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Pediatrician aims advance gender equality one family at a time

CHICAGO — Dr. Shelly Vaziri Flais wants to help raise better men. It might sound like an ambitious undertaking, but the future health and happiness of our sons and daughters may depend on it. In her new book, “Nurturing Boys to Be Better Men: Gender Equality Begins at Home” (American Academy of Pediatrics, $18.95), the pediatrician and mother of four gives parents the tools they need to start the lifelong process of raising their sons into men who are mentally healthy, empathetic, and committed to gender equality.

When Dr. Flais was pregnant with her twin sons (with a toddler boy already at home), the thought of raising three future men lead her to give the topic of gender equality serious, practical consideration. She wondered, “What steps could I take as a parent to defy prevalent generational and societal messages like male stereotypes and toxic masculinity? How could I help my sons not only become full humans in touch with their creative, nurturing sides, as much as their athletic, physical sides, but also become empathic, educated allies?”

While many parents have these questions, Dr. Flais, as a pediatrician, also has answers, or as she likes to put it, a roadmap. In “Nurturing Boys to Be Better Men,” she takes an evidence-based, rather than ideological approach, to the journey with three main goals to promote greater generational gender equality.

  1. Promote a whole-child approach, recognizing our sons as capable of the full range of human emotions despite generational perpetuation of the idea of “male” characteristics.
  2. Use an ages-and-stages developmental approach, recognizing oppor¬tunities for growth and awareness not only within the child-parent relationship but also in how our sons interact with extended family, school, and the greater outside community.
  3. Propose how parents can best model gender equity for our sons, for as the expression goes, “kids do as they see.”

Dr. Flais frames gender equality as an ongoing dialogue that happens between parents themselves and between parents and sons throughout childhood. “Nurturing Boys to Be Better Men” is full of conversation starting questions, age-based suggestions for books to read and movies to watch and discuss together and tips for addressing specific hurdles like division of physical labor and of emotional labor.

“Nurturing Boys to Be Better Men” also includes relatable stories from Dr. Flais’s own family along with those she’s worked with during her many years as a primary care pediatrician. The anecdotes and the science both serve to emphasize the benefits of gender equality for boys and girls, men and women, not only in the context of the family but also the extended family, school, and greater community.