I had a conversation with my oldest son last night. He and his family live in Denver, so we chat or FaceTime every Sunday. The conversation turned to sharing our thoughts about recent, sad events going on in our country and elsewhere in the world. He lamented that besides being advocates and trying to make our feelings known, it seemed sometimes we have very little impact. But, he continued, he felt the very best he could do was to raise his sons to be loving, to care about other people, to do the right thing, and to respect women. “Mom,” he said, “You taught me those things.” (sigh)
Before I had children, I thought having a girl might be easier, given the fact that I had been an only child. I was a girl and I had a basic understanding of the game plan and the obstacles. But, listening to my friends who had daughters made me wonder if, in today’s society, I was ready to take on all that comes along with raising a girl… the rape culture, the princess culture, struggles with body image- Oh my!
Well, I ended up having three boys and, as it turns out, raising children of either gender is challenging. Boys deal with different kinds of pressures and have to live up to different expectations.
Years ago, we lived next door to two little girls and they became my youngest son’s best friends. So, when his 4th birthday came around, of course they were the guests of honor! He asked me if he could have a Barbie birthday cake, because he thought they’d like it. I made a chocolate cake with white frosting and a Barbie doll with a ponytail sat right in the middle. He loved it and so did his friends. As for his uncle, not so much. He had a few snarky remarks to make to my son, to which I promptly and strongly responded in his defense.
There really isn’t, I don’t think, an equality when it comes to evaluating girls and boys. A girl who runs with the boys and enjoys sports gets kudos for her strength. But when a little boy wants to play quietly, likes colors other than blue, asks for certain toys, and cries every once in a while, he is called out and told to toughen up.
We should have the conversation about how we can encourage young boys to be sensitive and caring without it being a sexual orientation statement. Shouldn’t all children be allowed to express emotions and not just girls? Love, kindness, and empathy are human qualities, not feminine qualities.
Being sympathetic, kind, sensitive, and respectful should be emphasized, not labeled as evidence of masculine weakness. But instead, our littlest boys are ridiculed and emasculated. They hear these things and they feel these things.
Well, maybe it’s time for some redefinition… for clearer, more accurate, and empowering ways to describe what it means to be a man. Why not start with these:
1. There are actually no real “right” ways for boys or girls to act. Society may place boundaries or expectations on behavior, but for the most part, it doesn’t really matter. Just be who you are. Be respectful. Be a good person.
2. Don’t ever think you are defined by how much money you have, your clothes, or your friends. You are defined by your character.
3. There are many ways to define what it means to be a man, but the one that really matters is how you treat other people.
3. It’s perfectly OK to cry sometimes, to feel emotion. This is what it means to be human.
4. You are hardwired to be physical and I understand that. That being said, you can recognize where being physical crosses over to violence. You can make the conscious decision not to cross that line.
5. You never, ever have to prove your masculinity.
6. When a person says, “stop” or “no,” make sure you listen to that, particularly if it concerns someone else’s body. No one is entitled to put their hands on you and other people deserve the same respect.
7. You are a human being, not just a man. And, the most important quality you can possess is a loving heart.