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Teen Boys Should Care for Seniors
To grow into strength, learn how to use it for others
For anyone in the DC area, I’ll be speaking at CUA on Tuesday as part of a panel sponsored by the Institute for Humane Ecology. I’ll join Ross Douthat, Charlie Camosy, and Ari Schulman to consider “What is Euthanasia Doing to the West?” I’ll also be in Princeton on Friday for a pro-life panel.
And, in a very charming development, the CUA student pro-life group runs a babysitting service as part of their witness, so they’ll be taking care of my baby during the panel.
Lyman Stone periodically takes to twitter to (rightly!) advocate for a much broader culture of babysitting. In a tweet I can’t find, I recall him suggesting that parents of teens should think of part of their family’s church tithe as being rendered in time—lending out their older kids to watch other people’s younger kids. He doesn’t want to let grown ups off the hook, either.
It’s unusual for twentysomethings to babysit in their time off from work, but Lyman’s right that it’s certainly possible for share the load of childcare more broadly in a community. And if you can shift to that norm, it’s good for the twentysomethings, too! Babysitting isn’t a bad date when you’re dating seriously and thinking about how you might parent together.
Lyman was part of the inspiration for my most recent piece for Deseret, considering our culture’s limited cross-generation contact and what young men can do with their strength.
There’s another natural, but under-appreciated affinity between ages. More elder care should be taken on by teenaged boys. Aging seniors often need physical support, which may go beyond what their adult children and caretakers can provide. Teen boys need to be needed, and they need examples of how they can grow into someone that others can depend on.
For teen boys, adolescence is a time of growing into strength without necessarily knowing what to do with it. Team sports are a way to blow off energy and grow into brotherhood; shop class can be a way to learn to make a mark on the world. But it’s hard for young men to get experience with the other purpose of their strength — to be a support to someone weaker than themselves.
I’m very sympathetic to the arguments that Richard Reeves makes inthat we have a culture that often doesn't know what to do with boys. As they get bigger, stronger, and more impulsive, they're often met with a culture of "no"—sit still in class, get out of that tree, don't mess around or you'll ruin your future.
I want them to have a good outlet for their energies and their strengths, rather than thinking all of these fires are meant to be banked until… college? marriage? retirement? Their strength is a gift meant to be passed on to the weak, and since they’re young for children of their own, look to the other end of the age spectrum for needs they can meet.
For men, there’s also been an unsexing. A man who is just told not to abandon his child has not been called to the fullness of fatherhood. The emphasis on breadwinning similarly reduces a father to a generic parent (or worse, a mere payroll deposit).
A woman’s motherhood is more starkly physical; a baby’s demands during gestation and nursing are undeniable (despite our culture’s efforts to escape them). For men to participate in a sex-realist, pro-family movement, we have to articulate what is distinctive about men and their capacity for fatherhood.
This is one of the reasons I don’t think of Other Feminisms as a project just for women. When our society flattens or ignored the distinctive markers of men and women, that tends to hurt women first, but men also need to know how to be men well.