MARY KENNY

Irish Independent - Weekend Magazine - - Column -

Last month, the pop­u­lar — and gay — Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive leader, Ruth David­son, gave birth to a baby boy, Finn. Ruth and her part­ner Jen Wil­son said they were ab­so­lutely de­lighted with the ar­rival of much-loved Finn, who was con­ceived through IVF treat­ment. Ms David­son an­nounced her re­turn to full-on pol­i­tics in the spring, when life re­turns to “nor­mal”. If life ever goes back to “nor­mal” (or, as it used to be) af­ter mother­hood. As Ruth will doubt­less find out for her­self.

She will also dis­cover that she has en­tered a new di­men­sion of ex­pe­ri­ence: she has joined the tribe called ‘the moth­ers of sons’. Be they ever so fem­i­nist pre­vi­ously, the moth­ers of sons see the world in a sub­tly changed per­spec­tive.

Ruth will note that, from an early age, boys are slower to de­velop than girls. Slower to potty-train, slower to speak, less flu­ent in vo­cab­u­lary, and more vul­ner­a­ble to con­di­tions such as dys­lexia, dys­praxia and the spec­trum of emo­tional dys­func­tion.

She will read the statis­tics in­di­cat­ing that boys take more risks than girls, so are more li­able to ac­ci­dents. Later on, she will know at least one lad among her son’s peer group who has taken his own life through sui­cide.

Early on she will re­alise that lit­tle boys can be ar­dently, even need­ily, at­tached to their moth­ers, and this can be up­set­ting when the mother has to tear her­self away on pro­fes­sional du­ties.

She will find that lit­tle boys of­ten love build­ing things and con­struct­ing stuff, as do many lit­tle girls: Lego isn’t a global suc­cess for noth­ing. But even in our jet age, train sets still seem to have a grip on boys’ imag­i­na­tion and she may find her­self en­ter­ing a par­al­lel uni­verse of model train en­thu­si­asts (as a friend of mine did), where en­tire week­ends are spent with her son fix­ated on sig­nal boxes, shunt­ing sheds, axle di­men­sions and com­par­a­tive gauge sizes in steam lo­co­mo­tives. Or she may just find her­self knee-deep in Con­fed­er­ate and Union flags for end­less re-en­act­ments of the Amer­i­can Civil War (as I did). She will, nat­u­rally, dis­cour­age her son from al­lo­cat­ing field nurs­ing roles to lit­tle girl play­mates.

If her son, as a reck­less teenager has a ton­ful of al­co­holic drink one night and can’t re­mem­ber how he ended up in a girl’s bed­room, and if the girl sub­se­quently ac­cuses him of non-con­sen­sual sex, the mother of the son may be in­clined to ask for a more foren­sic ex­am­i­na­tion of the he-said, she­said, rather than tak­ing a ban­ner on a street demon­stra­tion say­ing ‘Be­lieve Women’.

Her son may be ei­ther straight or gay. She will surely ac­cept what­ever his ori­en­ta­tion. Hav­ing two women as par­ents may have no im­pact at all on his in­born na­ture. But she may come to feel — as many a woman who has raised a son with­out a man has done — that boys ben­e­fit from hav­ing a fa­ther. And some boys pos­i­tively need one.

If her son is a straight white male, she will have less tol­er­ance for dis­parag­ing gen­er­al­i­sa­tions about ‘toxic mas­culin­ity’. You’re talk­ing about my son, sis­ter!

As a woman in a top job, she’ll be all for women gain­ing ac­cess to top jobs, and any kind of job they choose. But she’ll still no­tice that men do most of the tough, dan­ger­ous and even dirty jobs — sewer worker, garbage col­lec­tor, tun­nel borer, deep sea fish­er­man. Equal­ity or not, that’s how it is.

And if her son does get mar­ried, his mother will feel that to some de­gree she has lost him to an­other woman, and she must let go. If there are grand­chil­dren, she will note that the ma­ter­nal par­ents usu­ally have more prox­im­ity, and in the event of a split, the wife usu­ally has more cus­to­dial power. She’ll again see, by the statis­tics, that pa­ter­nal grand­par­ents more fre­quently lose con­tact with their grand­chil­dren af­ter a split.

When it comes to a fam­ily break-up, women of­ten hold the cards. And can be just as con­trol­ling as any male op­pres­sor.

All this is purely con­jec­ture. I have no idea how Ruth David­son will han­dle the role of be­ing the mother of a son: she is bla­tantly a proxy for my own ex­pe­ri­ence and that of many moth­ers of sons I know, and have known, who bris­tle at the way that ‘toxic mas­culin­ity’ is now pre­sented.

Be­cause noth­ing al­tered my view of men so rad­i­cally as giv­ing birth to sons. Males changed from ‘pa­tri­archs’ to lit­tle boys in all their vul­ner­a­bil­ity, teenage lads in all their un­cer­tain­ties, and adult males in their strug­gles to be­come re­spon­si­ble men.

My sons at­tended an all-boys com­pre­hen­sive school, and for the last two years, girls were in­tro­duced into the class. Poised, con­fi­dent and self-as­sured young women ap­peared among th­ese pim­pled, jest­ing, jeer­ing lunks of lads, to some puz­zle­ment and con­ster­na­tion. My younger son came home one day shaken to his roots.

One of th­ese young ladies had put her hand up in class and coolly chal­lenged the teacher: “May I ask a sup­ple­men­tary ques­tion about that point?” This 16-year-old wanted more knowl­edge! She wasn’t fear­ful of be­ing mocked as a ‘bof­fin’ for do­ing so! Cor blimey!

A learn­ing curve in­deed: like be­ing the mother of a son.

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