Wild times? Not necessarily
by Amy Rawson
nips and snails and puppy dog tails? Don't believe it for a minute!
Boys are stereotyped as wild, hard to handle and inevitably up to some daredevil antics, so all their actions are looked at in that light. All little kids love and need an energy release. Adults look at the actions of children and put our own labels on them.
A young girl who stands up for herself is said to be spirited and looked at in a positive light. A young boy who does the same thing is said to be rebellious and headed for trouble. Often parents are warned that a boy needs to be kept under control so as to not become a hopeless case who is going to inevitably break the law.
What would happen if the idea that boys are little wild creatures was banished? What if a boy who loved to play house and carry around a toy baby in a sling was just smiled upon and everyone acted like it was just the ways things were supposed to be?
That is exactly what it is like in my home. I am the mother of two boys and make a concerted effort to not give my boys the roles that many people think boys should have. We have trucks and we have dolls that ride in those trucks. My boys nurse the dolls although Nathanial at 5 and a half, knows that boys can't make milk; it is still fun to pretend. My sons play inside and out in a world that is pleasantly gentle and happy.
Before you say that I am hindering them in any way by not exposing them to the biases of the general public, let me explain that they are well aware that we live differently from many people. You see, I tell them that it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks about how we act and what we like as long as we are kind and honest. It is not important to make someone believe you if you are telling the truth and believe in what you are saying.
This attitude has lent itself to some interesting conversations in my family, where I am viewed as the wacko black sheep daughter who does things simply to upset others. Unfailingly, whenever I or my children do something that is not acceptable at a family gathering, someone comments on how we are only doing it to make them look bad. I find that silly and a bit sad.
Unfortunately, this attitude is the one that most of us are teaching our sons to have. We are clearly saying that everyone does things this way and if someone strays from the beaten path, then he must be doing it to look different from the rest--not because it's really what he wants to do. The idea of individualism is not only uncomfortable but actually shunned in our society.
"Boys can have long hair too"
One example of how my sons see themselves in relation to others can be shown in the following dialog that happens at least once a week:
We go to a public place. Someone mentions what pretty girls I have (despite the fact that they have seriously boyish faces and are not wearing any pink or otherwise foo foo clothing.) My older son speaks up and says that they are boys.
The adult, offended and insulted at being talked to by a child as a fellow human and not a superior being simply because of age, says something to the effect of "Well, their hair is so long" or "When are you going to cut their hair?" I suppose that hair that is past a boy's earlobes is uncommon and both of my boys have longish hair. My son just says that boys can have long hair too. He is not rude or otherwise not nice in any way. I don't prompt these exchanges and if my son(s) asked for a haircut today I would give then a ride to the barber. I figure it is their hair and if they want it cut they can--but when they ask for it and not for the comfort of others around them.
My sons can cry and be mad and feel any other feelings they encounter. I don't say "Stop being a baby" and "Big boys don't cry" or any of those cliches. Men and boys should cry, heck, they should get mad too. It is the repressing of emotions that can cause much of the trouble that they feel as they get older. Not feeling comfortable in your own skin is a number one reason for frustration and that leads to acting out. What a difference it would make if a teenage boy could admit that he was hurt by another's words and said so, instead of feeling like he would be losing face to do so.
Avoid mixed messages
Often parents push independence on boys well before they are ready. There seems to be an unwritten law that boys should be tough and brave and be the strong ones. Not that any of these traits are bad, but to have them forced on someone makes for an uncomfortable situation and sends mixed messeges to the boys. We tell them that they should have empathy for living creatures yet tease them when they cry over the death of a bug.
Take a moment to see what your ideals of a healthy adult male are and then look at the messages you are sending your son. If we raise our children simply as young people and not in gender specific ways, then they will come to their own conclusions as to what traits they want to have. Our children's strengths will come from feeling self-confident and trusting their own feelings. We can help them accomplish that by letting their own unique personalities evolve.
- Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys examines the too-narrow emotional straitjacket we place our adolescent boys in, and how we can free them. Often described as the male answer to "Reviving Ophelia," Mary Pipher's groundbreaking book on early adolescent girls.
- Real Boys : Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood is the oft-discussed book on how troubled our boys are, why, and how we can help them. Author William Pollack draws on 20 years of clinical work to strip away the stereotypes of what a boy should be to come to what he could be.
- Raising Boys: Why Boys Are Different-And How to Help Them Become Happy and Well-Balanced Men is New Zealander Steve Biddulph's take on raising sons--allowing them to feel their feelings, but also recognizing that they are not the same as girls and can't be expected to behave the same.
- Speaking of Boys: Answers to the Most-Asked Questions About Raising Sons is by the same author as "Raising Cain" and is just what it sounds like: A giant FAQ on boys.