An Interview with Author Uju Asika on her book, Raising Boys Who Do Better
Uju Asika is a multi-award nominated blogger, author, speaker and boy wrangler. She’s the author of three books including her brand new release, Raising Boys Who Do Better: A Hopeful Guide for a New Generation. She is also the first friend I made as a blogger back in 2011 when we worked on a campaign with Olympians no less. We connected over our love of the arts-and cake (!) and have been firm friends ever since.
I caught up with Uju to chat about boys, parenting and writing. Read on!
What inspired you to write Raising Boys Who Do Better?
Well, I’m the mother of two teenage boys and a stepson in his 20s so this is obviously a very personal subject for me. I’ve been writing about my boys for years on my blog Babes About Town.
They also feature quite prominently in my first book Bringing Up Race which is about raising kind kids in a prejudiced world. I had thought about writing a book on bringing up boys and it’s something that several of my friends and readers had been urging me to do.
However, the idea really started bubbling up again around March 2021 after the murder of Sarah Everard and the anger it stirred up among women across the nation. So many of us were asking, how do we educate our sons to do better? In October that year, I was featured in a cover story for The Observer New Review and the feedback on my interview really galvanised me to get cracking on a book proposal.
Your first book was about race. Now you’ve written about masculinity. You must be quite brave to take on such huge, thorny subjects!
It has certainly been a challenge getting to grips with these big, complicated subjects. I felt a lot of internal resistance when I was writing my first book and probably even more so with Raising Boys Who Do Better. It really took me on an emotional journey but a lot of that emotion is pure laughter at some of the experiences and conversations I’ve had with my husband and boys.
I share some of these in the book — there’s one incident in particular that my editor told me she couldn’t stop cracking up over! It’s important for me to approach these deep and sensitive subjects with a light touch so it doesn’t feel too heavy for the reader. It was also helpful to interview other experts and parents and incorporate their insights.
What topics do you cover in your new book?
There was a lot to pack in and so much more to add, I could have written another whole book! The book has chapters on education, sports, mental health, sex, body image and more. I wrote about what it’s like to raise Black boys in a society that’s not built for them.
I wrote about how difficult it is to keep a boy safe. One of my favourite chapters is called How To Train Your Dragons and yes, it’s inspired by Cressida Cowell’s book and the DreamWorks animated film which are both fantastic. It’s about redefining what it means to be masculine or to call yourself a hero.
As a mama of sons (as well as a daughter) I really love the subtitle of the book: A Hopeful Guide for a New Generation. Can you talk a little more about that?
Hope is a common theme in my books because I write to imagine a better world for all of us and you can’t imagine that if you don’t have hope. In many ways, hope is one of our most creative forces and it’s something that fuels my work. I hope this book connects with readers in the spirit that I wrote it and that it inspires more people to ask questions and challenge the limiting narratives that have affected boys and men for so long.
Who is this book aimed at primarily?
It’s mostly aimed at parents and caregivers and educators of boys, however if you are raising or educating girls, or if you are a human who cares about building a more equal society, I’m sure you’ll gain lots from this book. With Bringing Up Race, I had loads of people who don’t have kids tell me that they loved the book and learned so much from it. I’m hoping Raising Boys Who Do Better will generate the same response from all types of readers.
If you could change one thing about how boys grow up in our society, what would that be?
Gosh, where do I start? I think the main thing would be to let go of the tough guy act. You’d be surprised how early boys learn that they have to be ‘tough’ and it can be detrimental on so many levels.
That toughness can cause boys and men to act out violently and also to hold all their feelings in which can hurt their mental health. I want more boys to be able to embrace their innate tenderness as a type of strength.
What’s your top tip for new parents of boys?
Don’t freak out. You might hear all sorts of messages about boys and how they behave or how they will turn out. Remember that your boy is an individual and some things might be driven by his gender (or expectations of his gender) but so much more is about his unique personality and how you relate to him.
Give him space to be and grow and embrace him at every stage. The boys I know are a joy to be around and my sons have made my life infinitely richer.
And finally, any advice for other mothers who want to write a book?
It’s a huge task that can seem overwhelming at first, but it’s doable if you break it down into bite-sized chunks. Create a deadline and monthly milestones. Look for pockets of time when you can get your ideas down. Write during nap time or record your thoughts on your phone on the way to school pick-up.
Clear some space on your kitchen table (that’s my home office) or put a ‘Mum’s Writing’ sign on your bedroom door. Wake up an hour early or plug away at it after bedtime if you’re a night owl. There are no hard and fast rules, the most important thing is to commit to your writing as a priority.
Even a ten minute writing stretch can produce something useful. If you’re interested, I’m actually launching a creative writing service, learn more here!