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Tender Touch

What if we set up tender touch classes for boys and girls? We could teach them to touch animals, including humans with tenderness. Watch the way a good farmer holds a baby chick; they are even gentle when they pick beans from the bean bushes, so that they don't destroy the parent plant. How can we expect those who are reared in lifeless environments to know the difference between soothing touch and touch that causes pain or even death?

Instead of having our boys help us with diapering and feeding babies, we banish them for being too rough with the child. Babies aren't as breakable as we women present them to be. Boys, too, can be taught how to tell the signs of fear and discomfort in others and to respond appropriately. They find it more convenient to simply walk away, but they can nurture when they are forced to do so. Look how soldiers take care of their own wounded on the battlefields.

Not all women are born nurturers and not all men are physically heroic. We all have to be taught how to accomplish anything, either by watching others or by intense education. We must get over our shame at what we don't instinctively know and our sense of superiority because we have been taught something not known by another. Family life and parenting are supposed to be partnerships; not a competition or contest.

I, like the boys with whom I was brought up, am not delicate in my words or actions. There are times when my limitations as a delicate female collide with my limitations as a person of physical power. I have never been good at sewing a fine seam and have been known to put a pin into my baby as I was attempting to fasten a diaper. And yet, I was somehow anointed to be a mother.

Unfortunately, I also never had the upper body strength and stamina of the men in my life, who could carry a refrigerator down two flights of stairs without getting crushed by the run-away refrigerator. My childhood asthma made this problem worse. I knew I needed a man to maintain a home for my family, but I made the mistake of believing that a man who fathered a child with a woman would honor the motherhood of that woman.

I thought that he would teach me what I needed to know, as I was eight years his junior and he said that he took me young to train me right. I assumed he would at least be proud of me as I learned new skills and produced his progeny. Such was not the case. This marriage ended after two children were born to us.Our son was still in diapers when we separated. I then had to take on physically demanding work that took quite a toll on my body.

The father of my children had the choice of giving up all rights to his children or figuring out how to be a parent to them, on his own. He figured it out, and our children spent their vacations from school living with him. His methods were less gentle than mine, but they seem to have toughened his children to being able to cope with most anything in life. This serves them well as parents of their own children. I was less able to protect my children physically, but we grew to be partners in many endeavors that I couldn't handle alone.

It is time that men and women teach each other, rather than fear and ridicule each other. Learning together can be a great adventure and reason for much shared mirth, if we allow ourselves to become friends, as well as business partners and lovers. Friendships, like families, begin with setting boundaries and honoring them. A little bit tough and a little bit tender is what all life takes to grow and become fruitful. We must teach each other to be some of both.

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