Sitting at the park today, watching Georgia play, I heard a lady say to her grandson, “Toughen up, be a man.” I instantly cringed. This little boy was probably 3 years old, if that.
I didn’t see what happened to trigger these words, but I know it trigged something in me.
Are we really still telling little boys to ‘be a man?’
What does it mean to be a man in our society? When we define a male, or masculinity, are we quick to assume that to be a man means being bulk, loud & dominant? Or along those lines, maybe a visual comes to mind for you.
Some boys naturally do not present as masculine. They may be shy, softly spoken, nurturing & show emotion – all of which associate with possible traits of femininity, however that should not make them any less of a man.
My eldest son is highly sensitive & shows his emotions on the regular. There is no way I could ever tell him to toughen up or be a man for showing emotion, for sharing his tender moments with me.
One night out of the blue he cried for hours straight because he missed our family dog ‘Tiger’ who passed away years ago. I found a photo of Tiger and placed it in his room, gave him a safe space to let it all out, we talked through questions he raised & just sat together until he had processed everything. Maybe he had a bad day & this was all he could use to let his emotions flow - we all have bad days remember.
Let’s look at the opposite reaction, for him to share his space at such a vulnerable time & be told to toughen up, or be a man in that instance, I often wonder what that may promote in a child? I would imagine it promotes feelings of anger, frustration & not being heard, that could potentially lead to something else down the track if used as a regular phrase. It definitely would not work with my son.
My father is also sensitive, tough exterior but soft interior. As silly as this may sound, I love when my father cries because it is raw, it is real, it is him & it is beautiful. He is human. And men cry too!
As parents it is our role to provide safe spaces where our boys & young men can create their own definition of ‘being a man’ that includes being emotionally / mentally sound and whole.
So, how about we unlearn what it previously meant to ‘be a man’ and find a true, more modern definition that allows our boys, teens, young men & even adult men to be happy in whatever their version of 'being a man' is & let go of that previous association.
And finally, here’s to raising our boys, a generation of future men, that are truly genuine, speak openly & honestly about their thoughts & feeling’s, be heard without judgement & not labelled for being themselves.