Monday, January 24, 2011

Boys Will Be Boys

My boys
The other day I found myself in the midst of a conversation with a fellow mama, because...what else is there to do while you're standing around at yet another 4 year old's birthday party?

We're both parents of young boys, and she has a newborn girl as well. We were trading "war stories" of our sons and commenting on the whole "boys will be boys" mentality. I tip toed around the issue, not wanting to start a heavy discussion revolving around how that phrase sounds awfully pigeon-holing and trite. 

Without unpacking that phrase, we both understood what it meant and the larger ramifications of it. In our society little boys will run around, shooting guns made of sticks while adults look on and shake their heads and mutter that well worn phrase. 

Or, perhaps a boy will come in from playing outside, covered head to toe in mud while tracking half the play yard in beneath his dirty shoes and again, that phrase can be heard ad nauseam. 

Yet, when a young boy has his feelings hurt, or feels ashamed or embarrassed, there's nobody standing around, solemnly nodding and reassuring, "boys will be boys." Somehow, while society has fed into this concept of "boys will be boys," we've created a very one-dimensional young man.

Again, without getting into the real nitty gritty of it all, this mother and I lamented that while many claim that boys are the easier of the two genders to raise, there are all these tricky landmines that nobody prepares you for. 

We weren't being dismissive of the fact that there are qualities that are distinctly masculine that boys exhibit - not at all. We were, however, trying to figure out how to walk that fine line between raising a compassionate and, yet, still masculine boy. 

This desire to do so tugs at me on a daily basis when my son - now age 4 - will do his best to hold back tears when his feelings are hurt or try to hide when he feels ashamed. This doesn't happen in each instance, but enough that it strikes a chord with me.

There has never been shame in our house for crying. In fact, I let him know that sometimes crying can help us feel better (and then, of course, I get the uncontrollable urge to break out in song, thanks to years of indoctrination from Marlo Thomas and a favorite record of mine from childhood).

There's no handbook on how to raise a boy to both embrace and defy gender notions. While there are a ton of great books out there that pontificate on these issues, it's very rare to find anything talking about the day to day issues that pop up. And so, instead, there's a lot of trial and error going on in this house (and a lot of me humming It's Alright to Cry). 

That means that when my son uses his fairy wand as a gun, I need to figure out how to let him know that guns aren't toys, even if made with sparkly blue princess wands. That also means that if he wants to choose the pink over the blue - that's okay, and if the blue is calling to him more one day - that's fine too.

If anybody out there on the interwebs has thoughts, suggestions, stories - I'd love to hear them. I want to hear more stories of mamas raising boys who will be boys that can be it all. They can be tough and play in the dirt; they can run around like Tarzan and pretend to be dinosaurs; they can dress up in tulle and glitter having tea parties with their friends, and most above all - they can be comfortable with who they are, no matter what that is. 

A side note: I love peppering my blog posts with pictures, but...don't go to googling "boys will be boys" in the google image search function, unless you want to be hit with an array of stereotypical and frankly insulting (to both boys and girls, alike) pictures. 


MissSherrie said...

Oh, I don't even know where to start on that one. I have 3 kids, 2 of which are sons aged 11 and 2. The older one has always been the softest-hearted child I've ever met. His pride and feelings are wounded easily. I try to nurture, comfort and soothe, whereas Dad's solution is always "toughen up". I'm sure the best approach is somewhere in between. I tried eliminating guns when he was little. No toy guns, no water guns etc. Seemed that regardless he could and often did make one out of anything, including a banana. I gave up. He played Barbies and watched Dora movies to appease his sister, even when Dad gave him a hard time about it. I figure that all we can do is be supportive, and let them experience a range of things.

E said...

Wow, where to start? This is such a complicated question which, I think, highlights the importance of children having both a strong mother and father. My husband and I both react to situations in completely different, and equally valid, ways. He learns from us both. He has been exposed to a range of play since he was very young, so he will happily play swords, guns or ninjas, as well as cooking in a pretend kitchen or playing Daddy and Baby Puppy. We just exposed him to a lot of different things, and he has always had both girls and boys as playmates.

As for the future, I think we both believe in the importance of recognizing, but not being ruled by, your emotions. It's one of the most valuable lessons any child can learn. He is tender-hearted, but we don't want that to control his actions, just inform them. I hope that makes sense.

The gun thing? Well, he comes from a family of hunters, so my son and all his cousins have been exposed to dads, moms, uncles, aunts and everyone hunting and sport-shooting on a regular basis. It's a natural fascination for a lot of young children (as are swords, catapults, and ninja throwing stars if you're my kid) and if it continues to be something your son shows interest in, you might consider letting him try target shooting at a responsible gun range in your community. I have seen a lot of the fascination die down in my older nephews and nieces when they actually have to take classes to learn everything there is to know to fire a weapon responsibly and safely...and they have to clean the weapon! Once they have to do all that, they often rethink how cool firearms actually are!