With all the violence and ugliness in our society right now, primarily at the hands of white males, I find myself wondering about the way we are raising our boys. Historically, at least in my family lineage, boys have been raised to be tough. To shake it off. To dry it up. To “rub some dirt on it.” This philosophy teaches our boys, at the youngest ages, that crying, or admitting to hurt or sadness, is inappropriate and not “manly.” This is not a healthy view of emotions.
I am not a psychologist, but I know from my own experience that when I stuff my emotions, especially intense sadness, it leads to things like overwhelming anxiety, or misplaced anger. Even as a woman, a part of me is uncomfortable with emotion. And our society as a whole is even more uncomfortable with the expression of emotion in men. Little boys are not encouraged to explore or hold space for their feelings. Feelings are messy and uncomfortable and inconvenient, which leads to a desire to minimize or ignore them. Unfortunately, they don’t just go away. They morph into things like violent tendencies, dehumanization of other people, and lack of ability to hold intimacy with friends and spouses. Entire generations of men have been taught to shut down their emotional processing and channel their strong feelings into accepted activities like contact sports, hunting and violent video games.
I won’t pretend to have the answers to this problem, but I have a deep conviction that the main way I can make a difference and move toward change in this generation is to raise my own son to be different. I want him to be comfortable with having and expressing his emotions. He is a tenderhearted and sensitive little boy, which leads to him getting his feelings hurt rather often. He doesn’t tolerate meanness well from other boys. He grieves little losses deeply and sometimes inconveniently. But as his mother, I am determined to teach him to allow himself to feel. To create and hold space for the full range of his emotions. And to work with him on how to move THROUGH things rather than pretending like nothing is wrong.
I’ve heard all the arguments about how boys won’t survive unless they toughen up. How learning how to “take it on the chin” is necessary. How being sensitive and being able to cry will get him labeled a wimp. I disagree, and frankly I don’t care what the world thinks. My definition of strength and courage is not to be cold and distant. It is to learn how to hold fear and sadness and anger and still move forward in function. The world has plenty of assholes. I am not interested in teaching him how to be one. I would prefer that my son be seen as weak in the eyes of some, so that he may learn to possess true strength. I want to raise him to be a tender and loving husband. A father who can sit with his crying child until the storm passes. A friend who sticks closer than a brother.
I want to catalog all I’m learning in this process of raising a sensitive boy. So I’ve decided to write him letters as I learn, posting them in this series entitled, “Raising Sensitive Men.” Every lesson may not resonate with every person, but this is a way for me to process what I’m learning while sharing with others who may be on the same journey. Let’s raise a generation of men with higher emotional IQ’s that they don’t have to work for. Because they’re worth the extra effort on our part, and the world needs more kindness.