International Women's Day is being observed under the theme 'Be Bold For Change', and right here in Jamaica, there are lots of women working to bring change to the world by their bold and thoughtful parenting of their sons.
On days like International Women's Day (March 8), the focus is often placed directly on women and girls. But what about the men and boys? They are as much a part of the equation as women. They have to be a part of the solution and the conversation.
Today, we bring you stories of five women raising their sons to be the men of a better tomorrow - thoughtful, sensitive and aware of the equality of the sexes. These women are quietly creating the change we all want to see in the world, epitomising this years's theme, 'Be Bold For Change'. We celebrate them and all the mothers around the world who are ensuring that the future will be better for everyone.
In photo: Michelle Gordon and her son Christian
Unlike most of the lessons taught in schools, our children learn critical life lessons from conditioning at home. It's the 'what we do' and not just 'what we say' that sets the foundation for the quality of the men and women that our children will become as adults.
Early in my parenting journey, I was honestly afraid that I would not be able to teach my son the things that I believed should have been taught by a man - a real fear shared by many mothers who find themselves raising boys without the daily interaction and influence of their male counterpart.
Today, 12 years a parent, I have done two important things, if nothing else. One - I taught my children to talk to God, and to listen and look for His answers. And two, I have cultivated a relationship with my children where we speak openly and honestly about any and everything, including the tough topics like war, sex, drugs and crime. I believe that our open communication makes it easier to deal with issues when they arise.
My son knows my expectations of him, and though he's at a stage that is more challenging than before (we're having preteen fun), I like to ask him what he would do, and how he would feel, in certain situations. This gives him the chance to think things through and choose his actions.
We discuss offensive content in some of the popular songs he likes, and I challenge him to explain his attraction to some of his favourites. "It's the beat, Mummy," he says ... followed by a conversation about the power of words, including us speaking about the term 'gyal' and habits such as 'psssssting'. "Would you like someone to call me a gyal, or sing a song about me or your sister like that?" I have asked him. "No, Mummy."
Some days are easier than others, but respect is not a word I'm afraid to use. Respect your sister. Respect the helper. Respect your teachers. Respect yourself. Outside influences are real - friends and their opinions, the Internet, music and television, are all factors that I encounter daily. But I remind myself that I am moulding a man of integrity and honour.
My ground rules are simple and few:
1. Manners are a must (... and 'Hi' is for his friends, not grown-ups).
2. There is no excuse for telling a lie. (It's rarely worth it in the end).
3. Actions have consequences. (Nobody likes consequences).
The task is never-ending, but I'm reminding him less and less to check on his sister, not to push past her and to hold doors open for us. He's still listening and I'm still talking.
Michelle Gordon is a Parenting Lifestyle Consultant, whose mission is to help parents find balance wherever possible. Follow her on Instagram @b3parenting
Follow her on Instagram @b3parenting and read her blog #LifeofMom https://michelletodayblog.wordpress.com
In photo: Gail Abrahams and her sons Zachary and Zane
As the mother of two wonderful boys, Zachary and Zane, who have distinct and different personalities, I must admit that I'm feeling blessed and honoured knowing that I have this great responsibility of raising two awesome and well-adjusted men, who will add value to the society.
My husband and I are big believers in respect and love, and so we try to live our daily lives being respectful to the people around us. It is not easy raising boys, but there are fundamental lessons we try and teach every day. My boys understand that they must always be respectful, to be chivalrous, especially in opening doors. They are taught the importance of expressing their feelings, listening to others, and to be sensitive to the needs of people around them. They know it is unacceptable to hit a girl or a woman, and that violence will not solve a problem but will make it worse. My husband Michael makes it his mantra to always display love and attention, so they see and understand how to treat a woman when they're older.
Gail Abrahams is the CEO of AMCHAM Jamaica.
In photo: Natalia Oh with her sons Dylan (right) and Dustin
What a blessing to have my sons, and a privilege to be raising young men for our future - an exceptional responsibility and one I don't take lightly. I always remind my sons that I'm raising valiant kings, and they will be known for their wit, intellect and kindness. In a society where kindness in men is seen as weakness, I think teaching kindness is the easiest fix for many of the problems we face today.
Being a mother exposed to domestic violence in some way or another, I've taught my sons to respect everyone on a whole, but more so to treat women with respect. No one is better than another, and they must try and see the best in everyone.
Of course, never hitting a girl has been ingrained in them, but I've also made an effort to teach them the way they refer to girls is equally important, because verbal abuse is also abuse. The word 'b*tch', so casually thrown around in today's society, should never leave their mouths. Cruel words such as stupid, ugly and fat, have always been considered bad words in our home.
As a single mother, I have had to model character traits such as respect, self discipline and confidence in my sons. Seemingly menial tasks such as admitting when they are wrong, apologising, asking questions to initiate a conversation and teaching kindness, are methods I use for character development. They are taught to open doors for women, to pay compliments honestly, and to be empathetic to the other sex. It is also important for me to watch who they emulate. I silently applaud when my older son, Dylan, finds strong, considerate leading characters in his books. One of his favourites characters is 'Hiccup' from the book How To Train Your Dragon.
If the only thing I have ever done in my life is to raise kind young men with character, then I have succeeded at the greatest task yet.
Natalia Outar is a marketing consultant, writer, blogger and stylist. www.nataliaoh.com.
In photo: Alison Moss-Solomon with her son Jude Zion
When I discovered I was pregnant with a boy, I was scared ... because serial killers always blame their mothers.
For me, raising a boy is very serious, as I will be raising a man. Lord knows there are so many Jamaican men I know with mommy issues, which explains a lot about why men treat women the way they do.
They say the first woman a man falls in love with is his mother. The relationship between a boy and his mother determines how he will deal with all women. So I felt I had a very important responsibility to get this right.
The first and most important thing for me is to be balanced.
I have to be a disciplinarian so that he knows how to behave; but in order to stop resentment, he must see my soft and loving side. The male ego is fragile, and I must take care to nurture his masculinity.
So I have taught my son to respect emotions (his own and of girls/women) and to be protective of girls - because if he wants to keep females safe, he will never want to disrespect them or cause them emotional or physical pain.
Alison Moss-Solomon is a public relations executive and author.
In photo: Stacey Blake and her sons Ian (left) and Zion.
While the role of women in most places has seen a lot of advancement, there is still much work to be done for women equality. I am especially disheartened about the spate of violent crimes against women. As a society, we can all do our part in effecting positive changes in these areas.
Being a mother of boys, I find that one of the most powerful ways that I can teach them how they should treat women is by ensuring they have a positive role model and a loving environment. Children tend to mimic our actions more than our words. Also, empathy, kindness, being responsible and independent are all characteristics that I foster at home and instil in them that will no doubt positively - impact their treatment of women and girls.
Stacey Blake is a Jamaican designer and blogger living in North Carolina.