the opposite....maybe it's how that parent was taught and raised at home."

You are so right. I began raising my kids like that because that's the way my dad raised us. I did not stop to think of the effect it had on us, though.

Hue Reviews said...

it's so hard. because often times children of the same sex as their parents are the ones that are raised hard and with extreme discipline.

I try to make sure I'm doing equal raising for each child. I'm not harder on one for a crime that I wouldn't do to the other.

♥ CG ♥ said...

I agree with Reads4Pleasure. I wrote a post on the opposite scenario a while back because it always boggles my mind how some mothers see no wrong in what their sons do, no matter how outlandish or destructive.

uglyblackjohn said...

I treat my nieces, nephews and young cousins much the same as my step-father treated me (with little room for error).
Sometimes I think that I'm being too tough.
But when I look back, I appreciate most of what my step-dad put me through.
Today, I can deal with almost any situation without fear.

If one is to make a mistake in judgement, err on the side of being tough.

Lala Jackson said...

I've noticed that I'm really strict with the kids in my life and have tried to cool it down in general, but I've never really noticed whether or not I treat either sex better/worse.

I grew up without a father, am the middle child between two brothers. At least 7 years separates me on either side from both of them, so its as though we were each raised as only children. Because of it, I can't really speak to any favoring either way in my own life.

I have noticed that my boyfriend is treated extremely harshly by both of this parents while his slightly younger sister gets babied to the extreme. It is actually often said in his house that he needs to do something for her like take out the trash, fix her car tire, do the dishes, etc. because he's the "boy in the family." I am all for teaching males to be the caretakers (especially in a society where men seem to be leaders and take care of things less and less), but their reasoning always seems to be that she does not even need to learn how to do things herself merely because she is woman. This, I think, is pretty sad and teaches her to be entirely too dependent on men for things she could do herself.

Charles J said...


No one addressed the sexism portion of your title so I guess I will. I think the sexism comes in when your daughters (females) are handled with extra care as if they are fragile little beings that can't handle harshness. You were extra hard on your son (a male) who stereotypically is supposed to be able to hand being chastized by someone especially another man. There is no equal treatment for both male and female, that's how you exude your sexism.

Denisha said...

Sexism....I think both genders may yearn for a little bit of both. Some men do get tired of carrying the load and want to be pampered like women and some women get tired of being thought of as fragile and desire to play with the boys. So maybe we can re-define or throw out sexism eventually.

Judith said...

Wonderful post.

The first step towards change comes with awareness. You sound on your way.

Thank you for sharing your experience.

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