I grew up in a house full of girls with one baby brother, who was so much younger than me that our friends and social lives didn’t overlap.
Now that I am the mother of three boys and one girl, I am learning many things I never knew about boys: they are more straightforward, easier to read, and, honestly, easier to persuade than girls. Boys wrestle–a lot. Even when they haven’t got the hang of walking yet, they wrestle. (I still don’t know why.) Boys are more emotional than I expected, and more sensitive.
I know there’s a lot more to learn about raising boys, and I’m excited to do it–especially because I can call in their father whenever something freaks me out.
Despite my growing expertise in raising boys, something recently caught me off guard. Something obvious in our society, but not so prevalent in my ‘tribe’ (which is what I call my close family–mother, father, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.).
My eldest turned 11 this year, and is in the phase between boy and teenager. And I find myself surprised to discover that our society’s segregation of men and women is changing my relationship with my own son.
I was totally unprepared for the separation that occurred when he moved from the little school to the big school. I went from being able to walk into his class, to speak to his teacher, and to meet his friends and their moms, to having to drop him off and pick him up outside the school gate (but not right in front of it, where the other boys could see us).
No more going into the school, unless I make an appointment with the headmaster and go to his office to speak with the teachers. (And even that is not permissible in most boys’ schools, the majority of which would not even allow a woman on the premises. The same is true for girls’ schools, which don’t permit men on the premises.)
My son can no longer go into the all-women area of the malls. In a few years, he won’t be allowed in any area of the mall without a ‘family’ for fear he will terrorize the girls. (Ironically, some young teenagers wait outside the malls and approach older women, or women with children, and ask them to pretend they are one family to gain entrance into the mall.)
Soon, my son won’t invite his friends over when his sister is home, although he could still invite cousins and close family friends.
There are so many unwritten rules concerning the separation of girls and boys, and a million variations. For some families, it’s pretty black and white: unless he is your brother or father, or unless she is your sister or mother, you don’t spend time with them. It also depends upon the region. In the eastern or western provinces, strict segregation is not as prevalent as it is here in the central region. In seacoast areas, people have the benefit of interacting with many cultures, and are therefore more forgiving.
I am baffled by how our society has become so segregated. Throughout the early history of Islam, segregation wasn’t practiced. Modesty and chastity, yes. Total segregation, no. I do not even think it was part of our culture as Saudis. At least, not to the extent it is today.
Until recently, Bedouin women were expected to welcome travelers into their tents, and to make them coffee, and even dinner, regardless of whether her husband was there. Yes, most would have had their faces covered (again, a cultural custom, not religious one), but they interacted with men all the time. It’s only in recent years that things have changed. Some put it down to the influences that came into Saudi when it was united. Others say it is a reaction to how fast we were exposed to the outside world, and how quickly we went from tribal life to modern-day life.
Theories aside, I’m facing the reality of being shut out of a part of my son’s life and of him being shut out of mine.
When I explained my concern to one of his teachers (over the phone) he said, “You can’t follow him around all of his life!” As if I were a stalker! Am I being a stalker? Hmmm, I wonder how involved I would be in his day-to-day school life if I were?
My biggest fear is that if he gets caught up in the wrong crowd, segregation makes it easier in certain houses with absent fathers to make mistakes and do stupid stuff. I thank God his father keeps an eye on him, and that he still fills me in about his day and talks to me when he is upset. If we can continue to talk, I think I may be okay.
Perhaps I just don’t like not being in control of the situation, or perhaps it’s that I don’t have the choice.
Would you naturally step back from your son’s day-to-day life when he turns 11 or 12? Would you withdraw from knowing his friends and supervising his outings?
It’s all foreign territory for me now, and I am learning to deal with it as best I can.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our contributor in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and mother of four, Mama B.
Photo credit: Dr. Coop under Flickr Creative Commons License